Welcome back to You Heard Write! A place where writers and fans can hear from their favorite authors as they discuss aspects of the craft, up and coming publications, and personal experiences.
Today we welcome a very special guest, award-winning author of several grim and spooky books, J.A. White!
About the author:
J.A. White writes creepy books for children. The four novels of his Thickety series have received numerous starred reviews and other accolades, including a Children’s Choice Award for Best Debut Novelist. His most recent novel is Shadow School: Archimancy, the first book of a trilogy.
Born in Staten Island, New York, J.A. White now resides in New Jersey. Other than being an author, he is a father, husband, short film maker, Mets fan, and a public school teacher. His book Nightbooks is being adapted by Netflix.
J.A. White’s books:
CN: The list of books you’ve authored are filled with the creepy, the dark, the witchy, and with the things that go-bump-in-the-night. What advice would you give to writers who may be writing, or planning to write, a scary tale?
JAW: I tend to think of all my creepy books as realistic fiction with the spooky parts sprinkled in for flavor. When I’m coming up with a new story, I always start with the characters at some crucial juncture in their lives. In Shadow School, for example, Cordelia (the protagonist) has just moved to a new school and is having trouble adjusting. Hopefully this arc helps the reader connect with Cordelia, as well as anchoring her character in reality. Now, her school happens to be haunted, which–in my mind, at least–makes things a lot more interesting, but Shadow School is still the story of a girl learning to adjust to a new phase in her life. After I construct this main arc, I have fun adding the creepy details–which now hang a lot better, since you have a human, relatable structure in place. I can’t say for sure if this is the best way to write a spooky story, but it’s the way that works for me.
CN: Not only are you an author, but you’re also a teacher, parent, husband, and a short film maker. Clearly that’s a very busy schedule, so when does most of your writing happen? And how can writers with similar schedules stay productive with their stories?
JAW: Up until a year ago, I did most of my writing very early in the morning. I’d wake up around 4:30 and write until 7:00, then head off to work. However, the traffic on my commute has gotten ridiculously congested, and now it’s hard for me to leave any later than 6:15 if I want to get to school at a reasonable time. For that reason–and the fact that I’m now 45 and getting up early is not as easy as it used to be!–I’ve been working at night, after my kids go to sleep. I also go to the library straight after school on some days and lock myself in the basement for marathon writing sessions on the weekends. It’s a tough schedule, no doubt about that, and I’ve had to give up a lot of things. I barely watch TV, and I don’t read as many books as I’d like to. Any free time I do have I spend with my family. I think the best way for a writer to stick with a crazy schedule and remain productive is consistency. If you can’t find the time for a full writing session, make sure you squeeze in at least one hour a day, every day. That’ll keep the story fresh in your head, and it’s like the traffic I sit in every morning: it may take longer than you’d like, but if you just keep tapping the gas pedal, you’ll eventually reach your destination. And don’t forget: Coffee is the sweet elixir of life!
CN: For many traditionally published authors, the abbreviated road to publication involves producing a publishable story, landing an agent, then finding the right publisher / editor who wants to acquire your book. Not one of those comes easy, but out of the three stages listed, which one did you find the most difficult to achieve? Which one was maybe easier than expected?
JAW: There are no easy paths to becoming a published author, for sure, but in my mind producing a publishable story is by far the most difficult part. My first published novel took me about two years to write, but before that I had spent literally thousands of hours honing my skills on short stories, bad novels, and film articles. A great portion of my life has been dedicated to learning the craft of writing, and I’m absolutely still learning, every day. For the sheer time commitment required, I think completing a publishable story is the most difficult piece of the publishing puzzle. On the flip side, finding an editor and/or agent can be easier than expected, because there is such a degree of luck involved. It’ll hopefully just happen out of the blue one day.
CN: ( Fun One) Your book, Nightbooks, was recently picked up by Netflix. If you were to make a cameo in the film, and had complete control as to what scene you would appear in, where would you pop up at and what would you be doing?
JAW: Haha! Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to give myself a speaking role, because I want the movie to be good, and as soon as I open my mouth I’ll ruin the whole thing with my horrible acting. Oh! I know! If they film “Lost Dog,” which is one of the stories that Alex tells the witch, I’d love to be someone riding the roller coaster at the end of the story. I can’t act, but I’m good at screaming in horror.
CN: What can your fans expect from the next J.A. White books(s)?
JAW: Right now I’m working on the third Shadow School book, which is turning out to be a lot of fun. I think with a series it’s important to change things up with each book, so this one is a lot different than the first two. I’m not sure what will be next, though I do have plenty of ideas. It’ll definitely be a standalone book, not a series. Also, I haven’t written a fantasy since The Thickety, and I’m missing that genre, so I think that’s on the horizon. And at some point I’d like to write something for an adult audience–it’s just a matter of finding the time.
CN: Any last advice for writers?
JAW: This is very much a cliche, but that’s because it’s true: focus on the work, not the outcome (being published or not). I’m fortunate enough to have written a few books that have enjoyed success, but I’ve also written novels that will never see the light of day. I’m not sure I necessarily enjoyed creating one more than the other–the process was basically the same. My guess is you’re reading this interview because you love writing, so just do your thing and don’t worry about what you can’t control. Chances are, if you work long enough, and hard enough, good things will happen.
Myself and J.A. White want to thank you all for stopping by You Heard Write! We hope you had as much fun reading the Q and A as we did making it, as well as furthering your knowledge on the craft of writing. And be sure to check out J.A. White’s work next time you’re looking for a great book to read! (You will get chills. . . . Trust me!)
You can connect with J.A. White through social media and his website by clicking the links below:
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