The Blog Hop Tour

Ten Questions for “The Next Big Thing”

A lot of my author friends have been doing the “Blog Hop” tour, in which we all answer the same set of questions about our newest (or future) releases. My thanks to award-winning suspense novelist James L. Rubart, author of Rooms, The Chair, and Soul’s Gate for pointing the way to my blog.

Thanks, also, to Dorothy Love, author of fine Southern historical fiction, for linking to this page. Dorothy is the author of the Hickory Ridge series, including Beauty for Ashes and Every Perfect Gift.

1. What is the working title of your book?

Actually, I want to talk about a series, not just one book. My Timebenders series, first published in 2002, has just been completely revised and updated, with Books 3 and 4 debuting on Christmas Day 2012. Plus, I am currently writing a brand-new book in the series with the working title War of the Electronic Brain.

The first four books in the series are Book 1: Battle before Time, Book 2: Doorway to Doom, Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Book 4: Lost in Cydonia. These books are for middle grade readers, ages 9 to 14.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for the Timebenders series came from my son, who was a kindergartner at the time (he’s now working on his master’s degree!). One day, he came to me and said, “Daddy, would you write a book with me?” I said, “Sure. What kind of book should we write?” He said, “I want to write a book about a time machine and dinosaurs.”

So we started working and we wrote a little each day for a week or two, then we forgot about it for a while. A few years later, I took a fresh look at the pages we had written, and I decided to finish the book. That first book was Battle Before Time, and the publisher asked me to write three more. Last year, I got the rights back from the original publisher, and I updated and rewrote the books, and Greenbrier Books has reissued them with stunning new covers.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

The Timebenders series is science fantasy for young readers. I deliberately chose titles that would have a campy, pulp-science-fiction feel.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a science fiction fan. When I was five years old, my favorite TV show was a space opera called Space Patrol. It had spacemen in space suits with fishbowl helmets spouting dialogue like “Smoking rockets! A cosmic storm!” And my favorite cartoon at that age was Popeye, the Ace of Space, in which Popeye battles space aliens on Mars.

In elementary school, I searched for science fiction books in the school library, and was ecstatic when I discovered A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle on the “new arrivals” shelf. I was only nine, but the scientific concepts and appealing characters captured my imagination. (I wrote about the impact of that book on my life in a recent op-ed piece.)

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My protagonists in the Timbenders series are in their early teens. To play Max McCrane, I’d cast Zach Mills of Super 8 fame (with round-lensed eyeglasses, Zach is Max). The perfect Allie O’Dell would be another Super 8 alum, Elle Fanning (with the addition of red hair and braces). C. J. Sanders, who played a young Ray Charles in Ray, would be well cast as Grady Stubblefield. For villainy, either Max von Sydow or Christopher Plummer would make an excellent Dr. Delyrius, the evil alchemist in Doorway to Doom.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Here’s Book 1: Battle Before Time in one sentence:

“Boy inventor Max McCrane turns a rusty orange Volkswagen into a time machine and takes three friends across time and space to battle a deadly dragon in a place before time began.”

Here’s Book 2: Doorway to Doom:

“Max and friends go back in time to an ancient kingdom ruled by evil King Wyvern and Max must either serve the king or doom his friends to a horrible fate.”

Here’s Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers:

“Max McCrane is hijacked into the past by scheming Luna Skyes, and his friends are chased through time by robot warriors of the fourth dimension, the Time Troopers.”

Here’s Book 4: Lost in Cydonia:

“A frightening miscalculation sends Max and friends to Mars, where they encounter an ancient secret guarded by strange blue-skinned creatures, the Timelings.”

Here’s Book 5: (working title of work-in-progress) War of the Electronic Brain

“Max and friends go back in time to Los Angeles in 1942, and must foil a plot to attack America and change the outcome of World War II.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

My first four Timebenders books were each first-drafted in about six to eight weeks (each is about 45,000 words long). Once the first draft is written, there’s a lot more work to do—additional drafts, substantive editing, copyediting, first proofs, and second proofs.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I set out to write the kind of books I enjoyed when I was a boy—a wild roller coaster ride through time and space. I wanted my readers to have the same experience I had when I was a boy reading A Wrinkle in Time, The Martian Chronicles, and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

As time travel fiction, the Timebenders tales are part of a literary tradition going back to Washington Irving, H. G. Wells, and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. There’s even an echo of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Lost in Cydonia.

And, of course, there’s a great tradition of adult time travel literature that I’ve enjoyed over the years—classic short stories such as Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—” and “By His Bootstraps,” Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner’s “Vintage Season,” and Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier,” to name a few. Great time travel novels include Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol series, Gordon R. Dickson’s Time Storm, Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time, David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My son, who was in kindergarten at the time, inspired the Timebenders series. That’s why the first book in the series is dedicated to him.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I vividly recall the writing process of the first four Timebenders books, especially Book 2: Doorway to Doom. I was a couple of chapters into the second book when we were attacked on 9/11. At first, the horror of that event disrupted my creative flow. At that time, some of my writer friends actually stopped writing for a few weeks. I had a tight deadline, so I had to keep writing. I wrote with the cable TV news blaring in the background, so I could keep an ear open for news developments.

