Barry Wolverton has been writing for curious children of all ages for almost 20 years, helping create educational books, documentaries, and online content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, the Library of Congress, Scholastic, and Time-Life Books. Neversink is his first novel. He is currently working on a middle-grade adventure trilogy called The Vanishing Island, to be published by Walden Pond Press beginning in 2014. For more info, visit his site.
Let the conversation begin!
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
As a full-time fiction writer whose books can’t be confused with anyone else’s.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
I don’t know if you would call it advice, per se. But in 2005 I happened upon Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children at a small bookstore in Richmond, Virginia. The book is filled with great stories about what some of the most famous writers of the most famous children’s books went through to get published.
What does it say that Kate DiCamillo collected 440 rejections before getting her first book published? Or that no one wanted to publish A Wrinkle In Time or Harry Potter? Maybe nothing very important, but it gave me some perspective and encouragement when I was struggling to sell my first book, and also dealing with the inevitable negative reviews. There’s so much technical writing advice out there — online, at writer’s conferences — and it can be deadening. To this day I still don’t think anyone knows what they mean when they parrot stuff like “show don’t tell” or, even dumber, forbid you to write prologues or tell you your protagonist has to be 12, not 13. Sometimes you just need a reminder to have some faith in your own vision.
What is your writing process?
Sometimes I fear I’m doing it all wrong. It seems like most other writers give themselves daily word counts or page quotas, and try to plow through a first draft and revise later. I’ve never been able to work that way. I have no expectations day to day for how many words I will write. So much of writing a novel is problem-solving, and I do a lot of that in my head, all through the day. I take my ultimate deadlines very seriously, and I have gotten better about moving forward and coming back to a problem later, but I write my first drafts carefully and with deliberation.
If you could be a cat or a dog, which one would you be and why?
Definitely a cat, so I can poop in the house like a civilized animal.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
After years as a traditionalist for the printed word, I bought the new Nook GlowLight, and I am enjoying it more than I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not as good as a real book. Some of the great design elements and illustrations in Neversink, for instance, look like crap on an e-reader. But my cat Charlie really likes that I can now read in bed with the light off.
Name a characteristic you look for in a friend.
I don’t let my guard down easily, and I’m very private, so it’s some vague quality akin to trustworthiness that makes me feel comfortable with you. Also, all my close friends have an irreverent sense of humor.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
A bunch of seafaring books: Several volumes of the old Time-Life Books Seafarers series from the 1970s, and Susan Cooper’s Victory. My new trilogy for Walden Pond Press takes place in an invented 17th century, and though I’m making most of it up, I wanted some real knowledge of ships and sailing of the era for verisimilitude. I’ve been dying to use the word “verisimilitude” in one of these blogs.
If you were the eighth dwarf, what would your name be?
Well, I’m 6’3”, so I’ll go with Lofty.
If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?
Some sort of freak, for sure.
If you could be a professional at any sport, what would it be?
Tennis. I love all the elegant angles.
Who would you like to play your life story in a movie?
What scares you the most?
Being a published author.
If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
Some sort of understory tree. I don’t do well in full sunlight.
If you were elected mayor of your city, what would be your first improvement?
I would ban cell phone use in the car, because I’m tired of fearing for my life when I ride my bike.
What is your favorite way to express yourself and why?