From A Series of Unfortunate Events’ Violet, Sunny, and Klaus, to Harry Potter himself, the literary world is no stranger to young orphans solving puzzles and fighting off the forces of evil in an effort to live a (somewhat) normal life. The latest is Warren the 13th, the star of Tania del Rio and Will Staehle’s latest novel Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods.
As the last member of the Warren line, the plucky 12-year-old is the eventual heir of the hotel he calls home. He’s joined in his travels by his Uncle Rupert, his new friend Petula and her mother Beatrice, his tutor Mr. Friggs, and Chef Bunion and his assistant Sketchy.
But even though Warren’s less than stellar life has taken a turn for the better, readers shouldn’t expect things to go so smoothly for the well-meaning lad. His latest adventure — which follows 2015’s fun Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye — sees the titular hero separated from his beloved hotel and forced to make his way back through a forest filled with witches, snakes, talking trees, and of course, riddles.
With del Rio and Staehle’s latest creation set to bookshelves on March 21, EW asked the duo what writing a Warren the 13th book involves.
1. Come up with the story
“The first book took place entirely within the confines of the hotel because that was introducing Warren’s world,” explains del Rio. “We really wanted to take the adventure out of the hotel in the second book. That’s why we came up with the forest and his trek to find his missing hotel by traveling through a forest full of witches.”
Part of coming up with the story involves crafting all the terrible things that befall incredibly sweet-hearted Warren.”Will actually reins me in sometimes because I want to do worse things to Warren than I think Will and the editor are comfortable with,” laughs del Rio.
“Warren is sort of my son,” explains Staehle, who actually created the character in art school. “So I’m very protective of him. I don’t like to see my hero suffer too much. [But] we definitely put him through his paces.”
The other aspect of the Warren the 13th books is the tone they strike, which is a blend of an older feel with a more modern sensibility. “When I write the narration I do write those a little more old school, but the dialogue stays pretty modern,” says del Rio. “But Will’s art brings a more vintage aspect to it.”
2. Find a good villain… or two
Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods sees more evil witches enter the series, namely Queen Calvina, who is determined to rescue her sisters, many of whom have been trapped by Beatrice, a skilled perfumier (a.k.a. a witch hunter), who is traveling in the Warren hotel.
“We had a really clear idea who the villain was in the first book,” says Staehle of Calvina’s creation. “For Book Two it made sense to go into that world a little further and explain where they came from.”
But that’s not the only evil-doer lurking in the pages of Whispering Woods. Readers will also meet Worrin, an evil version of the beloved protagonist.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we had two Warrens in Book Two?” explains Staehle. Adds del Rio, “It’s interesting because Warren is so kind and gentle and hardworking. It’s fun to have a duplicate of his character that is actually his complete opposite. It’s always fun to see an evil version of the character that you love.”
As the writer and the artist, respectively, both del Rio and Staehle are involved in the creation of the books’ villains. She says he sometimes designs villains who look a certain way and then they’ll work backward, or she’ll try and create villains he’d be interested in drawing. “It’s really about keeping it interesting. I’m inspired by villains in Roald Dahl’s books, like the weird, creepy characters he has in his writing,” del Rio says.
3. Add the art (plus a secret puzzle)
As fans may already know, Warren the 13th books are heavily illustrated. But before Staehle, who does the art for the series, can add in any of the stylized words or accompanying images, del Rio’s entire story must be finished and edited.
“I have to sprint for three-and-a-half months to do all of the artwork before it goes to a printer, so it’s pretty intensive,” says Staehle of his role in the book’s creation. “The main thing is just finding interesting visual shapes to use for the characters that kids can not only recognize but also draw themselves.”
There’s also the matter of picking a thematic color for the book. While All-Seeing Eye was red, Whispering Woods is green — which both Staehle and del Rio both say is not a reference to Wicked. “That green was because Warren spends more than two-thirds of the book in the forest among the trees,” explains Staehle.
And this book, like the previous one, will also include a secret code with clues towards the possible third book in the series. “We don’t want to mimic exactly how we did the first book,” says Staehle, “because then the people who found the first one would know exactly how the second one works. So it’s going to get more interesting as the series goes, trying to find special, different ways to hide secret codes throughout the books.”
4.Think of the next book
Del Rio and Staehle were only contracted to do two Warren the 13th books, but del Rio says both she and Staehle are definitely open to doing more: “Will and I have plenty of ideas for multiple volumes of Warren if it came down to that.” And we can’t wait to read them.
Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods is available now.