Q: John Paul Tucker, Welcome to The Writer’s Life! Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process. Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning? When did you come up with the idea to write your book?
A few years ago, while admiring how birds could alight, snatch a seed and launch from a swinging bird feeder, I imagined fainting and reaching out for the swinging seed tray at my last conscious moment. I wake up dangling from the feeder, shrunk to the size of a shelled peanut. What if, I wondered, birds from a secret civilization kidnap a shrunken boy and whisk him away to a world inhabited by intelligent birds? What if, as soon as he arrives, these clever birds capitalize on the boy’s pride and dupe him into making a catastrophic decision, which pushes a divided ancient realm to the brink of war? I had no idea that one flight of fancy would soar into three novels. It turned out that Cary was an older brother to Clarisse and Gregory, and I had to get all three of them to Shelter Island. Consequently, I ended up setting aside the bird-feeder scene, filed away in my something-to-use-at-some-other-time drawer.
Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?
The most difficult thing I found about writing Shelter Island, or the books which followed, was the business aspect: submitting manuscripts, building and maintaining a ‘platform’ and selling books. The whole business of writing tends to dishearten rather than spur on artists — at least this one. Agents and publishers are often deluged with submissions. Publisher’s websites frequently include a note that your submission is one of a multitude, from which a select few will clinch a second look, that you will have to wait threescore years and ten before someone hauls it from the slough. If that weren’t enough, the to-be-pitied author will only be contacted if his manuscript has managed to kindle a flame in the reader’s heart. In addition, many publishers and agents will not do an author the courtesy of a form rejection letter. Kate Di Camillo claimed persistence is the key; keep writing, keep reading, and keep submitting. I say, write. Read a lot. Pray regularly. Submit. Cry sometimes. Celebrate. Resist cryptic messages from your insecure brain, such as, “No one cares.” Know writing is also a business — Repeat.
Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?
I found Brownridge Publishing with a little detective work. I was thumbing through the results of a writing contest, taking note of publishers which publish in my genre and found Brownridge beside a winning entry. I visited the publisher’s site, discovered Brownridge was a small, yet growing traditional publisher with shared ideals, so I submitted. The editor liked my submission, but declined. The manuscript was a picture book, which she wasn’t publishing at the time. I returned her email. Here’s what I wrote: As it so happens, I have just finished, and am currently editing a middle grade fantasy novel, the first of a trilogy titled The Song Of Fridorfold. She read it. Liked it. Her daughter read it. Liked it. She offered to publish it.
Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?
Having completed Shelter Island a few years back, having penned three additional novels before Shelter Island’s publication, the book’s launch seemed rather anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong. Its launch was a milestone event, but I had to actually re-acquaint myself with portions of the story to prepare for first-time readers. Writer, prepare thyself. ‘Tis a long road to publication.
Q: What other books are you working on and when will they be published?
Happy you asked. Inspired by Lilith and Phantastes, George MacDonald’s classic fairytales for adults, my latest work is a Heroic Fantasy for ages 12 and up. Will Flint’s longing for his missing father ignites a dramatic and fateful quest into a mythical country in which the unseen things of the world have transformed into creatures of elemental power, a land in which one impulsive request transforms one realm and shatters another. The novel is a little darker than my first middle grade books, but who doesn’t like to feel their heart thumping once in a while? You can watch the book trailer at my author website: www.johnpaultucker.com
Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?
I once dismissed comments from authors who said they let their characters write their books. It struck me as a kind of ‘humble boasting’. But after my fourth novel, I can say the assertion is true. A story’s characters think, speak and act in ways peculiar to their flaws, motives and traits. Allowing them to ‘live’ can create an added scene, a dramatic twist, or an entirely new direction in the plot. The other thing I find quite surprising, having completed Shelter Island, the story always seems to have been, as if I uncovered a long buried artifact.
Q: Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?
After submitting my manuscript to an editor, he commented, You know you are bucking the trend here. I thought, I hope so. Shelter Island is a story for those readers, like the book’s protagonists Cary, Clarisse, and Gregory, who must look somewhere other than their own troubled hearts to find the courage they need to face extraordinary circumstances and enemies older, stronger and more cunning. A lot of children’s books beat the same feeble drum. Their message? Just dig deep enough, take charge of yourself, and everything will work out. Simply reach into your heart and you will find everything you need. That advice seems a naive sort of cure-all. What if one’s ‘heart’ should fail? What if he reaches into his heart and finds nothing but the ashes of regret and loneliness? Exploring the possibilities that arose from such questions made a strong contribution to Shelter Island.
Q: Thank you again for this interview! Do you have any final words?
On Shelter Island you can fly, but you can never run!