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This week we are excited to introduce you to Joshua Unruh, author of the fabulously fun TEEN Agents series. Today he shares with us how his childhood interests influenced the writing of The Plundered Parent Protocol. (This is my daughter’s new favorite book! And she is “totally a huge fan of Mr. Unruh. He’s so cool!” Well, there you go. I can’t top that as an introduction. Here’s Mr. Totally Cool himself, Joshua Unruh.
Heather asked me to talk a little bit about how the things I liked when I was a pre-teen and teenager (I’m old enough that there wasn’t a questionable label like tween when it would have fit me) fed into my fevered brain and came out as TEEN Agents in the Plundered Parent Protocol.
Well, this ought to be easy. A lot of the stuff I liked then is stuff I still like now!
I like it in a different, more grown-up way (or so I’ve convinced myself). But it’s still a lot of the same stuff from back in the day. That age is when I started to discover things other than superheroes that were going to gnaw into my brain like a worm and stay there forever. The second most important of those discoveries was espionage fiction. More specifically, it was Spy-fi.
For ease, I’m going to use the Wikipedia entry’s definition of Spy-Fi:
It often uses a secret agent (solo or in a team) or superspy whose mission is a showcase of science fiction elements such as technology and ideas used for extortion, plots for world domination or world destruction, futuristic weapons, gadgets and fast vehicles that can travel on land, fly, or sail on or under the sea.
My dad was a HUGE Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan when he was a kid. He got me watching it and, for some reason I still can’t understand, whatever channel ran it had Avengers afterward. No, not the superheroes with Iron Man and Captain America. Rather, a British male and female duo calmly and coolly handling all of Britain’s weird scientists and would-be worldbeaters. The godawful movie Wild Wild West, a Western Spy-fi, also came out around this time and, thank goodness, my dad was there for me on that one too. He let me know the seed was a television show that was not godawful.
Spy-fi felt to me like spies, which I loved, married with superheroes, which I loved EVEN MORE. The final nail in the coffin was discovering Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD. This was superspies set in a comic book universe with existing superheroes and supervillains. Peanut butter meet chocolate.
My favorite Young Adult literature will always be superheroes. But when I decided to have female protagonists, I had to deal with the fact that the ladies don’t really dig on superheroes. But heroines have always had a strong place in Spy-fi. Emma Peel was at least as popular as John Steed. Contessa was a supporting character for Nick Fury, but she still managed to get a lot of solo stories. There was even a Girl from U.N.C.L.E. spin-off that I liked as much as the Man.
In the modern era, you have Bond girl Wai Linn (Michelle Yeoh) showing up the titular character. You’ve got Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) leading an everything-and-the-kitchen-
sink Spy-fi show called Alias for five seasons. There was a La Femme Nikita remake starring Maggie Q. Batwoman is the best Bat-Family book on the shelves. ABC Family, of all places, gave us Natalie Morales in The Middle Man, which feels like TEEN Agents after it graduated from college.
Clearly if I wanted to write a book with female protagonists that would appeal to young ladies as well as 12-year-old-me, it had to be a Spy-fi book. And that’s a biggest part of how TEEN Agents was born.
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