Why middle-grade writer Jonathan Auxier is terrible at answering emails

The author of TD Canadian Children's Literature Award finalist Sweep takes a Q&A for CBC Books.
Jonathan Auxier is the author of Sweep. (Puffin Canada)

Sweepthe latest novel from award-winning children's author Jonathan Auxier, tells the story of an intrepid young orphan girl named Nan Sparrow. A chimney sweep in Victorian London, Nan is rescued from certain death when a piece of charcoal comes to life and saves her from a fire. Together, the two escape the binds of Nan's cruel master and hatch a plan to save the young chimney sweeps of the city.

Sweep won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

It was a 2019 finalist for the $50,000 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, the biggest children's writing award in Canada. 

Below, Auxier answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers for this CBC Books Q&A. 

1. Paul Yee asks, "Do you think writing is a talent that you're born with or is it a skill that can be learned?"

I think it's probably a combination of the two. Most writers are born storytellers — they possess an innate passion for creating new characters and worlds. But they are also people who have taken that natural passion and honed it with years of practice. All the talent in the world means nothing unless you work to develop your craft. 

2. Don Gillmor asks, "How different was your last finished book from the book you imagined when you wrote that first line?"

The difference to me is sometimes shocking. I wrote The Night Gardener over nearly a decade. My first several drafts didn't even include the Night Gardener... so that gives you an idea of how much it changed! 

3. Dianne Warren asks, "What two Canadian writers, living or dead, would you like to see interview each other?"

I would like to see Robertson Davies interview Samuel Marchbanks.

4. Kenneth Oppel asks, "Do you resist all distractions during the working day, or welcome (and even invent) them?"

I have very little willpower, and so I must completely remove distractions. I don't have internet access on my phone or computer... which makes me very bad at answering emails! 

5. Joy Fielding asks, "If you were hired as a publicist by a novelist, how would you go about publicizing their book?"

I think the single most important thing a children's author can do is visit schools. That's all that matters — getting in front of readers. I would forget about press or media and just force that author to visit a million schools. 

I think the single most important thing a children's author can do is visit schools.- Jonathan Auxier

6. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Which comes first, the title or the book?"

Usually the book comes first, but until the title clicks into place, I don't really know what I'm writing. 

7. Alexi Zentner asks, "Do you ever bribe yourself to write? What with?"

For a while I had a tradition that every time I finished a major project, I was allowed to take a week off and play Zelda. But the days when I could afford to take a week off are sadly behind me! 

8. Susan Juby asks, "What has been the most pleasurable or exciting moment in your writing life thus far?"

This is hard to say. I think it's hard to beat the moment when you see your first printed book.