Interview with John Paul Tucker

How did you come up with the name of this book?

Shelter Island was not the working title of the book. I originally titled it after a climatic scene three quarters of the way through the story, a threat which confronts a rebel stronghold on the Island, but the title was too obscure and a spoiler. After completing the book — actually, following many additional edits, Shelter Island emerged as the title, which like a pitcher, best held the book’s contents without spilling anything. Also, my publisher liked it.

Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?

I read every day and my targeted material is varied. I love middle grade fantasy —everything from Charlotte’s Web to the works of Tolkien, Bradbury, Charles Williams and beyond. I also wade into adult literary fiction, plays (I have a past life in theatre!), and the works of a few poets simply for the joy of what words can do. I wanted to share that joy so I created, a free educational website for writers, highlighting fiction writing tips and techniques harvested from the books we love to read.

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?

Silence — is there such a thing? I prefer silence but put up with a lot of ambient interference: the odd horn from traffic, the washing machine, raindrops on leaves (That’s a welcome one.) I suppose silence is akin to the empty canvas for a painter or the silent slab of marble to the sculptor. But even then the artist hears the brush strokes and the hammer striking the chisel. So, I cannot avoid some measure of noise. Recently, construction sprung up in my neighborhood. I do enjoy hearing the odd hammering, sawing and workaday chatter. Perhaps it’s because we’re both making things.

What do you feel you can accomplish with this 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.

What is your next project?

Happy you asked. Inspired by George MacDonald’s classic fairytales for adults, Lilith and Phantastes, my next novel 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. It’s a little darker than my first books, but who doesn’t like to feel their heart thumping once in a while?