"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jackaby---a visit with the author and a review

William Ritter, author
This past Spring I met the author of Jackaby, William Ritter, at the Cavalcade of Authors West event in Tacoma. I introduced myself to him because he teaches school in the same district as my sister in Springfield, Oregon. Also, several student participants from my school were crazy for his Jackaby series and were eager to attend his workshop.  I attempted to sit on on one of them, too, but all the seats in his room were taken. Drats!

When I learned that William Ritter is a high school teacher, like me, I wanted to interview him for this blog. I am always interested in how authors find time to write, especially if they are also holding down demanding and time-consuming day jobs.

-I enjoyed reading your author essay over at Algonquin Books. Your experiences in Japan and at the small school in Salem make me think you are a guy who sees magic everywhere you go. Is that correct? Can you share another everyday magical story with my readers?

Absolutely! We get used to the magical things all around us, and we stop seeing them. The magic fades into normalcy, but it's still possible to reopen that part of our brain. Sometimes we still remember to marvel at the swirling colors in a soap bubble, or watch in awe as the land falls away when our airplane takes off, and that's when we remind ourselves that things that seem like they should be impossible are actually possible. When you start thinking like that about the things that already obviously exist, it opens you up to really think about the things that don't exist... yet. It helps to believe in impossible things from time to time.
I also see magic in storytelling. Every culture is connected to a long history of folklore and traditions. Every day of the week, for example, is named for a supernatural entity. (Sun-day, Moon-day, Tiw's-day, Woden's-day, Thor's-day, Frigga's-day, and Saturn-Day). The old gods are literally with us every day. Whether or not we are religious, our modern rational world is built on a foundation of faiths. We would not be who we are as a society if our ancestors had not had a little faith in impossible things.

-As a long time high school educator myself I am very curious how your students react to you as an author. For example, are they always wanting you to read their creative writing attempts? Do they refer to your characters or even seem to know about your other life? How do you juggle the demands of the publishing world with the demands of teaching? Is it your goal to one day leave teaching and devote yourself full time to writing?

I love teaching and writing simultaneously. My students are a big inspiration for my storytelling, and many of the life lessons Jackaby offers Rook are lessons I have offered to my students at some point or another in class. I occasionally bring my own writing into the class to show them what editing looks like professionally (MESSY. My early drafts need a LOT of revision), and occasionally I let my class have a hand in my writing process. Book 3, for example, had three different titles before I settled on GHOSTLY ECHOES. That decision was made by a class vote (they chose an option contrary to what the publicists wanted, and I sided with my kids). If I ever did stop teaching, it would be because the time constraints began to outweigh my effectiveness as a teacher, not because I want to get away from it. I love both of my jobs, and as long as I can balance them, I'll keep doing both.

-Talk a little about your daily/weekly schedule. When do you do your writing? With a young family and demands of a high school English teacher on your plate, it must be hard to find the time.  How long does it take you to finish a book once the writing process begins?

I'm working on book 4, and every book has been a different process. I spend roughly 6 months to a year writing a rough draft. By "rough" I mean I've edited every page a dozen times, but it's still awful. Then I spend another 6 months or so in heavy revision with editors, and then finally copyediting to catch the little errors. In the end, the publisher takes over with publicity, cover designs, and copywriting, and a few months later, a book exists. 
As for how I make time writing, I just had to commit to MAKE TIME, and stop WAITING for time to happen. My wife has been hugely supportive in that. In addition to being a beta reader, she also helps me make time to write. She'll come home after a full workday and offer tend to the kids a couple days a week, or she'll kick me out of the house so I can go concentrate in the library or sit in some coffee shop. Without her, I couldn't possibly keep to my publishing schedule. Even with her helping out, there are months at a stretch when little to nothing gets written, and occasionally a single week in which I knock out a quarter of a book.
-In your essay you mentioned that Jackaby insisted on becoming a novel. I love that description. It is as if he is real and you are just a conduit for writing about him. Is this correct or how would you describe your relationship with your characters?

My relationship with my writing is often a little combative. The thing about creating a book is that you're never really content with it while you're working on it. It's always either unfinished, or it's finished, but it's not good enough—otherwise you wouldn't be working on it. While you may never be content, you can still have fun with it. I spend 99% of my writing time trying to push through my intended plot, only to be foiled by characters who want to do things differently because it feels more natural to them. Frustrating, but also fun.

-Ghostly Echoes is due out in August. Will it be the last book in a trilogy or can we expect more Jackaby books after it?

Ghostly Echoes will be the penultimate book. It answers some big questions, but also sets up some major tension for the fourth and final installment. I may someday return to these characters, but for the time being, this storyline will end with book 4. 

-Is there is anything else you'd like my readers to know?

Do what you love and love what you do. I have been very lucky to see my books become successful, but that would not have happened if I had written for money, or if I had gotten weighed down by the parts of the process that are less fun. The books would not have been any good if I had written to satisfy a market demand, or if I had pandered to a particular demographic. I just wanted a story to exist in the world, and it didn't—so I wrote it. That meant that I got to have a lot of fun doing something that felt right for me. That's an experience I would PAY for, so the fact that I get PAID to do it is just a cherry on top.

-Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I am a big fan and wish you continued success with your Jackaby series and all future books. btw- I love the covers of your books!

I read Jackaby during my 24-hour readathon in April and enjoyed it very much. The little blurb on the book describes it as Sherlock meets Dr. Who.  I actually think the blurb is a good description of the book. It is a fun combination of classic-themed literature (Sherlock) with unexpected paranormal activity (Dr. Who.)

The narrator of Jackaby is Abigail Rook, young woman who is traveling the world in search of adventure. She has no money so has to find work immediately after she gets off the boat in New Fiddleham in 1892. She answers an advertisement to be an assistant for Jackaby, a private detective. She finds out soon enough he is a paranormal private detective. “Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”  Abigail not only has a job but she also has lodging, which she has to share with a ghost, and a past assistant who was turned into a duck. Abigail ends up being a real ally for Jackaby because she is very observant of normal things whereas he notices supernatural signs. It is lucky they are a team because almost immediately they have to investigate a serial killer that leaves behind paranormal traces. 

What a fun and thrilling book. I recommend it often to my teen readers.

Disclaimer: I read the print edition of this book from my school library.

Day four


  1. Great interview! I really enjoyed Jackaby and so do my students. It's hardly ever on the shelf. I'll be looking forward to the new installments of this series.

  2. Great interview! Hugs from Brazil.


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