Derek Taylor Kent - Hidden Secrets in Films
Derek Kent has always been fascinated with the legendary Stanley Kubrick and all the conspiracy theories about the subliminal messages in his work. This inspired him to write Kubrick's Game, a book that, just as most of his other books, very quickly became a bestseller. As our Author of the Day, Kent reveals his secret to success, talks about his fascination with Kubrick and the real-life treasure hunt he created for his readers.
Please give us a short introduction to what Kubrick's Game is about
The book is about a geeky film student named Shawn Hagan, who uncovered a hidden game within the films of legendary director Stanley Kubrick, which seems to be leading to a mysterious treasure that Kubrick left behind. But when other nefarious groups also discover the game, it's a race against the clock to find Kubrick's prize before it falls into the wrong hands.
What inspired you to use films as a way to hide clues?
The films of Stanley Kubrick were already filled with puzzles and mysterious. So much so that it has inspired legions of conspiracy theory enthusiasts and even a feature films documentary, Room 237, who believe all kinds of incredible stories about what Kubrick's films are really trying to tell us. What is interesting is that there is most likely a kernel of truth in there because it is a fact that Kubrick met with advertising companies to discuss how they use subliminal messaging to help sell their products. It is believed he sought used these techniques in films like The Shining to give us certain clues about a secret truth he knew about.
Using my lifelong obsession with the greatness and artistry of Kubrick's films, I was inspired to explore the idea that all the secret messages in Kubrick's films were actually put there for the construct of a game he created. Being a lover of puzzles and scavenger hunts, it all seemed to come together perfectly and I knew I had to make it my next project.
Tell us a bit about your main character, Shawn Hagan. Who is he, and what makes him so special?
Shawn is an amalgamation of some friends I had growing up who were huge Kubrick geeks (who inspired my own geekiness) as well as myself. He is on the high functioning side of the autism spectrum, which is also something I can relate to. I, like many writers, have anti-social tendencies and can easily become obsessed with movies, TV, and music that speaks to me. I also worked with autistic kids while a summer camp counselor and have family members with Aspergers, so it is something I felt familiar with that made a lot of sense for the character and the type of adventure of self-discovery he needs to go on in order to play the game.
What surprised you most about readers' reactions to the book?
I had absolutely no idea if anybody who wasn't a devoted Kubrick fan like myself would be able to appreciate or care about the story, but luckily it seems that for most people it hasn't mattered. Much in the same way you don't have to be an art history expert to appreciate The Da Vinci Code, people who have never even seen a Kubrick film enjoy learning about the his films and the film industry, or can find interest in the characters' journeys and relationships.
Many of your books become bestsellers - Kubrick's Game is no exception. What, would you say, is your recipe to success?
With my children's book series Scary School and El Perro con Sombrero, those were published by HarperCollins and Holt/Macmillan, but that was no guarantee of any modicum of success. Any success those books had was due to the hard work almost all children's authors have to do of going from school to school doing presentations and signings, oftentimes for little or no money, in order to hopefully start word of mouth going. Those efforts had to be nearly entirely grassroots because kids are notoriously difficult to reach with advertising unless you can afford commercials on Nickelodeon. I also invested many months of time reaching out to every single children's book blogger to let them know about Scary School and El Perro con Sombrero, and luckily I was able to create many fans whose audience were parents looking for books for their kids.
With Kubrick's Game, I knew my audience spent a lot of time online and which sites they tended to visit, so I was fortunately able to get reviews from sites like Mugglenet, Io9 Gizmodo, Puzzle Nation, and many other geek-centric sites. I was also fortunate enough to land a Bookbub promotion with the help of my publisher, Evolved Publishing. When the Bookbub promotion was released around the same time that the major reviews started coming out, it created a swirl of international interest and sales that seems to have carried through and that will hopefully keep going.
Lastly, in creating the audiobook, I was lucky enough to land to fantastic narrators in Star Trek's Jonathan Frakes and Community's Yvette Nicole Brown, who were gracious enough to offer their social media efforts in support of the project.
Tell us a bit more about the real-life treasure hunt that accompanies Kubrick's Game.
After reading an entire book about a treasure hunt, I had a feeling that readers would be itching to participate in one of their own, so that's exactly what we created for them. Working with the puzzle mavens of Fantastic Race (FantasticRace.com), who create massive city-wide scavenger hunts and diabolical escape rooms, we have created a real-life, Kubrick-themed treasure hunt that anybody can play (even if you haven't read the book yet). All they have to do is go to DerekTaylorKent.com/the-game to get started. The game is designed so that anybody can enter up until around March 1 and still have just as good a chance as anyone else at winning one of the grand prizes.
What are some of your favorite treasure hunting stories of all time?
My biggest inspiration for Kubrick's Game was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It had the same geek sensibility, and told an incredible story set mainly in a world of Virtual Reality based on 80s pop culture. After reading it, I knew I had to write my own book that was based on my biggest passion, named Kubrick.
Kubrick's Game is a real page-turner. What is your secret to keeping readers at the edge of their seats?
With a thriller like Kubrick's Game, I was focused on constantly raising the stakes, having a multitude of plot twists, and keeping the reader engaged by the puzzles and new information they are learning. But most importantly, I wanted to create characters that the readers would care about and root for, because nothing will grab a reader more than that.
The book contains quite a couple of twists. Did you plan them out before you started writing, or did some of them just "happen?
I am a meticulous planner before I start writing, so I spent over a year and half researching and outlining the story before I ever started typing the book, so most everything was well planned-out, but I still give myself freedom to discover new elements in the course of writing.
Besides writing, what other cool skills do you have?
Let's see... back in high school I trained for two years with professional table tennis players and was in the tournament circuit. I love to cook, especially Italian, and even cooked my way through Mario Batali's cookbook Julie and Julia-style. I also do a lot of songwriting and even released a folk/rock album about ten years ago under the band name Son of Scotland, which you can find on Spotify and iTunes :)
Do you have any interesting writing habits? Favorite writing spot, perfect time of day for writing etc.?
When I'm inspired, I can get into what I call a "writing-zone" when I can just write for countless hours with barely any breaks. One time I wrote an entire screenplay in a weekend, and when writing Kubrick's Game, I remember several days when I wrote for 10 hours without stoppage.
How much research did you have to do about Kubrick for this book and what was the most interesting aspect of your research?
The research was one of the most daunting and rewarding parts of process. I read every single book about Kubrick ever written, plus every online article, whether it was serious analysis or outlandish conspiracy theory. I also watched every film multiple times, taking notes and finding new wonders with every viewing. For the puzzles in the book, I was aided by Bob Glouberman and Larry Toffler of Fantastic Race, who happened to be Kubrick fanatics like myself and were inspired to help create the most diabolical puzzles ever put in print (in our humble opinion).
What are you working on right now?
I am in the beginning stages of outlining a sequel to Kubrick's Game, and I am writing a new YA and children's book as well. I also have a horror film I wrote called Naughty that is in pre-production and will be announced to the public shortly.
Where can readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My primary website is DerekTaylorKent.com, where I have concentrated all of my creative efforts from children's books, to Kubrick's game, to web series, short films, music, and theater. There is also a great website for kids at ScarySchool.com, where they can tour the school, meet the book's students and teachers, unlock secret chapters, and even play a game that will win them the weirdest trophy ever.