FQ: Monsterland was incredible, and so was Witches Protection Program. As a movie-buff in life, are there any films you can name that had a direct effect on your books?
OKON: Thank you for the kudos! All of my books have been influenced in some way or another by films. Monsterland was my version of Jurassic Park and The Goonies. Witches Protection Program has elements of Men in Black and Hellboy, two of my favs.
FQ: Along those same lines, is there a movie that you feel inspired you to first delve into writing? If so, what would that be and what about that film sparked the desire to entertain one and all?
OKON: Back to the Future and The Goonies were the two movies that did it for me. I still watch them today and get choked up when certain lines are said. Those two films were so impactful on my life and how I tell stories. Everything I do story-wise today is based on these two films.
FQ: Will this be a standalone book, or will the world be able to follow The Witches Protection Program and their “assignments” once again?
OKON: I don’t do standalones. I have a hard time saying goodbye to characters so rest assured there will be plenty more adventures of Wes and the WPP crew.
FQ: You use the one-and-only NYC as your canvas. In what ways does setting enhance narrative – and how does this placement suit the story you wanted to tell?
OKON: Great question. I’ve grown up my entire life in New York. The North Shore of Long Island specifically. Nearly every Wednesday during the school year, my mom would take my brother and me into Manhattan and we would see a Broadway show. On long weekends like Thanksgiving and Labor Day, my family and I would pop into the city for lunch and a museum.
To me, New York City is the capital of the world, so when the Martians land, I'm sure they'll be meeting the diplomats there.
New York has everything. Literally everything. And a city that has everything, has the greatest assortment of characters to feed a young writer’s imagination. I have been to Manhattan a thousand times, maybe more. Every single time I’ve been there, I have studied the people walking the streets. I love the diversity of the city, the Halal vendors next to crepe trucks. Watch the police directing traffic, or delivery people racing by on bikes. I close my eyes and invent backstories. In fact, we did that as kids on the train. Do you think that lady is a spy? My mom would ask. What do you think that person is doing here with that suitcase? Ransome? And that my friends make EXCELLENT storytelling.
There was no other city in the world I could have written Witches but New York City. The city was the third major character in the story, much like Amity was in Jaws. I don't think it could have worked in another city.
New York City is full of powerful people. I took the idea of a makeup firm and planted it right where L’Oreal or Liz Cairborne could be. I thought it was the perfect place to demystify witches, so they could blend in with society and no one would ever know.
I’ve driven over the Manhattan bridge and always wondered if an actual secret government organization was hidden in Brooklyn.
These ideas have percolated in my mind for over three decades. It wasn’t until I started writing the Witches Protection Program that I saw New York City as a primary character.
All of these characters are from New York. Wes is from Astoria. Bernadette and Morgan are born and raised in NYC. Gabby is from Brooklyn. Alastair is a New Yorker at heart, and I won’t say where he’s from exactly – that’s in the sequel. They have this certain attitude that every New Yorker has. It was extraordinarily easy to write Witches because I knew every character and what they were going to say, or how they think.
FQ: Throughout, is there one character in the series that found a larger part or took on a larger role than you first assumed they would? If so, who would that be?
OKON: Junie. In the original screenplay (that is being shopped around now to all the studios by my agent), Junie dies in the first 15 minutes. It propels Wes to take the job in the WPP. But in the book, Junie is a rockstar and fairy godmother mixed together
She is central to the story. Without her, there would be no victory at the end. I won’t spoil much, but Junie’s character really knows how to make a potion.
FQ: What is your plotting process like? Also, more generally, what do you believe are the keys to building/maintaining suspense?
OKON: Another great question. All my stories are mapped out and arced out. I cannot write a story on a blank page. I know where every character is going.
I create a spreadsheet for all my characters, both good and bad, and I plot out their most important points in the story. The keys to building suspense are pulling back the curtain one inch at a time throughout each chapter. You can’t reveal anything in the first chapter. It has to be peeled back slowly. All of my stories have twists, I couldn’t write them any other way.
FQ: Does the humor come easily for you when putting together a book; and, is there a genre you have not yet touched that you wish to in the future?
OKON: I am generally a very funny person, but my wife doesn’t think so. Humor must be in every part of my book.
The reader is reading through the protagonists eyes so going into something that has never existed has to be funny.
Getting reassigned to the WPP, yeah right, as if things like that could be real.
There is humor to his thought process because the idea of a government organization that protects witches sounds so far-fetched.
FQ: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next? ?
OKON: Oh boy, I have A LOT in the pipeline. Monsterland 3 is nearly finished. WPP 2 is already being beat out. I have 3 new manuscripts I’m giving to my agent soon. Dragged Down Deep – think the Creature From the Black Lagoon meets Indiana Jones. Whillpower – a group of students on the spectrum are enlisted into a superhero high school. And Inheritance – a poor millennial is invited to read her dead uncle’s will at his haunted mansion with her dysfunctional family. And there is plenty more where that came from!