Get to know former Baltimore Raven Trevor Pryce, a man of many talents — including writing and producing — as he talks about his popular Kulipari series of books for kids, soon to be a Netflix animated series. Learn more about the Kulipari and this fantastical world on the Kulipari website. The third book in the series, Amphibian’s End, is out now, and Trevor shares his thoughts on writing, living in Maryland, upcoming projects and, of course, playing for the Ravens.
Between the Covers: The Kulipari trilogy is such a fun blend of adventure, magic, the natural world and animals. What inspired you to create this fantastical land? And why frogs versus scorpions?
Trevor Pryce: I grew up in the '80s, a fan of Star Wars, X-Men and Transformers. And I remember being so wrapped up in the stories and how deep they went. The worlds seemed real to me because of the depth of the ideas. That never left me. When I got older I also found myself drawn to studying different parts of the world and civilizations. I visited Australia once and have never forgotten the experience. Aboriginal culture was one that I latched onto because I love the art and their mystic ways.
I grew up in Florida, and frogs weren’t my favorite of nature’s offerings. However, poisonous frogs were fascinating. Their bright colors make them almost whimsical, yet they are actually the deadliest creatures on the planet. So I put the fun side and the strong side together to create the world of the Kulipari in my books.
Kulipari as a word actually translates into the word “poison” in an Aboriginal dialect. Bringing frogs to my version of the Outback was a lot to mix together, but readers love the books so it works well. I continue to play with Aboriginal themes such as the Rainbow Serpent, The Land and more.
BTC: How does the battle for the Amphibilands compare to a Ravens-Steelers game?
TP: Funny. In a Ravens-Steelers game, we all shake hands afterwards and all of the players are cordial. In the battle for the Amphibilands, there’s no “Good game” afterward. There’s no mutual respect. There’s only a winner…and a loser. And the loser faces death. Wait…then maybe it is like a Ravens-Steelers game! [laughs]
BTC: The illustrations by acclaimed artist Sanford Greene do so much to support the storytelling and bring this magical place to life. Describe the process of working with an illustrator and how it impacts your own writing process.
TP: There’s a secret I’ll let you in on. Kulipari was written as a movie first. So it was always meant to be told visually. I was acting as a director would. There were ideas and themes that I wanted the readers to not have to imagine — things that would be come back later in the story. So although I like the power of imagination, there were some parts I didn’t want the readers to make up themselves. Like the “Poison” found in the characters and them glowing because of it. There’s a very specific way that I saw that in my mind so I wanted the readers to see the same way. I think if you had read the Star Wars movie script and saw the description of Darth Vadar, in your mind I doubt what you saw would have matched what George Lucas brought to life.
I also put a lot of work into the design of the characters. The Amphibilands was another point of emphasis. Sanford helped me envision everything. He’s an incredible artist and by the time we got to book three, I didn’t have to tell him much or give any direction at all.
BTC: Why kids’ books? How have your own children influenced your writing?
TP: Before I wrote Kulipari, I had written a drama for ABC television, submitted storied to the The New York Times, NBC.com and other Hollywood outlets. I kept coming back to my son, who is now 9 years old. He had TVs in our house on whenever he wanted to. So Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninjago, Marvel, etc. A writer is usually a product of his influences and surroundings. And my son surrounded me with the things he loved. If my daughters ran the TVs in the house, I would have likely written my own version of Twilight.
With kids’ properties, they live on forever, if they’re good. There’s always new 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds. It’s the reason why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles keeps being re-booted.
BTC: What were some of your favorite books when you were a child?
TP: When I was a kid there was Batman, Star Wars and ShaZam and the rest. My favorite book as a kid was called The Hooples Horrible Holiday.
BTC: Congratulations on the trilogy becoming a Netflix series (arriving next year). How involved will you be in production? Do you have any other news you can share about the series?
TP: Thanks! The Netflix series is in production now. The first season is 13 episodes. Seven of them are done. It looks pretty fantastic. I serve as the creator and executive producer. I picked everything. The music, the designs and the story the way I wanted to tell it. It’s a labor of love.
Right now I’m writing the the prequel story, The Hidingwar trilogy that tells the story of Darel’s father Apari, and the formation of the Amphibilands after Terra Australis and the Poison Scrolls. I’m really, really excited about that one. They will be live action movies in theaters around 2018.
BTC: What other books or projects do you have that we can look forward to?
TP: Kulipari: Battalions, the mobile game, is available now for IOS and Android. It’s a tower defense game in the vein of Clash of Clans or Game of War. It’s really, really cool. You can pick either Frogs or Scorpions and build your army. In the future, we are going to add Spiders and Turtles. And this month, the release of book three in the series Amphibian’s End!
Mattel has made a series of toys that go with the game that give in-game upgrades. Really, really cool. And Under Armour is making Kulipari Gear starting with limited edition T-shirts available now. Very limited quantities of course.
There’s going to be a fourth book in the series called Kulipari: A Lord Rises, which picks up after Amphibian’s End. Burnu is also getting a comic book called Kulipari: Heritage, as he’s the Kulipari version of Wolverine and will set out on his own adventure.
