RLU: I’ve always identified with underdogs, probably because that’s how I felt growing up. I was never particularly great at anything, but had siblings who were good in sports and far more popular than I ever was. I spent a lot of my tween/teen years reading, especially science fiction/adventure and comic books. So, when I first thought about writing a novel, a story naturally popped into my head about a boy who lived in a family of superheroes, but didn’t have any superpowers. He was an underdog to the extreme who always wanted to belong. I just connected so deeply with the main character’s feelings and emotions. While this story is filled with action and adventure, it’s also a very personal coming of age story.
RLU: Elliott Harkness is an ordinary 12-year-old kid who lives an extraordinary life. Like other kids his age, he goes to middle school and deals with homework, ridicule, and bullies. But unlike other kids, he lives on a satellite headquarters in outer space with his dynamic family, who are all part of the Freedom Force, the world’s greatest superhero team. He tries using his clever sense-of-humor to manage through both worlds, but often finds himself on the outside looking in. Surrounded by so much amazingness, he feels alone and struggles to carve out his own identity. But everything changes when a mysterious girl comes to town who believes he’s not so ordinary. Elliott is then swept up in an exciting adventure where he realizes he’s the planet’s only hope. He’s a kid and makes plenty of mistakes along the way, but ultimately the story hinges on whether or not Elliott is able to rise above his own self-doubt and find the power within himself to be the epic hero he’s always wanted to be.
BBB: What do you think readers will find most appealing about your book?
RLU: I think readers really enjoy rooting for the main character, Elliott Harkness. Most people can relate to feeling like a complete and utter failure at some point in their lives. But, at the heart of the story is a message that sometimes even those who don’t appear to be special on the surface may have deep talents hidden inside that just need to be discovered. I think people can really identify with this idea and it’s a core theme throughout the series. Readers also enjoy the colorful cast of characters with distinct personalities that both complicate and deepen Elliott’s experiences. My favorite supporting character is his sometimes loyal German Shepherd, Dog-Gone, who tends to turn invisible at exactly the wrong moments.
BBB: Tell us about your illustrations.
RLU: One of my goals with the series was to really deepen the reader’s connection to the characters. To that end, I’ve spent loads of time creating detailed character profile pages that include not only illustrations of each main character, but also statistics regarding their vitals, superpowers, and combat characteristics. I was always a curious kid who spent hours comparing and contrasting my favorite heroes and villains. Readers have responded really positively to the added detail which helps bring the story even more to life. I’ve also included a fun glossary of superpowers.
BBB: What are you currently working on?
RLU: I was so encouraged by feedback from adults and kids that I’ve turned Epic Zero into a series. I’ve just released Epic Zero 1.5 (a short story continuing Elliott’s misadventures which you can get free on my website), and I’ll be releasing the sequel, Epic Zero 2, at the end of February 2016. It was important for me to write a book series that families can enjoy together, and it’s been rewarding to see I’ve accomplished that goal. To see what I’m up to and get exclusive content, please sign up for my Epic Newsflash at rlullman.com.