FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #171: Ten Questions and Answers (Mostly About My Book, BYSTANDER)

Okay, I’m reaching my arm deep into the giant barrel of letters I keep here in my office . . . I’m swirling my hand around . . . and what’s this? . . . an email from Virginia!
How’d that get in here?
Thanks so much for coming to our school today. The students were very excited, and as an English Teacher let me personally thank you for writing a book (BYSTANDER) that interested 7th graders. Many a day, the students wanted to continue past the points I stopped to know what was coming next. All students were able to participate in discussions. On that note, my students had some questions I’m hoping you can answer when you have a moment. Thanks again.
1. When was your first book published and how old were you?
2. How long did SIX INNINGS take to write?
3. What had been your favorite book and why?
4. Is there going to be a movie for BYSTANDER?
5. What advice would you give to young writers?
6. What made you decide to be an author?
7. How long did BYSTANDER take to write?
8. Was Eric’s dad really in the crowd at the end or was that wishful thinking?
9. What is the premise of your next book?
10. Who was Eric based upon?
I replied:
1. I published my first book in 1986. I was 25 years old. It was titled MAXX TRAX: AVALANCHE RESCUE! It sold more than one million copies. I signed a bad, flat-fee contract and earned only $3,000 from the book. No royalties. I’m not bitter! That was 27 years ago. Water under the bridge. I’ve forgotten all about it! Really!!!
2. Hard to remember, but probably about 3 months to reach a finished first draft. Revision was tough on that one, because I had to cut 10,000 words. I guess I wandered down a lot of side paths and needed to get back on the main road, or what I think of as the “through-line” in the narrative. The early draft had too many digressions, I needed to stick closer to the game.
3. I never think in terms of favorites, but I really do love the character of Jigsaw Jones.
4. There are no plans for a movie, but — ca-ching! — that sure would be awesome.
5. Writers come in all shapes and sizes. Everybody has stories that no one else can tell. You need to read a lot — and read, at times, slowly, critically, with the mind of a writer. Rather than getting totally caught up in the story, try to become aware of the writer behind the words, the choices, the decisions, the words and their effects. Also, obviously: Spend time writing.
6. The dream took shape in college. Growing up, I wasn’t one of those kids who loved going to library.
7. I researched BYSTANDER for a couple of months, visiting schools, talking to experts, reading widely. The writing, which took four months, grew out of that.
8. That’s wishful thinking. Look at the words on the page. “All the while quietly hoping — in that place of the heart where words sputter and dissolve, were secret dreams are born and scarcely admitted . . .”
9. The book I’m writing now returns to some of the themes in BYSTANDER, but is sympathetic to “the bully.” For me, I don’t like to label young people as any one thing, especially as a “bully.” Bullying is a behavior, not a thing. It can’t possibly define a person. I’m looking at it from that perspective.
10. Eric is not based on anyone in particular. I see him as witness, observer. He’s new in town, so the reader meets the characters in school at the same time as Eric.
Thanks, I loved visiting Virginia and I hope to make it back again someday soon. I didn’t get to eat in every restaurant in Richmond on the last trip.
JP

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