Also be on the lookout for Kulipari: Dreamwalker on Xbox One and PS4 next fall.
BTC: You were such an important part of the Ravens’ number 1 ranked defense. Can you share some of your favorite moments or games during your time as a member of Ravens Nation with our readers? How do Baltimore fans rank compared to fans from other cities you played in?
TP: I think the biggest thing I can share about that was the fact that my family and I decided to stay in this area. We live in Howard County and love it here. My kids were all born in Denver and, if not for playing for the Ravens, we would still be living there. And although Denver is great, it isn’t the DMV [D.C./Maryland/Virginia area]. And we are so grateful that a place like this exists. Everything about it.
So I would say I have the Ravens to thank for that. We would have never looked at Baltimore as a viable place to raise our children and set roots if not for me playing here. It’s a great organization, yes, but it’s even better as a part of the country. I’ve told everyone I know that they should move here.
Really, at the end of the day, I played for three cities, and my biggest compliment is that when football is over, where do the players go when they retire? I went here. I stayed here. I didn’t stay in this part of the world because it was just the last place where I played. I stayed because I love it. And there’s no better thing I can say than that. Really. And that’s my favorite memory. Because every day it keeps giving.
The longlists for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were announced yesterday, and 20 outstanding titles have made each list. Congratulations to Baltimore’s own Anne Tyler, whose A Spool of Blue Thread made the fiction list, while another Baltimore native, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was selected for the nonfiction list with Between the World and Me. It’s been a very good year for Coates, who is also on the National Book Award longlist and was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow on Monday.
The Carnegie committee is a joint project between RUSA, a division of the American Library Association, and Booklist. A shortlist will be announced on October 19, and the winners will be announced on January 10, 2016.
Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin first introduces readers to Ally when she is 31 and struggling to balance her career as a professor with the demands of single motherhood. In addition to her 10-year-old daughter Lizzie, Ally also has to reckon with her interfering and frequently disapproving mother. Needless to say, there is no room for dating, romance or even a casual fling in her life.
But one weekend Ally has her house to herself and finds herself alone with Jake, a 21-year-old former student who has volunteered to make some needed repairs to her home. Their chemistry is palpable and Ally gives in to a steamy weekend of passion. As the weekend draws to a close, Jake wants to pursue a lasting relationship, but Ally sends him packing. Flash forward 10 years and Ally is still single, living in Brooklyn and coping with the recent death of her mother. Lizzie, an aspiring actress, brings home a co-worker for dinner who turns out to be Jake, now a Hollywood mega-star. Ally panics because she has never forgotten him or their magical weekend and Jake’s memories are equally vivid. Their attraction still sizzles and Ally must decide if she is willing to give their relationship a real chance.
Moulin effortlessly weaves between the two time lines and brings a real spark to this star-crossed couple. Jake and Ally are honest and relatable characters whose happily ever after is 10 years in the making. Supporting characters, zany plot lines and zippy dialogue are the perfect complements to this funny, romantic and sexy story.
Jackie Collins, the beloved best-selling novelist, died over the weekend following a six-year battle with breast cancer. She was 77. She published 30 books over four decades, selling more than 500 million copies in 40 countries and casting a strong influence in the worlds of publishing and Hollywood.
Born in London, Jackie was a rebellious child who was expelled from school as a teenager. Her options were reform school or Hollywood, so she chose to join her actress sister, Joan, in Hollywood. She tried acting, but eventually made the switch to novelist with the publication of her first novel in 1968. The World Is Full of Married Men which was so salacious it was banned in Australia and South Africa. Many of her novels focused on the scintillating lives of Hollywood’s rich and famous, including Hollywood Wives which was made into a successful miniseries. Her novels featuring Lucy Santangelo all hit the bestseller lists and The Santangelos was her last published novel.
Following her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, Jackie chose to keep her illness almost entirely to herself. In an exclusive interview with People Magazine on September 14, she noted, "I did it my way, as Frank Sinatra would say. I've written five books since the diagnosis, I've lived my life, I've travelled all over the world, I have not turned down book tours and no one has ever known until now when I feel as though I should come out with it." A complete list of titles available from BCPL can be found here.
James. R. Benn’s successful Billy Boyle mystery series has captivated readers with its historical accuracy and intriguing plots. Now, Billy returns for his 10th outing in The White Ghost. Get to know James, his research and writing habits, his past as a librarian (including a connection to BCPL!) and enjoy a sneak peek at where Billy’s headed next.
Between the Covers: The Billy Boyle series is set during World War II. Was this a historical time period that always interested you? What is it about this war that remains a historical touchstone for so many? Do you hear from veterans and/or their families?
James R. Benn: When I was growing up, nearly every kid in the neighborhood had a dad who was in the war. It was part of the fabric of life. My father served in the China-India-Burma Theater and I was mesmerized by his stories and the souvenirs he brought home. When I finally started writing, the choice was based somewhat on that history, but also on a study of the historical mystery genre. I discovered it was the fastest growing fiction genre, and noted that the Second World War was not well represented. It was then a natural choice.
