- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

RICHLAND CENTER, Wis. (AP) - When he was a kid growing up in Richland Center, Chris Pauls was fascinated with the A.D. German warehouse downtown. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born in the Wisconsin town, the boxy building is most noteworthy for the elaborate Mayan frieze that tops it.

“My mother used to take us to the grocery store across the street,” Pauls said. “I always used to ask her, ‘What’s in there?’”

For their new young adult novel, Pauls and his longtime writing partner, Matt Solomon of Madison, decided to put something in there: A 20-foot-tall giant named Bruce, The Capital Times (https://bit.ly/25yRpsq ) reported.

“The Giant Smugglers,” which came out last month from Fiewel & Friends publishing, imagines that giants are real and living among us in secret. Richland Center is one stop on an “underground railroad” for giants being hunted by scientists who want to replicate their DNA and create 20-foot-tall armies.

In Pauls’ and Solomon’s book, a teenage boy named Charlie stumbles across Bruce hiding inside the warehouse, and then must work to help smuggle him out of Wisconsin and down to Louisiana. Along the way, they’re hounded by scientists, teenage bullies and a mysterious giant wrangler known as The Stick.

Pauls and Solomon didn’t intend on writing novels for young adults. But their last novel, “Deck Z” - an alternate history thriller about a zombie outbreak on the Titanic - became a big hit among teenage readers. They thought teens were a perfect audience for their fast-moving, larger-than-life tale.

“You’ve got to get the needle on the record right away and have things happen,” Pauls said of young-adult plots.

As outlandish as “The Giant Smugglers” gets (at one point there’s a duel between giants on the streets of Richland Center), the authors were careful to always keep at least a toe in reality. Pauls, in particular, wanted to make sure he stuck as much as possible to real locations in his hometown.

“I can set up all the action sequences because I know the town,” Pauls said. “There’s almost like a ‘Giant Smugglers’ walking tour you can take.”

The pair have had the idea behind “The Giant Smugglers” percolating for years, and wrote 12 drafts of the story before sending it out to publishers via their agent.

Writing a novel together is unusual for two writers to do, but it’s a process that has served both well for years. They first met while contributing humor pieces to the Onion, and recognized a similar sensibility as well as a lack of ego.

“Chemistry has to be part of it,” Solomon said. “In the comedy world, collaboration is much more common than in fiction. Screenplays are often written by teams, novels very rarely are.”

“If there is a delineation in what we do, Matt is the character guy, and I’m the ‘blow stuff up’ guy,” Pauls said.

The process of collaborating on a novel is unusual enough that Pauls and Solomon will be guests at the Write-By-The-Lake writers’ retreat in June, talking about their process at the Pyle Center as part of the UW Center for Continuing Studies.

Pauls said the collaborative approach is especially helpful when it comes to working on the story, throwing out ideas and solving problems that come up as they’re mapping out the narrative. Once they have the story thoroughly worked out, they divvy up the writing between them.

“We really talk it out ahead of time,” Solomon said. “I rarely get a chapter from Chris where I’m like, ‘Whoa, what happened here?’”

The pair said their background in comedy writing has taught them that it’s more important to make a story better than to make sure their own ideas are protected.

“Our egos don’t enter into it,” Pauls said. “A good idea is a good idea, and everything succeeds or fails on its merits.”


Information from: The Capital Times, https://www.madison.com/tct

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