Happy Friday everyone! Today I have Carter Roy, author of The Blood Guard series, who has somehow found the time to answer a few questions during the launch week of his new middle grade novel, THE BLAZING BRIDGE–book three of the Blood Guard Trilogy. I’ll have a review this coming Marvelous Middle Grade Monday:
Make a comment either today or on my review post this Monday for a chance to win a great giveaway. One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Good luck to all who enter.
Before I begin the interview, here’s the background on this gifted author:
Carter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at www.carterroybooks.com or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.
Without further delay… A big welcome to author, Carter Roy.
First off, you’ve had many different careers before you became a writer. What prepared you most for the job of putting a compelling story together for young readers?
I wish I could point to one of my weirder jobs as being a particular help with my writing—you know, “on the cruise ship, it fell to me to entertain the passengers when we were becalmed at sea for three weeks!” or something similarly nutty. But the truth is more boring than that. (It usually is.)
I have been very lucky in that I worked as an editor of novels for kids, and with some of the best writers in the business—Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, M.T. Anderson, and on and on. There’s nothing quite like helping an established writer refine his or her work to show a fledgling writer how stories are put together. I did my best to pay attention.
What are the positives of writing a trilogy along with the challenges?
As a reader, I often lamented “middle-book syndrome”—the way that a lot of trilogies sag in book two. Book one is always fun (a story is beginning!) and book three is usually satisfying (at last the story is wrapped up!), but that middle entry? It was often stuck in No Man’s Land: not allowed to start or end anything, and as a result books two can have identity problems.
I tried to avoid that in The Glass Gauntlet. In addition to carrying on the main storyline, I added a separate story about the kids undergoing the twisted Glass Gauntlet competition. My hope was that what initially appeared to be unrelated to our main story would provide a nice kick of surprise when it actually turned out to be intimately linked to that storyline. Did I succeed? Beats me.
Writing a trilogy gives a writer many opportunities like that to “change up” the story. That is, to keep redefining the central conflict—to make it bigger or badder. In book three, for example, Ronan and Dawkins realize that they’ve misunderstood their enemies’ goal from the very start. The situation is much more dire than they’d ever imagined and doom is much closer to hand.
The Blood Guard series is full of suspense and surprises in almost every chapter. How do you go about crafting this type of story? Do ideas come as you write or is it all planned out ahead of time?
Ah! Am I a planner or a pantser? (“Pantser” as in “by the seat of the pants”; not, as you might fear, because I am one of those creeps who yank down other people’s pants.) (For the record, I am not.)
Truth is, I use both methods. I outline the larger story and the big action moments chapter by chapter so that I have some sort of road map for where the story is going. And then I feel safe to throw away the outline as I write.
Why do that? First, sometimes the outline will say only something along the lines of “backstory about Dawkins.” (This was true in book three.) At that point, I had no idea how it would fit into the story, but I knew that I wanted it, and in terms of pacing, figured I could take a breather with that chapter. (And it turned into two chapters—which meant rejiggering some later chapters in the outline. )
Second, I really try to give the books have an almost ridiculous forward momentum so that even the most reluctant of readers will be hooked. So whenever I feel the story needs to be goosed, I do something—such as pull forward some piece of action that I’d been saving for later. Or I rearrange the boring parts of the story. (That is, background, exposition, that sort of thing.)
This is what happened in book one when we learned the truth about Greta. Originally that was going to be in book two, but … why wait?
Ronan Truelove is such an endearing character. How was he created in your mind and did Ronan come first or the story?
I’m glad you find Ronan endearing; I kind of like him myself! The idea behind the story of the Blood Guard came first, but then right on its heels came Ronan—a boy who wasn’t “the One,” or special as so many protagonists are in so much middle grade and teen fiction. I was hoping Ronan could just be a normal kid who gets swept up into extraordinary events, because when I was a reader Ronan’s age, living in the suburbs of San Diego, I longed for adventures to come find me. It never did, so as an adult, I invented my own.
What is the biggest challenge of being an author in today’s publishing world?
Probably the biggest challenge facing a writer in today’s world is simply in getting the word out about one’s books. There are so many different leisure time and entertainment options clamoring for our attention: movies, television, video games, social media, as well as the entire bookstore of other books. And most of those things are available at the touch of a finger. Getting a potential reader to give you a chance can look almost impossible.
And yet it does happen, so I write on, fingers crossed that the books will find their readers.
What advice would you give to middle grade readers who aspire to be authors?
My advice is that a would-be writer should write, write, write, and write. Write every day. Make it a habit. Finish what you write. And then revise what you write (because all good writing is rewriting). The best way to learn is to do it, and to do it regularly.
What other writing projects do you have planned for the future?
At the moment I am revising a novel for publication in the next year or so. It’s a standalone story for middle graders called Very. That title may change, but it is the name of the main character, Veronica, which is shortened to Very. She’s a girl who, through no fault of her own, becomes lost in what may very well turn out to be God’s library. It is a change of pace from the Blood Guard novels, and is a book about storytelling and magic, about fate and being the author of one’s own story. I hope readers embrace Very as eagerly as they have Ronan!
Thank you for your time, Carter.
Thank you, Greg.