As I wrote, I kept coming up with new ideas, including a new ending for the book. Later, I realized that most of those new ideas had to do with darkness. My mood was dark, and it showed in the writing. I added a scene where Max, my protagonist, was tossed into a dungeon by the villain, Dr. Delyrius. I added another scene involving Max’s friend, Allie, threading her way through an underground maze by torchlight.

Even though the scenes dealt with darkness, they demonstrated the light of faith, hope, and courage. A number of readers have written to say that those scenes are their favorite passages in the whole series.

I recently gave an extensive interview that provides more background on the writing of the Timebenders series. You can read it at Random Writing Rants.

Thanks for stopping by on the Blog Hop Tour. Check out the Blog Hop interviews by these fine authors:

Southern historical writer Dorothy Love (author of Beauty for Ashes)

Fantasy novelist Jill Williamson (author of By Darkness Hid)

Science fiction writer Steve Rzasa (author of The Word Reclaimed)

Websites & Resources for Teen Writers

If you are a teen writer, looking for support and advice on how to become a better writer (and, ultimately, a published writer), here are some excellent places you can go for FREE help. These sites were created by authors who have written many books, stories, and articles for publication.

M. Saint-Germain‘s Random Writing Rants
http://randomwritingrants.com/

Stephanie Morrill,
author of So Over It and Me, Just Different.
www.goteenwriters.com

Nicole O’Dell, author of the Diamond Estates Series
and Scenarios For Girls, Interactive Fiction
http://nicoleodell.com/on-teen-writing/

Jill Williamson,
author of Replication and the Blood of Kings Trilogy
www.novelteen.com

Shellie Neumeier,
author of Driven and A Summer in Oakville
www.nextgenwriters.com

Jeff Gerke, publisher of Marcher Lord Press
(author, as “Jefferson Scott,” of
Terminal Logic and Operation: Firebrand
www.fictionacademy.com

At these websites you’ll learn new skills for becoming a more effective storyteller and writer, plus you will discover how to format your manuscript, prepare it for publication, and submit it to a publisher.

Check them out, have fun, and keep writing!

Jim Denney’s Advice for Young Writers

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was about nine years old. How about you? Do you have stories to tell? Books you want to write? Would you like to spend your days thinking up adventures and writing them down, like I do? Excellent! Writing is a lot of fun. If you’d like to be a writer, too, then I have some ideas that may help you become a writer.

Tip #1: Write About What You Really Care About

Battle Before Time by Jim Denney

I’ve heard people say, “The first rule of writing is, ‘Write what you know.'” Well, I have a little different point of view. I don’t say, “Write what you know.” I say, “Write what you really want to write about!”

The problem with “Write what you know” is that there are a lot of things that are fun to write about that nobody has ever done. For example, my Timebenders books are about time travel—but I’ve never traveled in time. I’ve never been scared out of my socks by a Tyrannosaurus rex. I’ve never been to an old English castle. I’ve never gone to the future and been chased by robots. If I could only write what I know from my own experience, I couldn’t have written Timebenders!

So I say the first rule of writing is to write whatever you really want to write about, whatever you think would make an interesting story, whatever you really care about. Now, when you do that, you can also use a lot of what you know. For example, you might write an interesting, imaginative story based on a vacation you took or an interesting person you know. But if you want to write about an adventure in outer space or about a visit to the Garden of Eden, you’ll just have to use your imagination and make it up—and that’s okay! Make it up and write it down. When you make up stories about times and places you’ve never been to, you’ll probably need to do some research. So, for example, if you write a story about the Civil War, you’ll need to read about the Civil War. One of the most famous books ever written about the Civil War was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane—yet Stephen Crane was never a soldier, and was never in the Civil War. He didn’t write what he knew; he did research. And he did his research so well that his book convinced many people that he had actually been a soldier in the war.

Tip #2: Read!

A writer is a reader first of all, so read every day. And when you read, don’t just read your favorite kind of book. Read all kinds of books, many kinds of books. Whether you like scary books or fantasy or adventure stories or romance, you should read other kinds of books as well. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read books about the lives of famous people, books about science, history, literature, and art, and books of poetry. Read the Bible. If you want to be a good writer, become a well-rounded reader.

Tip #3: Write All the Time!

Doorway to Doom by Jim Denney

Some people only like to write when they feel “inspired.” But I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve found out that the best way to get inspired is to sit down and start writing—even when I don’t feel like writing! I write every day, and I don’t always feel “inspired” when I begin. But soon after I start writing, ideas and sentences start to flow. I start having fun. And I keep writing and writing until I find that I have written a lot of pages.

