RKR Interviews Ron Bates, Author of The Unflushables

Interested in learning more about Ron Bates and his middle-grade novel, THE UNFLUSHABLES? Check out a Q&A with him below! 

First off, congratulations on your hysterical new book, The Unflushables! How did you come up with the story line?

RON: Thanks! The Unflushables was so much fun to write, and I’m on pins and needles—okay, nails and spikes—now that it’s actually out there on bookshelves. I’m excited to have it in the hands of readers and I can’t wait to hear what they think! As for the storyline, it came to me while I was in one of my favorite thinking spots, which is the checkout line at the supermarket. You know how they have that row of magazines you can look through while you wait? Well, I noticed the covers were always filled with celebrities—movie stars, musicians, athletes, supermodels, people like that. It’s understandable, I guess, because those people are at the top of their professions. But why ONLY those people? Why not other people who are incredibly good at what they do? Why not, for example, a really, really, really great plumber? Shouldn’t they get the star treatment, too? So I created a world where plumbers were on magazine covers and T-shirts and posters, and kids idolized them and collected their trading cards. Then I added a bunch of sewer monsters because a toilet repair job becomes a lot more interesting if there’s a gigantic croctopus popping out of it.

Sully’s plumbing prowess and humor is emphasized throughout the book, and only gets better as the story progresses. Where do you see Sully in ten years?

RON: That’s a great question because the book does give us a glimpse of what Sully might become down the road. That glimpse is Max Bleeker, his mentor, who we can assume at an earlier point in his life was a gifted prodigy a lot like Sully. In Max’s case, he became bitter and jaded and a loner. Sully sees that, so he might be able to avoid Max’s fate. But who knows? Sully’s gift is also a curse—plumbing takes a terrible toll. So to be honest, I’m not exactly sure how Sully will turn out, but it’s an interesting idea to explore. All I know for sure is that he’ll be in the sewer. Once that place gets a hold on a plumber, it never lets them go.    

I thought it was such a cool choice to make the Ironwater Corporation the central villain when there were many other options and directions you could have gone in. What made you decide to do so?

RON: Ironwater! Even the name sounds evil, doesn’t it? I ended up casting them as the villain to give Sully a shadowy, sinister adversary that would challenge not only his plumber-honed battle skills, but his wits. The sewer monsters are undeniably dangerous but they’re more of a deadly obstacle, not a nemesis. With Ironwater, you get that sense of corporate intrigue, and it deepens the mystery behind the bizarre happenings in Nitro City.    

The plumbers as "superheroes" aspect of the story plays a huge role in the plot; did you look up to plumbers growing up? What inspired this concept?

RON: Wow, I would love to tell you I was in a plumber fan club as a kid, and that I still had the junior tool-belt and decoder ring, but that’s just not the case. To be 100 percent honest, plumbers weren’t my main inspiration for the story. What really fascinated me was the sewer. I kept seeing articles about alligators roaming sewer tunnels, or huge snakes crawling out of toilets, or someone discovering a secret community of underground sewer dwellers. It made the place seem magical—a forbidden world right under our feet! And when I thought about who would be the hero of this world, all I could picture was a rugged figure swinging through the pipes on a drain snake while clutching a monkey wrench and a plunger. So obviously, it had to be a plumber. Then when I started researching the history of plumbing—building the Roman aqueducts, battling the cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1849—I realized that role wasn’t even a stretch. They really are heroes.   

What are some of your favorite books that have motivated you to write and got you excited about reading?

RON: There are so many, but a few are very special to me. The first stories I remember being obsessed with were the Encyclopedia Brown books. I loved the idea of collecting the clues then having the chance to solve a mystery alongside the world’s greatest junior detective. I still love that--trying to put myself in the sleuth’s shoes, putting that puzzle together in my head. I locked onto Roald Dahl’s books because they made me laugh. James and The Giant Peach, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—he just had a way of creating the craziest, quirkiest characters and making them perfectly believable in a particular situation. I guess The Hobbit is the book that got me hooked me on quests. To me, there’s just something irresistible about giving a character an impossible goal and sending them on a journey where anything can happen. I have no doubt my fascination with the sewers was at least partly inspired by Bilbo’s time in the mines of Moria. So I owe a debt to a lot of writers, too many to list, but Sobol, and Dahl, and Tolkien are definitely at the top.

Click here to buy The Unflushables!