Q & A with an eleven-year-old

This week one of my favourite students emailed me from Korea and asked to interview me for a school project. Rachel really thinks like a writer (after all, she IS a writer) and so I was happy to answer all of her questions.

Oh, by the way, the eleven-year-old in the title of this blog refers to ME. True, Rachel is technically eleven—though, if you ask me, she has the mind of a twenty-five-year old. (Do you know many kids in Grade 6 who casually throw around the word “flagitious?”). On the other hand, I’m often told that I’m emotionally stuck at eleven . . . so here you go—the candid and unedited interview . . .

1) What inspired you to become a writer?
BOREDOM. When I was a kid, growing up on the farm, I felt stuck. I dreamed of travelling to exotic (or magical!) places, but while all my friends were off having summer vacation, we were working hard on the farm. The work was okay—it was just that I was always bored, doing repetitive tasks like picking cherries or cleaning the chicken coop (which, by the way, is not only repetitive but repoopitive. Okay. Bad joke. MOVE ON.) In any case, I used to make up stories to entertain myself. Well, I also LOVED books. Everything about them. The stories, the illustrations, even the way the books were designed. So I started writing, illustrating and designing my own books. They looked terrible! But was not terrible was my love of books. And I guess that just continued forward as I got older. (Please notice how I didn’t say “Grew up”).

2) What do you feel is the advantage of being a writer?
I have never had this question before, even though I’ve done quite a few interviews! I suppose I never thought of writing in quite this way. After all, many people will happily leap up and tell you all the DISADVANTAGES of being a writer (which seem to mainly consist of not earning enough money). I suppose I find this question difficult to answer because it makes it sound like someone has a choice when it comes to this career. And I feel like I did NOT have a choice. I am a storyteller. I didn’t choose it. When I was in university I listened to all the disadvantages that everyone was telling me and decided that I would abandon writing so that I could get a real job. And I did get a real job . . . But then I found myself scampering home each night to write anyway. I couldn’t stop writing! So, what is the advantage of being a writer? I guess the answer for me is not being a miserable person who decided to deny what is trying to burst out of his soul.

By the way, there are many benefits to being a writer—I get to make up worlds and play in them. I get to travel the world and meet tons of children and hear THEIR wonderful stories. And I get to meet other authors, who are really some of the most interesting people in the world.

Tower of London3) What do you believe is the mandatory preparations to be a writer?
Read. A lot. And write. A lot. Read and write different sorts of books. Even if you are committed to a certain genre, reading and writing different styles ultimately makes you a better writer in whatever genre you end up choosing. (Though, sometimes, I feel like the genre chooses you). I’m a fantasy writer, so I believe you should cultivate creativity in your life. That’s why I build props, go on “field trips” to do research, and draw. Actually, as far as I’m concerned, all of these things are writing. When I’m drawing—I’m writing. When I’m building my magic potions kit—I’m writing. And when I’m traipsing through a castle dungeon and feeling a cold trickle of air down my spine—well, then, I’m DEFINITELY writing.

4) Would you advise people to follow your career as a writer?
I would advise people to “follow their bliss,” which is actually advice from the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell (one of my heroes). Follow what you love. It may not lead you to the greatest financial wealth or material prosperity . . . But, then again, I feel that each person has to decide what is most important. How do we define personally success? I decided long ago that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t throw every fiber of my soul into being a writer. Certainly, I was always writing . . . But there’s a difference between hiding in a dark corner and writing in secret and getting out there and putting everything you can into it! I am SO much happier now as a writer than I was when I had a “proper” career. And so many different doors have opened for me along the way.

Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah5) (Sorry, I had to throw this in for my teacher wanted something that qualified as ‘having done enough research on the following person that is being interviewed’). As Kendra Kandlestar IV won many awards, namely the Mom’s Choice Award, CCBC selecion, and Reader Views Reviewer’s Choice award, which is far more, if you excuse me for saying so, awards than any of the other books in the series have gotten, why do you believe so?

Yeesh, you’ve been tort—er TAUGHT by me at numerous writing camps and classes; you even know what I like to eat and don’t like to eat! I would say you’ve done your research. BUT, in any case, proper answer below . . .

Actually, my first book in the Kendra Kandlestar series had quite a few accolades as well, being recommended by the Canadian Toy Testing Council, winning the Mom’s Choice Award, and being nominated for the Surrey Book of the Year award. Why The Crack in Kazah has ended up garnering so many awards is a pleasant surprise to me—I’m so happy that a fourth book in a series can win these awards, because it just means that the series hasn’t become repetitive or stale. I took a risk in writing that book, making it very different from the others and I suppose winning awards is ONE proof that my approach worked. (Though, the best proof would be reader response. MOST readers seem pleased with it). I’m not sure Crack in Kazah is my best book . . . It’s hard for me to be objective about it. The book I’m working on right now, the final installment of Kendra Kandlestar, is my favourite—just because I’m in the middle of it and I am enjoying what is happening with the characters.

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