This week we have a fabulous guest for our latest Author Spotlight. I met Greg van Eekhout at an event at a local bookstore here in San Diego and was impressed by his presentation. Son #2 finished his book The Boy at the End of the World in less than a day.
Greg van Eekhout was born in Los Angeles, California. He has held many jobs, including instructional designer, multimedia developer, college English teacher, bookseller, advertising salesman, and ice cream scooper. He writes for adult and middle-grade audiences, including the books Norse Code, Kid vs. Squid, and The Boy at the End of the World. After many years of living around Phoenix, Arizona, he now lives in San Diego.
WOTS: What was your road to publication?
GvE: It was one of those roads where a pterodactyl swoops down and flies off with your engine, but then it turns out the gas station has your favorite kind of jerky, so it’s all right.
I learned to write by writing short stories. It was useful learning how to envision an entire story and get experience in starting and finishing things. Also, a lot of the writers who were influencing me back in my teens, when I started writing in earnest, were principally short-story writers. I also got experience formatting manuscripts and following submission guidelines, and getting into the mindset of writing and submitting things. Mostly I’d send the stories to little horror magazines who’d say they were going to buy my story but then they’d never send the check and it would always turn out that the magazine folded four minutes after mailing off my acceptance letter. This went on for some time. I made my first sale to a former co-worker who ran an odd little photocopied magazine, and then to an anthology that was stocked at bookstores, and then to proper science fiction and fantasy magazines and anthologies. After a few years of that, some of the editors at the traditional New York book publishing companies became aware of me through my stories, and they started expressing interest in seeing a novel from me, so when I finished my second book (the first book was trunked), I sent it to one of those editors, and much to my shock, she made me an offer. That was Norse Code, which came out from Ballantine Spectra.
While I was waiting for Norse Code to be released, I wrote a middle-grade novel and sold it in a two-book deal, and those two books, Kid vs. Squid and The Boy at the End of the World, got me started as a middle-grade writer.
WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?
GvE: I plot. Then, I realize my plot stinks and I start making stuff up as I go along. Then I write myself into a corner and I decide that my plot was brilliant and I regret going off the planned course, so I throw out a bunch of words and revisit my outline. I go through this stumbling sort of process several times, and gradually the book takes shape. Then, in revision, I end up tossing out whole huge chunks and rewriting them from scratch. It’s a crazy way to write a book, but it seems to be my process, and while I always hope to get better with every book, the books do get written and I don’t think they’re completely terrible, so even though my process is maddeningly inefficient, it mainly works.
WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?
GvE: Yes! Right now I’m working on the first of three urban fantasy novels for adults. They’re about modern-day wizards who get magic from the remains of magical creatures, like griffins and dragons and so forth, found in places like the La Brea Tar Pits or peat bogs or the frozen Siberian tundra. While I’m writing these, I’m also in the very early stages of some middle-grade projects.
WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.
GvE: I have a tiny desk, right next to the sofa in the living room. It’s got enough room for my laptop, a lamp, a couple pieces of paper, and my coffee cup. There’s usually a scruffy little dog at my feet. I used to do a lot of time writing in coffee shops, which is stimulating, but when I sold my first book I realized how much money I was spending every week at coffee shops, and it stopped making sense from a business standpoint.
WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
GvE: I love doodling, and before I committed to being a writer, I thought I might be some kind of comic-book artist or cartoonist. I guess I didn’t want it badly enough to work hard at it, though. But I still daydream about it.
WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
GvE: I’m Batman.
GvE: I wanted it to be a far, far future world, but that kind of setting is problematic. If we project so far into the future that animals have evolved drastically, then almost all our structures and all evidence that humans have ever been here are probably going to be swallowed up by nature. Yet, I wanted there to be ruins and abandoned shopping malls and such, just because an environment with crumbling buildings is far more interesting to me than complete wilderness. So I had to let the animals be changed by genetic engineering, and the landscape to be changed by environmental engineering. At first it seemed to me as if I were making a compromise, but then I realized the idea of unintended consequences is one of the major themes of human history, at least since the Industrial Revolution, and it’s likely to be a continuing theme as we face the future. Science fiction, whether the intended audience is adults or middle-grade readers, is most interesting to me when the physical and social environments are entwined with theme.
WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?
GvE: When I had a job with a regular schedule, I was definitely Team Proactive. I had an hour in the morning to write before work, and it was the most important hour of the day, because it belonged to me, not to my employer. So, wasting that hour would be giving away something I didn’t want to give. Now that I don’t have a job with a regular schedule, I’ve sadly become Team Procrastinator. The me of a few years ago would want to give the me of today a kick in the butt, and the me of today would deserve it.
WOTS: Thanks Greg for visiting with us today.
Writing on the Sidewalk