Many stories are about protagonists who somehow manage to balance completing schoolwork, falling in love, and saving the world all at the same time. But let’s be honest, that’s not how life usually works. The View From Mars by Seth Larsen and his twins, Dylan and Kai Larsen, presents the wonderfully crafted tale of a young boy named Mars who is trying to juggle living in a new state, protecting his family, and saving his parents’ marriage. Relatable, enthralling, and humorous—this coming-of-age story is one you definitely won’t want to miss!
Interviewer: Sophie Lin
Q: Why did you decide to write a book with your children?
A: The seed was that I wanted to connect and spend more time with my twins Daylen and Kai, who were in fifth grade at the time. I knew they enjoyed creative writing—they sometimes write short stories just for fun, the same way I did when I was their age. I suggested the idea of writing a book together, and they immediately said yes. I cautioned that we’d have to meet regularly, and it would take a long time, but that didn’t temper their enthusiasm at all. We didn’t fully understand what we were getting into, but before any of us knew it, we were off and running.
Q: What inspired you to become a writer?
A: I’ve loved writing stories ever since I was a kid. When I was eleven or twelve, I would hole up in my room to write ambitious stories, although I rarely finished them. I used to watch sporting events on TV and write articles about what I saw—then compare it to the article in the newspaper the next day, to see “who did it better.” I moved to Los Angeles after college to try and make a go of it as a writer. I was never really able to make a living from it, but I’ve never stopped writing in one form or another. It’s just too much of my DNA—I couldn’t stop if I wanted to.
Q: Who came up with the idea for Mars?
A: From the outset, we spent quite a bit of time coming up with a catchy title for the book. We wanted it to be kind of a play on the character’s name—something that conveyed a specific point of view. After bouncing around countless character names and title ideas, we arrived at the name and title. It’s unusual to come up with the title first, but we wanted to have an idea and concept to keep returning to—something that would sustain our inspiration. We all agreed that we wanted a “fish out of water” character, because those were the types of characters my twins really enjoyed reading. My kids enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, and I showed them some episodes of one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, “The Wonder Years.” We definitely wanted a mix of humor and real life. From there, most of the characters came from the minds of Daylen and Kai. I asked a lot of questions, and helped shape the overall story arc (and the grammar!).
Q: What was your process for writing The View From Mars, considering that you had three writers and two illustrators?
A: My twins and I met up Wednesdays and Sunday nights. Initially, these were whiteboard sessions, and our ideas were all over the place. We focused on characters—developing people that would be fun to write…flawed people that you could take a journey with. Once we felt we had a strong set of characters that would generate conflict with one another, we developed story lines and character arcs for each of the primary characters. Nearly all of the story points were conjured up by Daylen and Kai. We jotted down countless ideas for specific chapters, many of which were based on things that had happened to my twins (or to me when I was their age), and things that we’d observed on the playground. My role was to help us connect these ideas into coherent story lines and themes…making sure the story was building toward something, with an effective set-up and pay-off. My other two kids, Savahn (aka Shiu Shiu) and Seth (aka Sumo), had been expressing an interest in being involved in the creative process somehow. Savahn loves art and drawing, so I suggested she illustrate—and she was really excited about that. Sumo isn’t necessarily wired toward art in the way my daughter is, but he has a great sense of humor and helped integrate that into the drawings. Besides, we couldn’t leave him out! Once we finished the first draft of the book, Daylen and Kai began describing the scenes to Savahn and Sumo so that they could start creating looks for each of the characters. After a series of revisions between the kids that was surprisingly collaborative and mature, they started generating drawings that could be used in the book. Then we all voted on which ones made the most sense to include.
Q: What was your greatest challenge while writing this book?
A: Without question, the biggest obstacle was time. For the twins, balancing their schoolwork and activities with writing the book. For me, balancing the commitments of being a husband, a father of four, and fitting in my actual day job. That’s why it took a year and a half from our first meeting to having an actual book in hand.
Q: How did writing this book affect your relationship with your kids?
A: Writing this book was easily one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It benefited our relationship in ways I didn’t anticipate. The twins always really looked forward to our writing sessions, and so did I. I expected that. But the surprise for me was that it helped them see me as more of a “person” with actual feelings than just a robotic “dad.” When Daylen and Kai would toss out story ideas based on things they were dealing with, or things their friends were dealing with, it gave me the space to say, “Oh, yeah—that happened to me when I was your age, too.” I’d proceed to tell them these childhood stories, sometimes things that I hadn’t even thought about in 35 years. It gave them a perspective and an understanding of me that they would have never otherwise had. You could literally see their eyes widen—it blew their minds that I’d gone through many of the same emotions and feelings they’re going through now. And many of these things wove their way into our book, one way or the other. It was a special time that we’ll share for the rest of our lives.
Q: What advice would you give someone around Mars’s age to survive becoming a teenager?
A: Life is messy. But it can also be full of beautiful moments if you choose to recognize them. Realize that you can work through life’s challenges, and there can be positive outcomes, even if they aren’t always wrapped up nicely in a bow.
Q: How was your publishing experience?
A: Our publishing experience was very positive. We didn’t want to self-publish because we didn’t have money to spend upfront, and also didn’t want the stress of potentially carrying a lot of inventory that we were desperate to sell. So, we went the publishing-on-demand route. We used CreateSpace for the paperback, where you send them your files, and when people order through Amazon, the book is printed and sent. They, of course, take a healthy percentage of the profits, but we aren’t risking our own money—and it’s relatively easy and stress-free on our side. CreateSpace doesn’t do hard cover versions of books though. We knew we wanted a hardcover version because artistically they’re just cool, and also we found out that libraries prefer hardcover—and we knew we wanted to try and get our book in the LA County library (which we ultimately did!). For our hardcover version, we used Ingram Spark, who works with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most distributors. When someone buys the book through any of those channels, Ingram Spark prints the book, and it ultimately gets to where it needs to go.
Q: This book covers some pretty heavy topics, such as bullying and parental separation. Why did you choose to write about these issues?
A: We wanted the book to include some daunting challenges for the characters because that’s more interesting dramatically, but we also wanted the book to be relatable. We wanted sixth graders and young teens to read the book and immediately identify with the characters and what they’re going through. We wanted to deal with these things honestly, and with humor where possible. In one form or another, my twins and I have wrestled with many of the things described in the book, or been close to similar situations. Real life, after all, informed the book.
Q: If there was one message that a reader could take away from reading your book, what would you want it to be?
A: We have precious few family rules, but one of them is, “Always protect your family.” Sometimes it’s all you have, and the fabric of your family is only as strong as you make it. My wife and I drill this message into our kids all the time, because we believe it’ll carry them through life’s challenges into adulthood, long after we’re gone. That’s not to say the family isn’t full of its own complexities and conflict, but we have a deep desire for our kids to remain close. Thematically in our book, Mars and his siblings desperately want to get their parents back together, which is a beautiful thing, even if the way they go about it is naïve (and dishonest!). Mars’ brother and sister drive him nuts, too, but you can tell the love they have for each other.
Q: Are you working on any other projects (like a sequel!) that we should keep an eye out for?
A: Yes, we plan on writing a sequel. Savahn and Sumo also want to work on spin-off books, focusing on the journeys of the siblings. Ideas aren’t fully baked, but we’ll get there.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Fun fact: Mars’ younger brother is named Sumo. The character was heavily influenced by their real-life brother “Sumo.” The character name was a placeholder, and we never found a better name, so it stuck.