Keep a journal or diary, and write down observations about interesting events and interesting people. Write down things that happen to you. Write about things that make you feel happy, mad, scared, sad, or embarrassed. Someday, you may want to read your journal and use some of these observations as bits and pieces of a story or book.

When you write, remember that it’s okay to imitate writers you admire. I don’t mean you should “steal” story ideas or actual sentences from other writers. But study your favorite writers and see how they create characters, how they write believable dialogue, how they create realistic settings and descriptions, and how they use metaphors to create word pictures in the reader’s mind. It’s okay to study and imitate other writers—that’s how we learn.

Tip #4: Relax and Daydream

My best ideas come when I am relaxed, not when I’m super-concentrating. If you concentrate real hard and tell yourself, “Think! Think! Come up with an idea!,” your mind seems to freeze up. But when you relax, you loosen up your mind, you let your thoughts drift, and ideas start to flow.

Here are some relaxation ideas: Step away from your desk or computer for a moment, lie down on the couch or your bed, and just daydream about your story. You can listen to music, but keep the TV off. Or, you could take a walk or get some exercise. You might even find it relaxing to do some yardwork—sweeping the patio or raking the leaves in the yard.

As you let your thoughts drift, daydream about the characters in your story. What do they look like? What are their personalities like? How are your characters different from each other? Why do they like or dislike each other? What makes them get mad at each other? What common goals do they have to unite them? Are your characters messy or neat? Are they lazy or hard-working? Are they nice or mean? How do they talk? How can you give each character a unique-sounding voice?

Invasion of the Time Troopers by Jim Denney

Also, daydream about your setting. How can you describe the setting of your story and make it feel real? Let’s say your story takes place in a garden. As you daydream, ask yourself: What grows in this garden? What plants and flowers do I see? What are the unique smells and sounds in this garden? What kinds of insects and birds do you see and hear in this garden? Help your reader see, smell, and hear the garden. Get inside the skin of your characters and feel what they feel. Let the reader feel it, too: The feeling of warm, golden sunshine on a character’s face, or the fragrance of orange blossoms on the breeze. Help your reader to be there, right alongside your characters.

Also, daydream about your plot. Ask yourself: How can I start the story in an exciting way? What unexpected thing can I do to surprise the reader? What can I do at the end of the chapter to make the reader turn the page and keep reading? How can I keep the reader asking, “What happens next?”

Tip #5: Don’t Try to be Perfect!

One thing that will really mess you up as a writer is the feeling that you have to write perfectly. Don’t try to be perfect when you write. Tell yourself, “It’s okay to write badly. The important thing is to just write!”Get the words down, even if your sentences are terrible, even if you’re not sure of the spelling, even if you think it’s the worst piece of writing anyone has ever done. That’s okay. Just write!

You know what? I think I’m a pretty good writer—but I write badly all the time! And that’s okay! It doesn’t bother me a bit to write badly. You know why? Because it’s just a first draft. First drafts are supposed to be terrible! That’s why they call them “first drafts”! I don’t worry about a bad first draft, because I know I’m going to do a second draft, and a third draft, and by the time my third draft is done, it’s going to be a very good piece of writing.

When you write your first draft, write it as fast as you can. Don’t criticize it. Don’t go back over the sentence you just wrote and keep fiddling with it. Write that sentence and move on to the next sentence, and keep going, going, going, without looking back. The faster you write, the better you write. When you write quickly, you write with the creative side of your brain; when you write slowly and try to make it perfect, you write with the critical side of your brain.

The best writing is done by the creative side of your brain, because that is writing that flows, that soars, that inspires! Then, after you create your first draft, you let the critical side of your brain go over it, tidy it up, and make it sparkle. Both sides of your brain are important, but when you do your first draft, write it quickly, write it creatively. Don’t let the critical side of your brain interrupt your creative flow. 

Tip #6: Welcome Criticism

Lost in Cydonia by Jim Denney

Never fear criticism—instead, welcome it! I always have people criticise my books before they’re published, because I want my books to be as good as can be. If there are mistakes or boring places or dumb ideas in my books, I hope someone helps me catch them before the book is printed!

Remember that writing is a matter of taste—and what one person finds interesting, another person will find dull. So don’t expect to please everybody, and don’t be surprised if you get conflicting advice from different people. That’s okay. Listen to the criticism and see if it makes sense to you. If the advice makes sense, then follow it. If the advice doesn’t ring true, ignore it and write it the way it seems best to you.

Show your writing to your friends and teachers. Start a writing club and share your stories with each other. Criticize each other’s stories—not in a mean or hurtful way, but in a helpful way: “I think this dialogue could be improved if you did such and such,” or, “What if your character decided to do this instead of that?” Encourage each other and help each other to do your finest work.

Keep writing!