When done right, a novel creates a vivid world that jumps off the pages. But in their fantasy novel Between Worlds (hardcover, digital), writer Skip Brittenham and artists Brian Haberlin, Jay Anacleto, and Doug Siros don’t just do this with words and full color illustrations. The thirteen images in the book actually interact with a free app for iOS and Android, turning the cover and the illustrations into 3D images you can interact with, as well as use for magic training so you can learn to battle Monga. It’s rather trippy how well it works. Though as I learned when I spoke to Skip and Brian about the book, the illustrations, and the interactivity, call the latter two elements an augmentation of the former isn’t quite right.
I want to start with the story, so the first couple questions are for you, Skip. To begin, what is Between Worlds about?
Skip: It is about discovery. Two misfit teenagers travel through time and space to another world where they have to battle to survive and, in doing so, learn how to control their own destiny and define for themselves who they are and to not just let their peers on Earth define who they are in a very negative way.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Skip: I got the initial germ of the idea when while doing some general research on the longevity of plants and animals. I discovered that quaking aspens trees are the oldest big organism on Earth because they can clone themselves. During the same period, I also read about different science-based theories of other potential parallel dimensions alongside Earths in a book about string theory. Eventually, I put the two concepts together and tossed in some magic
Fantasy is a rather broad term. What other fantasy novels do you think Between Worlds is most akin to and why?
Skip: It is most akin to the Harry Potter novels because it starts on contemporary Earth today and has young adults learning magic and how to deal with strange beasts. But the similarities end there. It also has elements of The Da Vinci Code because most of the science is based on actual science not made up just like how The De Vinci Code has a lot of real history and real science woven into it.
My understanding is that Between Worlds is the first book in a series. But was it originally conceived as such?
Skip: It was originally conceived as a one-off, not a series. After I finished it, I realized that there are so many others worlds and other adventures that the lead characters could experience that it might be worth pursuing them.
Without spoiling anything, will it be an ongoing series, a set number of books, what?
Skip: I have no idea if there will be one more book or many more. I am going to follow the characters and see where they take me.
And is the plan to have the other books be illustrated and interactive as well?
Between Worlds is classified as a “young adult” novel. But do you think that an old adult might enjoy it as well?
Skip: So far I’ve happily found that most adults that read it really enjoyed it too.
Along with your story, Between Worlds also includes a dozen full-color illustrations by Brian, Jay Anacleto, and Doug Siros. And I’ll get into the interactive aspect in a moment. What I wanted to start with was, Who decided to include illustrations and who chose the artists?
Skip: Brian and I decided to include the illustrations. We originally had many more of them, but then decided to cut them back so it didn’t become more of a picture book than novel. Brian picks and then I approve the artists.
When it came to their illustrations, did you have any say as to what they would draw?
Skip: We all work very collaboratively. I always tell the artists to take my words and try to draw what I described, but if you have a better idea than my words describe then show me because the best, coolest idea should always win.
Now Brian, you’re one of the artists who drew something for this book. What made you want to get involved?
Brian: I loved the idea of the book. And I’m always up for working on the fantastic…whenever you can just make up creatures and settings…that’s when things turn fun.
How many of the illustrations did you end up doing?
Brian: My hand is on everything in the book but Jay did most of the heavy lifting.
Now, at what point in the process did you decide to make it so people can scan the illustrations with a free app?
Brian: Anomaly is my company with Skip, and we pioneered that technology in 2012 with the release of our graphic novel Anomaly. All our projects have augmented reality.
Do you have to alter the illustration to accommodate whatever it is that triggers the app?
Brian: Our software recognizes the images. Basically, we can have any image be a trigger to augmented reality.
Skip, what do you think the illustrations add to your story, and what do you think the interactivity of the illustrations add to the story?
Skip: I think the young audiences today expect and want more interactivity in most of their daily interaction with content. I think the interactivity enriches the reading experience, adds unexpected fun, and gives fans an opportunity to dig deeper into the world and its inhabitants.
The back of the book has nice blurbs from movie producers Joe Roth (Maleficent) and Chris Meledanri (Minions), while the front cover has one from Harrison Ford (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Which begs the question, has there been any interest in turning Between Worlds into a movie, TV show, or video game?
Skip: A number of people in the motion picture industry have approached me to develop it as a movie but I have resisted doings so because I think it is too early in the process. We want to learn what resonates with the readers and why first.
If Between Worlds was going to be made into a movie, who would cast for the main roles?
Skip: Since the leads are teenagers I am the wrong person to ask. My 16-year-old daughter India would have much better ideas than me.
And are you in any way obligated to suggest Harrison Ford for a role since he wrote that blurb?
Skip: No obligation at all. Harrison is an old friend and I asked him to take a look at the book if he had time, but that if he did, I wanted him to tell me what he really thought of it. Which, if you knew him, is what he would always do anyway. He called me a few weeks later and seemed surprised that when he read it, he really enjoyed it, and would be happy to do a blurb for it if I wanted him too.
What about your wife [actress Heather Thomas from The Fall Guy], how is she going to feel when you don’t theoretically cast her in the theoretical movie adaptation of your book?
Skip: If there is a movie thank god I won’t be casting it.
Finally, if someone enjoys Between Worlds, and they want something to read while waiting for Between Worlds 2: Electric Boogaloo to come out, what book would each of you suggest they read and why?
Skip: I would pick The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman. It has mystery, magic, adventure, and lessons about humanity all wrapped into an excited story.