I am so excited (yes, I am doing a happy dance) to share with you my Q&A with William Ritter, the author of The Oddmire Books that I’ve recently raved about to you (reviews: The Changeling and The Unready Queen).
Thank you, Will, for taking the time to answer these questions and welcome!
William Ritter is an Oregon author and educator. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark.The Oddmireis Ritter’s first series for middle-grade readers. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Jackaby series for young adult readers. Visit him online at rwillritter.wordpress.com and find him on Twitter: @Willothewords.
Sascha: Probably the most unoriginal question ever, what inspired the world in The Oddmire series? How did you world-build for this book?
Will: The Oddmire takes place in the same universe as my YA series, Jackaby, so a lot of the groundwork was already in place. Jackaby is set in a busy, urban environment, and I wanted something different for the Oddmire—so the town of Endsborough is small and rural, surrounded by dense woods.
In another sense, writing stories that might have an impact on real kids is a great privilege that I do not take lightly, so I try very hard to build my worlds for them.
Emotionally, the inspiration for the Oddmire series comes from raising my own sons (one a bio-kid, the other adopted). The story carries a lot of themes about family and identity and finding your inner strengths… messages that I hope will sink in for them as they grow up. Additionally, I am a teacher, and I think about what sort of messages my students might need to hear as they grow.
Evie, for example, is an adventurous young woman with dwarfism. She is inspired in part by a former student who shared with me an eloquent and earnest essay exploring the difficulties of finding her own strength while often feeling like an “other.” I want so much for students like her to be reminded that this is THEIR world, not someone else’s. Building a literary world that attempts to reflect even a fraction of the diversity of the real world is one way to approach that goal.
Sascha: My favorite character from both books by far is Fable. How did you come up with such a relatable, funny, courageous, and fantastic character?
Will: I love writing Fable. Her “normal” isn’t calibrated to the same thing as the rest of the cast, which means she constantly responds to situations with completely different instincts. Having Fable as a guide for the boys gave me a dynamic similar to the eccentric Jackaby being a mentor to the straight-laced Abigail Rook—a dynamic I was already comfortable with—but in very different ways. I didn’t know that she was going to be an integral part of the plot when I first began planning the book, to be honest. Once I locked in on her personality, though, she would frequently write herself. I sometimes planned a scene out carefully, and then Fable would take a complete left turn halfway through my outline and pull the dialogue or action in a direction I had never intended. Some of the best scenes came from just following her to see where she took me. By the end of Changeling, I already knew book 2 would need to be hers.
Sascha: While I was reading The Unready Queen, I felt that the threat to the Wild Wood was comparable to the threat to our world’s forests, and other ecosystems and all the creatures in them. Did I project or was this a conscious theme?
Will: There are definitely some intentional environmental themes in The Unready Queen. The concept of human economic gain coming at the cost of the natural world is a well-tapped vein in literature—I’m hardly the first include it—but it remains a painfully relevant topic today. It’s an issue that young readers are more than ready to dive into. I teach high school Language Arts, so I work with teens regularly, and I am constantly impressed by how savvy and conscientious they can be. Most teens I know are more mindful about environmental concerns than the adults in their lives.
Sascha: Anything you’d like to share regarding future installments of The Oddmire series?
Will: Book 3 is well under way, on track for a release in 2021. While I’ve tried to make each book a satisfying story on its own, there are certain questions introduced in the very first book of the series that will not get answered until the third. Chief among these is the mystery of the twins’ father, Joseph Burton.
Sascha: What books would you say most influenced you and would you recommend for would-be writers of children’s fiction?
Will: When I was younger, I remember loving Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series, which took classic fantasy tropes like helpless princesses captured by dragons—and then turned them on their heads. This fractured fairy-tale approach definitely informed the sort of stories I love to tell. I also absolutely adore Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, which touch on so many powerful and important topics with such a deft and playful wit. My narrative voice strives to be a fraction as clever as his.
Mostly, though, I would encourage writers to read diversely. If you love fantasy, try an occasional romance, western, or a non-fiction book. If you read mostly white authors, make an effort to seek out books by African American authors, Asian authors, Native American authors. Different perspectives make a huge difference in the way we think and speak about a topic. There are ways of telling a story that might never occur to someone who only ever read stories from one type of author. Reading diversely builds empathy, and it can also help you develop a more nuanced voice of your own.
Sascha: Any tips/advice for writers that you think might not be in the typical “how-to-write” books?
Will: Write garbage. Edit gold.
I’ve found the thing that gets in the way of most writers is the pressure of writing something GOOD, so they wind up writing… nothing. Good authors make their writing sound effortless the same way good gymnasts make an Olympic floor routine look effortless. The reality is, you won’t stick the landing unless you let yourself fall face-down on the mat a dozen times in the process. You need to work out the kinks by going over it again and again. So—let a sentence be clunky. Get the idea on the page. Make bold mistakes. Move on. Write a garbage draft, then go back and turn it into a better draft two, three, four, five… until eventually it gleams. Write garbage. Edit gold.
Sascha: When did you know you wanted to be a writer and what did you do to make that happen?
Will: I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I still have laminated books from third grade featuring Batman and the Ninja Turtles. I wrote countless short stories, poems, and comics, most of which were silly ideas just for me, but those projects were more instructive than any expensive class I have ever taken. I graduated with a degree in English and a certificate in creative writing. I paid a LOT OF MONEY to be “qualified” to make up stories—but even then, writing was always just a thing I did because I love it, not a CAREER. So, when I finished Jackaby, I was fully prepared to just put it on a shelf and move on to my next artistic exercise. It was my wife who nudged me to actually do something with the manuscript, and I’m so glad she did. I set about learning how to pitch a book, I found an agent, and have been very fortunate since then. Now, when I teach creative writing, I always include at least a small unit on how publishing works and remind my students that they are just as qualified to be a writer as I ever was.
Thanks, again, Will! We can’t wait for Book 3! And now adding Jackaby to my TBR list!