Interview with Joel Ross

First off, congrats! We adored The Fog Diver. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for the book?
It’s the same old story you’ve heard a hundred times: I was trying to write about pirate raccoons.

I wasn’t making much progress though, until I went for a walk one morning in a misty field. The fog briefly engulfed my dogs, then they reappeared atop a little hill. They raced downhill, disappearing again, and I started daydreaming about a world where only the highest mountaintops rose above a thick, deadly Fog.

So I combined the pirate raccoons (well, without the ‘raccoon’ part) and the fog, and came up with the Fog Diver.

How did you go about creating this steampunk-ish, dystopian-ish world? 
Once I thought of the Fog, the dystopian theme emerged fairly quickly. I wanted the Fog to be something less straightforward than simple pollution, so decided that it had been created to help humanity, to add a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ element of technology-gone-awry.

As for the steampunk-ish feeling … I’ve always enjoyed airship pirates, gleaming gears, and unabashed creativity. Then I started listening to a steampunk band called ‘Abney Park’ while writing, and was inspired by their songs and shanties.    

JoelPicTalk to us a bit about how you developed your characters. How did you put together this crew (they were all so likeable; we all had a different favorite)? Is there any particular reason you gave each character the traits he or she had?
The specifics are a bit of a mystery to me, to be honest. But I wanted conflicting personalities without much contention, and a crew of kids that faced a dysfunctional world with a highly functional (if idiosyncratic!) family.

I didn’t want to write a ‘lone wolf’ main character, where one kid was central and the others faded into the background. I wanted them all to need each other–and to feel that needing each other was the most natural thing in the world.

So Chess is the protagonist … but Hazel is very much in charge, and the other kids are utterly indispensible. (Though of course Loretta would consider Loretta the protagonist!)

So, we were wondering: are you a fan of anime? The book had that feel to some of us. 
I feel like my secret is out! I’m a casual fan of anime … but a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon. I’m not sure if The Last Airbender counts as anime, but—in addition to pirate raccoons, foggy walks, and steampunk music—it was a big influence.

If you don’t mind telling us, what are you working on next? 
The second book of the Fog Diver series, THE LOST COMPASS, is being published in May. It’s only had one industry review so far, but Kirkus says “A cracking good adventure with a diverse cast in a memorable world.” So as of now, the critics are unanimous in their praise!

At the moment I’m working on a middle grade fantasy novel for HarperCollins. Yet again there’s a bunch of downtrodden kids who rely on each other, with plenty of action and humor. But this world involves four-armed goblins, ogre hordes, magic tapestries, and mysterious rites.

Thanks so much for your time!