World War II was a turning point for America; we went into it a somewhat isolated, disparate nation. It was this war that truly created the famous melting pot of America. Men and women from all walks of life and regions were thrown together and sent all over the world. Nothing like that had ever happened, and I think there’s a yearning for that kind of commonality. And clear-cut power, as well.
I frequently hear from the families of veterans. I have interviewed several vets at the invitation of family members, who say that their father, uncle or grandfather has never talked about the war. It often begins with reluctance, and then a stream of stories, mostly about their buddies. Finally, they may talk about combat. Once, a D-Day veteran signaled me to come close as his family chatted on the far side of the room. “They always ask me if I killed anyone,” he whispered. “I tell ’em no. But I did.”
BTC: Billy was a secondary character in your first book. Why did that character stay with you and compel you to flesh him out more fully? As the war progresses, it becomes more complex and morally murky. How have these complications and sometimes harsh realities changed Billy?
JRB: He just plain wouldn’t go away. I liked his attitude, and thought there might be something to his Eisenhower connection which would allow me to visit a wide variety of situations. After completing research for the first book, I sat down to begin writing. I’d planned on using the third person, being somewhat intimidated by first-person narratives. Then I typed the first line:
I wanted to die.
That stunned me, but I stayed with it. I guess Billy lives somewhere in my subconscious.
After the first book, I understood that the war had to take an emotional toll for Billy. I received terrific advice from the novelist Rachel Basch, who told me “remember, the story has to move down as well as forward.” Billy is constantly confronted by terrible choices, navigating the lesser of multiple evils in a horribly evil war. It is taking a toll.
BTC: In The White Ghost, Billy goes back in time to the Pacific where he gets involved with the Kennedy family. Why was it important to you to set Billy in the Pacific? How critical was it that you share the story of John F. Kennedy and PT-109?
JRB: I was surprised at how many readers asked for a book set in the Pacific; perhaps a lot of them had family who served there. I was stumped at how to do that in a way that made sense. Then I thought the Boston Irish connection with Jack Kennedy would be interesting. But, in the timeline of Billy’s world, it was May 1944. By then, JFK was back in the States and out of the service for medical reasons.
In a flash of unplanned genius, I noticed a gap between the third and fourth books; several months which fit exactly into the events surrounding the sinking of PT-109. So…now, the story can be told.
As a baby boomer, I grew up in awe of JFK. I had no idea what a very strange family he came from. The Kennedy children were brought up in a highly competitive and emotionally traumatizing environment. The war was the best thing that ever happened to Jack Kennedy; it got him out from under the thumb of his overbearing father and showed him what regular folks were like. He really had no idea.
BTC: Billy has travelled all over, beginning in England and including Norway, the Mediterranean and Ireland. Is travelling to these locations part of your research? What is your most memorable trip?
JRB: Yes; my wife and I have traveled to England, Sicily, Italy and Ireland for research. Sicily was quite special; we approached a farmer about looking at some bunkers on his land where a battle took place. It turned out to be Easter Monday, which is a big family gathering day in Sicily. We were taken in and treated as honored guests among the 30 or so family members. No one spoke English and we didn’t speak Italian. With the aid of a pocket dictionary and the German I and one of the men spoke, we talked all day. And ate and drank. We left that night loaded with flowers and fruit. It was a wonderful experience, and a perfect example of Sicilian hospitality. They’ve survived centuries of conquest by absorbing newcomers.
BTC: Other than travelling, do you have any research or writing routines?
JRB: My research is built around reading widely about the subject and geographical area I want to explore. I try to immerse myself in the time and place, through contemporary fiction and nonfiction. My goal is not to simply understand the facts of what happened, but how people in the 1940s would have perceived what was happening to them.
BTC: You pay homage to Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie in two of the books. Who are your biggest influences as a mystery writer?
JRB: The Sherlock Holmes stories were the first mysteries I ever read, so it was hard to resist a ride down Baker Street. While I also enjoy Agatha Christie, it was the proximity of her home (used as a naval headquarters) to the Slapton Sands tragedy that led me to give her a walk-on in The Rest Is Silence.
BTC: You had a long career as a librarian! Did that influence your writing in any way? What is the thing you miss most about working in a library?
JRB: My first job at age 14 was as a library page. I became a librarian out of an unabashed old-school love of books and reading. I wandered around the library field quite a bit, even getting to know Charlie Robinson at BCPL when I worked for a library automation company. That career wanderlust was probably due to the fact I knew there was something else I wanted to do with my life. It was my wife who steered me in the right direction on my 50th birthday, but that’s another story. Right now what I like best about libraries is inter-library loan, the mainstay of my research!
BTC: Do you have a finite number of books planned for the series? Can you give us a preview of Billy’s next adventure?
JRB: Billy and I have not grown tired of each other yet. I’m about to turn in the manuscript for the 2016 release, The Blue Madonna. That book will bring us to D-Day, with Billy and Kaz behind enemy lines in a strange chateau with ghosts, mysterious tunnels, downed airmen and a certain SOE operative who Billy knows very well. And oh yes, murders.
I also have a vague idea for a book involving USO entertainers at some point. Billy needs to see a good show, don’t you think?