I was lucky enough to get the author of the middle grade novel, Unto the Breach, to answer a few questions for me regarding his book and the writing process. Weeks ago I posted a review of the exciting, adventurous book. If you haven't read it, make sure that you do! The action of the novel takes place in the Great Lakes on a sailboat known as a Shark. With terrific characters and endless suspense, this is definitely a book for young teens and tweens.
1. Most aspiring writers or fans of fiction are curious how stories come to be. Explain your writing process. What is the easiest and most difficult part of writing for you?
It may sound kind of hokey, but I loved writing Unto The Breach. I guess what helped make it so fun was that it was a hobby for me so there was never any pressure; no deadlines, no one looking over my shoulder, ... (Heck, if it wasn’t fun I don’t think I would have done it – or I would have abandoned it soon after starting.)
Writing a novel was so very different from writing my non-fiction books. Being fiction, I could control the story. It made me feel like I was operating marionettes…if I wanted a character to do something, they did it. If I wanted a character to say something, well, then they did. Kind of a weird experience after writing non-fiction books where everything is about facts. The one thing I kept reminding myself as I wrote the novel was to always be true to the characters I had created;…I would constantly ask myself “would Rob (or Eric, or Anthony, or…) really say that? Would they really do that?”
The hardest part of writing the book was, when writing ‘rapid-fire’ dialogue, to make sure it was always clear to the reader which character was speaking without constantly writing in the name of the person.
2. Considering that most of your work has been in non-fiction, what inspired you to write a young adult novel?
I guess I always had a dream of writing a novel. (I think very many people do.) So I thought ‘what the heck;’ why not try it? I also noticed that amongst teen boys there seemed to be a lot of ‘reluctant’ readers. I thought an adventure where kids could act as surgeons and save a life would attract their interest and, hopefully, make them less reluctant to read. But I didn’t want to write ‘just another adventure novel for kids’ of which there are so many. I wanted a book that would challenge kids, wouldn’t talk down to them. I kept thinking about a book that one of my son’s and I read together when he was in Grade 7; Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. This was a complex and lyrical novel yet my son, like so very many other boys (and girls) his age, loved it. It was an eye opener for me and made me realize that a book could have unfamiliar and challenging words and situations but still engage a youngster. So I didn’t hide from using vocabulary that wasn’t always going to be easy. I hope I struck the right balance between flat out excitement and adventure, and having young readers challenged with some words they may not have seen before.
3. The action of the book takes place on a sailboat. How much research did you have to do about sailing? How much was based on personal experience and knowledge?
I’ve been sailing for, egads, more than 40 years and the particular type of sailboat (a Shark) on which the action takes place is one I sailed for many years and in all manner of conditions so the sailing part didn’t require much research. As for the medical disaster the boys have to deal with, being a doctor certainly helped. But, of course, this is a work of fiction, so I did have some leeway.
4. You have three very different characters in Anthony, Rob, and Eric. Which character do you most identify with? How?
Before I wrote this book I always wondered what authors meant when in interviews they’d say their novel’s characters were composites. But now I know exactly what they mean. As I created and developed Anthony, Rob, Eric, Mr. B and the others I realized that they started out, in my mind anyhow, as being very much based on a single individual, but as I wrote – and rewrote – and rewrote and rewrote - the story I realized that the characters differed dramatically from the way I had first envisioned them. I can think of at least three or four people I’ve known in my life that have ‘gone into’ each character in the book.
Who do I most identify with? Gee, tough question. I’m not nearly as brave as any of the boys, that’s for sure. If anybody, I think I’m most like Anthony’s dad.
5. I love the ending of the book. It is finished, but . . . unfinished. There is much left to the reader to imagine. How did you come about writing the ending? Had you planned to end it that way all along?
I am soooo relieved you loved the ending of the book! One of my very close friends told me she hated my book. I was devastated at first…until she then said she loved the first 225 pages; it was only the last page of the book that she hated! I had to smile. Gee if she liked over 99 percent of my book that’s not too shabby.
I decided to take a chance with the ending. I didn’t want the book to be an ‘open and shut’ story. I would like to think that I ‘set the stage’ so that the reader can project how things will, at least in their imagination, unfold. (The best work of fiction I have ever read in my life was also the shortest; Ernest Hemingway’s famous six word story: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Oh my, how brilliant is that?)
6. What do you most want young people to learn from reading your book?
Gee, I hesitate to say that anyone will learn anything at all! My main goal is to simply entertain people.
But, having said that, I must admit I would be thrilled if kids read the book and came away feeling that, like the boys in the book, they too could find it in them to rise to challenges that come their way. And I’d be equally thrilled if adults who read the book came away recognizing that kids are a heck of a lot more resourceful and insightful than many adults give them credit. Best of all, though, would be if young readers enjoyed my book enough that it gave them incentive to go out and find other books to read.
- An exciting adventure for middle school boys! (breiwilson.com)