Welcome to my blog interview with novelist, Roy Sakelson, author of The Heroes of Valmar trilogy (Gwendolyn and the Seeds of Destiny, Aethelred and the Wand of Woe, and Monsters of the North).
Hello, Roy, I am pleased to have a chance to interview you. I have read your first two books and loved them! I have to say that I am a huge fan. This says a lot since I generally don’t read middle-grade books. The world you created brings me back to the epics I read when I was a kid, like The Chronicles of Narnia. Okay, enough gushing, let’s get down to the interview.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I’ve always loved to read to my kids. After sampling many different stories and fairy tales, I would sometimes make up tales of my own to share with them. When my daughter was six years old, she asked me to write her a story. So, I began writing what I thought would be a short story, but it kept growing . . . and growing. It took me much longer than I anticipated, but when she turned eight, I gave her Gwendolyn and the Seeds of Destiny. More than two years later, I wrote a sequel for my son when he turned eight (it was either that, or pay for counseling later on when he realized he never got a book dedicated to him). They liked them so much, that I wrote a third (Monsters of the North) to create a trilogy. But I must admit, if I hadn’t promised my daughter that initial book, I probably wouldn’t have finished. Writing is hard work.
I am certainly glad you did! What genre do you consider your books?
Fiction, Children’s Fantasy … but as C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I try to write with both children and adults in mind.
I get hung up on the way certain words look, and I consciously avoid using them. For example, I can’t stand looking at the word “their.” The words “there” and “they’re” are fine, but “their” just bugs me. I know it’s crazy, but there it is.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The reason I love fantasy literature (other than the fact that I find magic, elves, trolls, gnomes, and dragons all to be entertaining) is that it gives people permission to suspend disbelief, and consider things in a new way. For example, we probably won’t meet a dragon in this life, but we will certainly experience fear, doubt, and disappointment at some point. If a child reads about a world where it’s possible to face down a dragon, perhaps it will also give her courage to face down the “dragons” she experiences in her own life, knowing that courage and faithfulness are possible. Some people dismiss fantasy as frivolous, but I see real value in it, and a great opportunity to teach people to question their assumptions.
Each book took me about 18 months on average. My job demands 50 hours a week, so I just keep chipping away whenever I find the time. I always think of the convict in “Shawshank Redemption” when I write. He spent 25 years chiseling a hole to freedom because he could only scatter a pocketful of pebbles on the prison yard through a hole in his pocket. I could probably write more quickly, but I also remember to live.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Where to begin? David Copperfield. Brothers Karamazov. Grendel. The Once and Future King. Watership Down. Till We Have Faces. Chronicles of Narnia. Lord of the Rings. Slaughterhouse Five. The Princess and the Goblin. Godric. Brave New World. Ask me five minutes later, and I’ll probably give you something different.
What book are you reading now?
The Name of the Wind, and its sequel, A Wise Man’s Fear. It’s great, epic fantasy—the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while. The author, Patrick Rothfuss, tells a great story.
Megan Eckman created the cover illustrations for the first two books, and Leighton Isaacs created the latest cover. You can check her out at www.brightshadowsart.com.
Oh, I love Leighton’s work. She is incredibly talented. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Overcoming my own self-doubt. From what I’ve read, it’s pretty typical for writers to question the value of what they write, but it’s still no less troubling. I go back and forth when I read what I’ve written. Sometimes, I think, “that’s not so bad,” and then I’ll reread the same passage, and think, “that’s horrible.” So it goes. But what’s nice is that my audience, mostly children, seem to like the books. And as people who hang around kids can tell you, children don’t pull punches or seek to spare one’s feelings. So, if they’re being entertained, then I’ve done my job.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I’ll paraphrase something that I heard Ira Glass say once. (He hosts “This American Life” on NPR, and is a great storyteller himself). He said something like “As you strive to achieve your vision or create something interesting or beautiful, it’s good to remember that it just won’t be very good at first. In fact, even after all the work, sweat, and toil, you’ll rarely achieve all that you’re capable of. Don’t worry. Just keep going. It may take you years, but you’ll get better. You’ll improve. And even though you may never reach the “mountain top,” you’ll be able to look back, and see how far you’ve come.” I’d only add, that you should only compete with yourself. I’ll never have the skill of a Lewis or a Rowling. I’m simply not that smart or creative. If I measured my work against what they produced, I’d give up. But I can get better at what I am capable of achieving, and that’s good enough for me.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
I think every writer experiences it. I’ve sat in front of the keyboard for hours more than a few times, and have nothing to show for it. It’s a horrible feeling. But every once in a while, the opposite occurs. The ideas just come—and my fingers have to race to keep up, like I’m taking dictation. It’s rare, but boy is it amazing. Mostly though, it’s just toil and sweat.
Do you write an outline before every book you write?
When I started my first book, Gwendolyn and the Seeds of Destiny, I didn’t create an outline. I had this romantic, naïve notion that I would “write to discover” and let the story lead me. What a mistake. I was flailing around for months trying to figure out where to go with the story, and had to go back and give it some structure. To say that was a painful experience doesn’t begin to describe it.
When I started the sequel (Aethelred and the Wand of Woe), I wisely began with an outline. And though the story continued to change, the main story arc was essentially complete, so I always knew where I was going. For any aspiring writers out there, trust me when I say—start with an outline! You can always alter the story, but it’s good to know where you’re going.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Every so often I stumble across an old high school essay, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Makes good kindling, though.
Ha, I have thought the same exact thing! What does your family think of your writing?
They love the books (I think they’re contractually obligated to?). Seriously, what’s cool is that my kids think that writing a book is something that everyone can do. It’s not just some stranger toiling away somewhere, producing books out of thin air. They see me writing, and know it takes time, and effort, and sweat. But they know it’s possible if you just work hard and commit to finishing it.
Okay, now for the bonus speed round.
Which do you prefer – Reading or writing? Reading
Writing during the night or writing during the day? Night
Buy books online or buy in a bookstore? Online
Writing from home or someplace else? Someplace else
Weather: Hot or Cold? Cold
Music or Silence? Music
Classic Fairy tales or Fairy tale retellings? Classic Fairy tales
Chocolate or Vanilla? Vanilla
The Beach or The Mountains? Mountains
eBook or Physical Copy? Physical
Time travel to the future or past? Past
Facebook or twitter? Facebook
Being able to fly or being able to go invisible? Fly
Bookmark or Dog-eared? Dog-eared
1st character POV or 3rd character POV? 3rd Person
City or Country? Country
Books or Movies? Books
Coffee or Tea? Coffee
Where to find Roy:
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview. I look forward to reading Monsters of the North!