Swanky Seventeener Sheryl Scarborough recently sat down with Wade Albert White to talk about his middle-grade fantasy debut, THE ADVENTURER’S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, September 13, 2016)
Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new adventuring partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes–or face the horrible consequences. Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.
If Wade Albert White’s debut novel, The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes is only half as charming as my interview with the author, it will literally charm the pants off of all of us. We will be an army of charmed, middle grade readers, sans pants. Which is really the perfect way to be a middle grade reader, don’t you agree, Wade?
Wade: As the father of three young boys, I can confirm that when it comes to one’s choice of wardrobe the average middle grader does not always feel confined by societal norms.
Wade Albert White hails from Nova Scotia, Canada, land of wild blueberries and Duck Tolling Retrievers. He teaches part-time, dabbles in animation and filmmaking, and spends the rest of his time as a stay-at-home parent to three growing boys. He’s done a bit of traveling, plays a bit of guitar, and was once bitten by a squirrel. It is also possible he has set a new record as the slowest 10K runner. Ever. He owns one pretend cat and one real one, and they get along fabulously.
Sheryl: The first thing I asked Wade, (and it’s what I always want to know about writers and their stories) is where did this idea come from?
Wade: This book came together from several directions, and it would be fair to say I started with the world first (as opposed to specific characters first). For the longest time I wanted to write a fantasy parody, and so I spent a lot of time creating the world in which the story takes place.
But I also wanted to write a book that somehow combined both fantasy and science fiction. The only question was how to do that. I finally came at it this way: We live in a world of science and technology, and much of our ancient history contains what we consider to be mythological creatures and magic. So I thought, what if I reversed that? What if the modern world of this story is one of fantasy and magick (and yes, that’s magick with a ‘k’), but their ancient history is filled with hints of lost science and technology and mythical creatures known as robots and the like?
Once I had that foundation to build upon, it was simply a matter of figuring out what specific story I wanted to tell. Naturally the most interesting story in such a setting was one that involved explaining how this world had arrived at its current state.
Sheryl: I love this set up, Wade. We so often see fantasy stories bending—almost defiantly—away from technology. So your angle of using science and technology as the mythology sounds really refreshing. I love it! Now, please tell us about your characters?
Wade: In some ways developing the characters was easy, and in other ways it took a while to find just the right mix. I have this thing I do where I “interview” characters—that is, instead of creating them piece by piece, it’s more like a casting audition. I imagine meeting and chatting with them one by one and try to get some hint of what story they might have to tell, and then go from there.
Sheryl: I’m curious. Do you write these interviews down and keep them in a file or do you just work through them in your head?
Wade: Mostly just in my head, at least to begin with. When I feel like I’m getting close and have narrowed it down to two or three, I have a scribbler that I keep notes in and I might write down my impressions of specific characters so I don’t forget them. But I rarely write down the interviews. The important details tend to stick.
Using this selection process doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t fine tune the characters afterwards, of course, but in this instance several of them came to me more or less as whole people (including the main character, Anne, and her best friend, Penelope). But I also like a balanced group, with different characters having different opinions and ideas about what needs to be done and how best to go about it. Also, if I was going to write a parody, then it needed to include some clear archetypes as well. So there was definitely a bit of a balancing act involved, because I wanted each member of the group to be unique. This can be especially tricky when writing a story that’s at least partially a parody, because it’s easy to stick with stock fantasy characters for a few laughs and not dive any deeper.
Sheryl: Pairing a parody with solid, archetypical characters sounds like the perfect combination for creating a memorable story. So, take us a little deeper into your process. Did you always want to be a writer? Is this your first book or…?
Wade: After several false starts on various projects over the years, in 2013 I finally sat myself down, determined to a full draft of a book from start to finish. During that process I trained myself to basically write whether I felt like it or not. I learned the art of showing up and putting words on the page regardless of whether or not the muse was with me.
And I did it. I finished the first full draft of a book for the first time in my life. I then sent that out to a group of readers, and based on their feedback did a second draft. Then I sent it out to even more readers and did a third draft.
Sheryl: You say a group of readers. Did you belong to a critique group? Where do you find a group of adults willing (and qualified) to critique a middle grade book?
Wade: I was a member of the Online Writing Workshop for a number of years. It’s an online group where writers critique one another’s work chapter by chapter, and it played a huge role in my growth as a writer over the course of several years. I ran my first draft through the workshop and received a lot of extremely helpful feedback. Subsequent drafts I traded offline with a smaller group of writers I’d met over the years, either through the OWW or elsewhere.
Once I felt the manuscript was as polished as I could get it, I started sending out queries to find an agent. That process took about nine months, and included two more full revision passes (one of those being an R&R from an agent). I eventually signed with Elizabeth Kaplan of the Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency.
Sheryl: Sounds completely on par with every experience I’ve ever heard! But it’s a book now, which means you successfully navigated the submission process, too. How was that?
We went on submission in early 2015. I’d done my research and was prepared to settle in for the long wait, so imagine my surprise when my agent sent me an email only eight days later with the subject line full of exclamation marks and saying an offer had come in. It was soon followed by several more, and we decided to hold an auction. In the end that didn’t happen, though, because one of the publishers made a pre-empt offer we felt was simply too good to refuse.
So while the journey to write and sell a book took years, it definitely ended with a bang.
Sheryl: Wow! Great way to end a story, Wade… with a pre-empt! And your book sounds fantastic. I’m sorry I couldn’t get an advance copy to read before this interview, but I delight in knowing that it will be in my inbox when I wake up today. And I am really looking forward to it.
I only have one, last question. I notice in your bio that you say you own one real cat and one pretend cat. Obviously, the pretend cat is easier to feed and clean up after. But I have to ask…pretend cat, what’s up with that?
Wade: I distinguish having a pretend cat from pretending to have a cat. Pretending to have one would be akin to lying, but having a pretend one is perfectly valid (and our real cat doesn’t mind at all).
Charming… all the way to the end! Thanks for your time, Wade and good luck with the book.
Sheryl Scarborough is an award-winning writer for children’s television. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, lives in Washington state, and has always had an obsession with forensics. When she was twelve, her home was the target of a peeping Tom. Sheryl would diligently photograph the footprints and collect the candy wrappers he left behind. Unfortunately, he was never caught. But a quest for evidence was lit inside Scarborough all the same. You can check out more about Sheryl at her website: http://www.sherylscarborough.com
Sheryl’s debut, TO CATCH A KILLER, publishes February 7, 2017, from Tor Teen: Move over Veronica Mars, there’s a new girl in town and she’s using forensics to navigate the murky world of high school relationships and, oh yeah, solve a murder or two.