'Throw everything on the page and go from there': Wesley King on why writing is like a treasure hunt
Wesley King writes middle-grade fiction. His previous book, OCDaniel, described what it's like to manage obsessive compulsive disorder as a 13-year-old who is determined to deal with it alone. It went on to win the 2017 Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery and the 2017 Silver Birch Fiction Award, an award chosen by Grades 3-6 students in Ontario.
His latest, the middle-grade novel A World Below, is a survival tale about a field trip of Grade 8 students who find themselves trapped in an underground cave after an earthquake.
Below, King takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
1. Erin Bow asks, "Would you write if you could never be read?"
Absolutely. In fact, I write now as if my work will never be read… that is to say, I write stories I like. There is of course a responsibility in writing for audiences — especially young ones — that I take into account, but I never fail to be in total wonder when I meet readers who love my books.
2. Vikki VanSickle asks, "Who are your first readers and how does your relationship with them work?"
My first readers are almost always my editors. There are rare times when a family member will have an early read as well, but generally most family and friends don't see it until it arrives fully packaged at their door. I have been blessed with the best of editors and we tend to work hand-in-hand from the word go.
3. Jillian Tamaki asks, "What do you wish was different about your workspace and how do you adapt?"
I humbly submit that I have one of the better write workspaces you could ask for. My office is open and airy, with packed sea-crate bookshelves lining the walls, windows overlooking the stormy Atlantic, and very little noise other than the wind on my cedar shingles. I even have a sword… just in case. That said, some sort of Star Trek-like food dispensary would be lovely.
4. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"
The best surprise overall would be the reaction. You never quite know how a book will take, and I have been wrong before. This book has been very well reviewed and selected for a number of wonderful honours. It's been great. If we get back to the actual writing, I think I surprised myself with how much I love caves. I didn't previously know I had any great desire to go spelunking, but it's nice to surprise yourself.
5. Eric Walters asks, "What book have you read more times than any other book and why?"
The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think it's a combination of escapism and comfort — sometimes I need a whole fellowship to help me get to sleep.
6. Deborah Ellis asks, "Did being a writer make you feel distant from others when you were growing up, an observer rather than a participant?"
I haven't thought about that, but perhaps that played a part. At certain points I have felt very distant from others, but whether that was from the writing, my penchant for existentialism, or mental health challenges, I cannot say. However, I think a writer's natural goal of considering life and humanity and purpose will always build a little self-imposed distance — some embrace it, some go Hemingway and search for connection everywhere. I am currently looking at embarking on the latter.
7. Anita Rau Badami asks, "What is your relationship with your characters: is it possible to separate yourself from them or do they always reflect some element of your own psyche?"
They certainly always reflect some elements… the good and the bad in equal parts. I write a lot and introduce a lot of characters, and yet they all seem to tie into something I value or think or fear. I suppose it's a testament to our complexity — we can become a thousand people with ease.
8. Eden Robinson asks, "How long is your mull time before you write?"
Non-existent. I write daily and mull at night or in the morning as I go. All my books are constantly reshaped and reworked and even reimagined as I work on them, particularly through an always arduous editing process. I have tried to slow down and craft more carefully, but it's not my style. I like to throw everything on the page and go from there. Then it's like a little treasure hunt as I try to find the heart and build from there. That probably sounds as maddening to some authors as carefully plotting does to me, but that's the beauty of this process: it doesn't matter how you get there. All that matters is that the words mean something to you in the end. Ugh. I didn't mean to end this so poetically. Did I mention my book has giant spiders and swords made out of monstrous rat spinal cords? Ah. That's better.