Writing The Secret Life of LEGO Bricks with Daniel Konstanski [Interview]

Last fall, LEGO held a vote to let fans pick the topic of its next adult-focused book. The Secret Life of LEGO Bricks, written by Daniel Konstanski, emerged victorious and has been available for pre-order via the crowdsourced publishing platform Unbound ever since. The book will not be available via normal distribution after the Unbound campaign, so with just one week remaining for pre-orders, we caught up with Daniel to find out what he’s been up to for the last nine months working on this book. Of course, we haven’t read the book yet, so we wanted to know a bit of what to expect from the finished book. Daniel says he’s been allowed full access to The LEGO Company’s archives—an unprecedented level of access—and has been delving through more than 600 pages of transcripts from interviews he conducted with LEGO employees.

He was able to share with us some exclusive sneak peeks, such as the dinosaur tribe that almost made it into the Legends of Chima theme. The Secret Life of LEGO Bricks will be published in 2022, though only available to those who backed the project on Unbound by May 31, 2021.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

The Brothers Brick: What is your history with LEGO? Have you always been an AFOL, or did you have a dark age?

Daniel Konstanski: I have been a LEGO Maniac since I was three years old and have yet to have a dark age. Closest I have come is what I call my “lack of disposable income age” through college and the start of my career. I love both building and collecting.

Daniel Konstanski

TBB: How about your history as a writer? How did you come to work with LEGO on this project?

DK: I have been one of the editors and main contributors for Blocks Magazine since 2015 joining the team all the way back on Issue 8. Since then I have written extensively on all sorts of subjects but my favorite has always been deep dives into the LEGO Group’s past, both the history of its products and the company itself.

Thanks to that passion I had the good fortune of connecting with the LEGO Group’s in-house Corporate Historians and collaborating on several projects through the years. Because of that, when internal discussions began happening about this new venture the company wanted to start with books targeted at AFOLs my name came up and the rest is history!

TBB: Tying into that, how was the idea to write this specific book born?

DK: It was initiated completely by the LEGO Group. They collaborated with a small group of fans from the community to brainstorm possible subjects for books targeted at an adult audience. The three titles which got voted on using the LEGO IDEAS platform last year were the result of that effort.

TBB: Seeing as you probably can’t tell us specific details, in broad terms, what has been most surprising about working on this book?

DK: I have been delighted by the level of access the LEGO Group has granted me. Never before has a fan been allowed to see this deeply into the company’s history, its products, and how they bring things to life. I was like a kid in a candy store getting to ask all the questions I had always wondered about. I found answers. So. Many. Answers.

TBB: What has been your favorite part about researching/writing this book?

DK: Hands down getting to interact with so many people within the company, some who have worked there for over 50 years! At the onset, nobody involved would have guessed that I would end up interviewing over 60 people, but that is exactly what happened. I would talk to one person, ask them a question, and they would respond that they didn’t know but then suggest someone who might have the information I was looking for. Then, the team of people inside the LEGO Group who have been helping me would track that next name down. During that next interview, the process would often repeat itself. Again, the level of access was incredible.

TBB:  In your research, what were you most hoping to find, and did you find it?

DK: Going in I had a long list of questions and secrets I wanted to find answers on but there were five in particular at the very top of the list. I can’t reveal what they were, but I can say that I got to the bottom of all of them.

TBB: If you can say without revealing too much, what were you most disappointed to learn about LEGO or its history?

DK: Honestly, the most disappointing aspect of this whole process was the timing relating to the Coronavirus. Because of that, there was no opportunity to travel over to Billund and get to look at some of the artifacts in the physical archive and meet with some of the people in person. The LEGO Group made up for it by allowing me full access to the digital archive which was incredible, but it would have been super fun to get to see some of it in person.

TBB: Which team or person was most exciting or interesting to work with?

DK: Oh gosh, there were so many! However, a key person is one of the LEGO Group’s corporate historians. She was the one I corroborated with on the Blocks projects even before The Secret Life of LEGO Bricks and so it was extra special to get to come back and work with her again. I have a huge amount of respect for her and really enjoy collaborating and since we already had a history we were able to really hit the ground running. She has graciously spent more hours than I can count combing through the archive and translating stuff for me as well as helping me track down various answers.

TBB: What have you learned about researching and writing something like this?

DK: The biggest challenge was distilling all the material down. When I completed the interview process I had over 600 single-spaced pages of raw transcripts. It was an absolute mountain of material. Breaking down that much initial content was unlike anything I had ever tackled before, but I figured it out. I went through each transcript and used a special program to sort it all by topic. So, if six different people talked to me about Bionicle, or monorails, or early moulding techniques, then I could sort the content into files based on topics which allowed me to then sort things into chapters.

TBB: One of the backer goals for the project includes a prototype element from LEGO. That’s a pretty unusual thing to include with a book. How did that come about?

DK: Early on the LEGO Group offered to provide some awesome packages of various products to go along with certain ways of supporting the book. Because the book was about parts, a prototype element was offered as a cool tie-in. Judging by how fast that option sold out it looks like they were right! I also got to speak with the folks who designed that part and learn the full story behind it so there is a direct tie-in with the book in that way as well.

TBB: You were able to share with us some concept art from an unreleased Legends of Chima wave called Prechistorics, which would have featured dinosaur minifigures. What can you tell us about it? Did LEGO move past the concept art stage and actually create prototype minifigures? Do you know if any of the designs or elements have shown up in later sets?

DK: Designers and concept artists developed ideas for a ton of different tribes for Legends of Chima. The dinosaurs, called the Prechistorics, were one of those. All I have personally seen are these and a few other images and unfortunately I only encountered them after I had already interviewed the Legends of Chima team so I didn’t get a chance to ask how far into the process these made it. I was so excited when I found them though as fans have been clamoring for something like this for years. Now that we know they have been considered we can hope that in some later theme they get another chance to be considered!

TBB: Is there anything we might not think about that you have learned or would love to share regarding this whole project?

DK: I know I sound like a broken record, but this really is something fans don’t want to miss. I set out to write the book that I have always wanted to read as a die-hard fan and the LEGO Group provided the access and support to make it happen. There are answers in here to so many specific questions we as a fan community have had.

TBB: Thank you so much for answering our questions.