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1. When did you start writing? What made/inspired this book?
It’s been a long apprenticeship! Like a lot of lifelong readers, I’ve been writing stories of some kind or other ever since grade school. First I wrote stories in imitation of my favorite writers, and then, in college,
scripts for student films and short stories where I tried to find my own voice. As for this novel, it was inspired by a mix of things-a reference to “the thirty-six” tzadikim in a book I was reading; and a desire for a story about a regular boy who isn’t the prophesied, foreordained “The One,” and who gets swept up in breathless adventure.
2. What inspires you in general?
I’m a bit of a magpie and grab inspiration wherever I see it. A lot of it comes from reading-most recently, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje, which is a long series of talks about creative juxtapositions in film and storytelling, and how these things work on our experience as a viewer/reader. But also novels and movies and things I overhear on the street. Everything, basically.
3. Which Character was your favorite to write?
By far, Jack Dawkins is the most fun character to write and the most fun for me to spend time with. Partly it’s because, as an immature adult character, he has the biggest vocabulary and is the most likely to say something funny, but also because he has a sort of humorous weariness to him that also generates funny lines. Dawkins is tired but gamely doing his best, cracking wise even as he helps fight evil. We all hope for his sort of aplomb in life.
4. Why should young readers pick your book?
Short answer: Because it is fun, funny, exciting, and moves like a runaway train! Longer answer: You will never be bored. It’s not the sort of story that ever overstays its welcome. Essentially, I was writing for the eleven-year-old reader I was, so whenever I began to get antsy during a sequence, I moved things along.
5. Personally I know it’s hard to describe, but what’s your process of writing?
It varies. A lot. I start by outlining, which is very difficult, as it is my first attempt at solving the problems of the story-before I ever write a word. These outlines can be very long (as long as 40 single-spaced pages), and feature snatches of dialogue, chapter breaks, and so forth, and anticipate the finished manuscript. After that, it is a lot of brute work to write each chapter, moving the puzzle pieces in a way that, I hope, feels less mechanical and more natural. The first draft is always a mess, so it requires many revisions and lots of cutting and rewriting to get things to move fluidly. The goal is for the book to have a fleet-footed quality of breathless fun and wit about it. But getting the manuscript to that stage takes a lot of labor.
6. How long did it take you to finish this book?
The writing was scattered over many months. The first third was drafted in two or three months, and then a year or so later, I wrote the rest over several months. And then spent a lot of time rewriting that material. All in all, perhaps a year.
7. What is your advice on getting past writers block?
My advice is the tried and true one of putting your butt into a chair and doing it. If you put in the time, the material will come. Sometimes you need to write out a lot of bad material before you get to a point where the words come easily. The only way to get past the bad stuff, though, is to go through it. Trust that the good stuff will be there at the end!
But it all comes down to time put into the work. Nothing will happen if you don’t work at it every day and treat writing as something right up there with breath, and food, and love, and life, and God. (Paraphrasing Raymond Carver here, but only because his point is a good one.)
8. Do you have any events coming up that readers could find you at?
Unfortunately, I do not, but readers who are interested can sign up for an occasional newsletter on the landing page of my website, http://www.carterroybooks.com. In that newsletter I will trumpet appearances, school visits, new stories posted, and the like.
9. Any advice for aspiring writers?
The best thing I ever did was find a group of like-minded writers with whom I could workshop my material. Workshops help in a lot of ways. First, you’re forced to produce pages on deadline-else you’ll have nothing to share with the group. Second, it makes you put your work in front of an audience to see how it plays with sympathetic readers. This can be a demoralizing exercise, but just as often it is inspiring. You can learn more from having to critique the work of friends than from their critique of your own work; being forced to be positively critical is something that betters us all. So if you don’t have a workshop, find one. Or make one. Writing can be lonely work, but it doesn’t have to be.
10. Anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
Thank you for reading, and if you do have any thoughts about the books, please feel free to let me know via the contact page on my website. There is no greater pleasure than hearing from strangers who have read and liked your book. That’s what it’s all about! Thank you.