I’m so happy to be bringing you this interview with middle grade speculative fiction author extraordinaire, William Alexander. He is an amazingly prolific author and is picking up awards and nominations for his work left, right and center! He’s also very dedicated to diversity in children’s literature. When I asked him some questions about his award-winning and ever-growing array of kids’ books, here’s what he had to say …
KC: You’ve written both fantasy and sci-fi for younger readers. Which do you find more challenging? Why?
WA: I found science fiction more challenging. My brain is far more comfortable with the associative, sideways logic of fantasy than the linear sense that SF often tries to squeeze out of the universe. But I adored both genres when I was eleven years old, and I felt a huge debt to my Trek-loving younger self. I owed it to him to write Ambassador and Nomad.
Those two books had their own specific challenges. They wrestle with real-world circumstances more directly and explicitly than my fantasy novels, and that required some careful narrative diplomacy. But it was also absolutely necessary. The story is about a boy who becomes the secret ambassador of our planet just as his father gets deported from the country. I needed my protagonist to viscerally understand both the dangers and the advantages of belonging to more than one world at once. As a 2nd gen Caribbean immigrant it felt right, fitting, and obvious to make this an immigration story. I also couldn’t resist punning on the word “alien.”
KC: You’ve also written a lot of weird and wonderful characters like witches, aliens, goblins and, apparently, soon ghosts. Which kinds of characters are the most fun to write? Why?
WA: Tough choice! But if I absolutely have to pick favorites, then I choose my goblins. They embody everything I loved about working in theater, both onstage and backstage. They also channel much of my love for The Muppet Show (I usually describe Goblin Secrets as a fantasy novel crossed with The Muppet Show).
My witches, aliens, and ghosts are going to resent that answer and send me nightmares. Oh well.
KC: You have created some incredibly memorable and literally out-of-this world settings that play wonderfully into your characters’ stories. How do you go about writing setting? Does it emerge organically from the story?
WA: Ideally! But not always. I get characters and their voices for free, but all other elements of fiction–including setting–are slow and painstaking work. My initial attempts at set design and setting description are messy, just pages and pages of notebook babbling. Then I’ll go back, pick out three or four favorite details from the mess, and build from there.
KC: You’ve narrated all your own audiobooks. What’s the best part about narrating? What are the biggest challenges?
WA: I miss acting, so narrating an audiobook is a great big gulp of delicious, theatrical nostalgia. I love it. But I also got a bit cocky when I wrote all sorts of vocal shenanigans into Ambassador and Nomad. Several characters have specific real-world accents. Some characters imperfectly mimic the voices of others. Gabe’s dad loves to sing Bollywood tunes in the kitchen. And I wrote all of that knowing I would have to give it voice in a recording studio. Hubris. I paid for it later. I hope the Bollywood bits sound okay.
KC: What can you tell us about your current project, or about “ghost appeasement specialists” generally?
WA: The Canny Town of Ingot starts as a ghost story in reverse. Ingot is unhaunted. The whole rest of that world is wildly and utterly haunted by all sorts of things, but not Ingot. Rosa Díaz, the eleven-year-old daughter of a great appeasement specialist, tries to sort out why.
Appeasement is important here. Most American ghost stories strive for banishment and exorcism. Kill it with fire, over and over again. But that just isn’t an option in Rosa’s world. Ghosts are everywhere (except Ingot), and the living learn to live with them.
The town also has a very large Renaissance Festival. It’s easier to stage historical reenactments where the echoes of actual history don’t show up to argue with you.
Thanks so much for sharing your authorial wisdom with us, Will! Happy reading to all!!!