ND Wilson, is a man who wears many hats, he is an editor, an author, a screenwriter, professor, a husband, a father and more. He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer 20 questions for Book Reviews and More. Nathan David Wilson has accomplished a lot in 32 years here on earth. He has written a bestselling trilogy for young adults the 100 Cupboards, authored 2 books for young children, written a parody of the Left behind series, and has now been tapped to be the screenwriter for a film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's A Great Divorce.
1. You seem to have a knack for stirring things up, either with your replica of the Shroud of Turin or your parody of the left behind books. Do you stir the pot intentionally or is it something that just happens based on your nature?
I've asked myself this question more than a few times, and I'm not sure I can give a good answer. I think trouble-making is a bit in my bones, but then it's not something that I always lean against (though, I occasionally do, I promise). So let's go with 'all of the above'. It's in me, but I cut with that grain.
2. In your book Leepike Ridge you present an alternate view of history and colonization of North America. Those theories are on the outside of conventional wisdom, but in propagating them through fiction you can lay the ground work for readers question what they have been taught. What was your favorite part about writing this book?
My favorite part of writing Leepike, was simply how ready the story was to come out. The opening line grabbed me late one night (when I was supposed to be writing something else) and I started teasing it out, trying to discover where that opening line led. It was like pulling old bubble gum out of a crack in a dam. Three and half weeks later, I had a complete first draft. But to get back to the alternate history question, that's just a subject that I've stewed on for a long time. We moderns have a remarkably low view of ancient man (thanks to Darwin). And we like to hum and plug our ears when we come across signs that ancient man was actually quite impressive-frequently doing a great deal more than we do, and doing it with a great deal less. I, frankly, wouldn't be too surprised if our astronauts stepped onto the moon next to a rock with 'Gilgamesh was here' scratched on it.
3. Has Leepike Ridge been optioned to be a film? If not has there been any interest?
Leepike has been optioned, but I let the option expire. I still have hopes for it, but it's definitely not on the front burner at the moment.
4. You were previously the managing editor of CREDENDAagenda journal. How is it you can wear so many hats and do it well? (Editor, Author, Screenwriter husband father and more.)
Ha. Trick question. I don't. But what I do achieve, I do with the assistance of my lovely wife (and caffeine).
5. You are one of the few people who I have seen comment on The Hunger Games Trilogy, to the effect that the first two books were great but the third was a letdown, can you elaborate further on your comments? ("Overall, well-crafted (especially the first two-thirds). I understand why whole herds of people are loving it. Roman games and Athenian sacrifices located in a dystopic, reality-tv future made for a pretty interesting setting. In the end, I felt bogged down inside a repeating loop of character emotion, and the great climactic subversion let me down. Still, an enjoyable (and page-turning) read.")
Hmm. I'm usually hesitant to criticize a fellow author-don't want to get into a spat with anyone. But in this case, I think Collins has every right to be secure in her success. My thoughts won't spoil anything for her. So, here they are, nutshelled: The quote you cite is only about the first book. I actually haven't finished the trilogy. And she really can write an effective page-turner. At the same time, I thought that the author's judgments were morally confused, that she didn't actually understand what turns a culture, what ignites rebellion, or what true subversion of an evil paradigm looks like, and she glazed over the hard and bloody decisions the hero made with a glossy (implied) self-defense plea (that was a bit weak). Then the threads drifted into odd love-triangle, reality-show goofiness. But, regardless of the taste the first two stories left in my mouth, I still learned a great deal from her on a craft-competence level.
6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
Woof. It's been a little different with each book. Leepike, the whole thing was written before it was purchased. But the 100 Cupboards trilogy was sold based on a first draft of Book 1, and a one-page summary of the next two. More recently, I signed a five book series (again with Random House) based solely a three-page synopsis. As for the writing itself, I start with a broad (usually five-point) outline of a book idea. Then I work on getting a really strong first page before growing into that first chapter. From there, I develop small three to five point outlines of each chapter as I write them, making sure they each serve the broader narrative. Once I'm through that first draft (3-4 months is normal), it heads off to my editor (terrific guy-I've been working with him since Leepike). He marks things up, I mark things up, I work up a next draft. Rinse and repeat. We'll keep doing that till we're both happy.
7. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I actually wrote Leepike to Coldplay's "X&Y", because it had just come out and I knew I couldn't be distracted by the lyrics. But I've gotten better at working with music since then, and I tend to assemble a general playlist or a broader feel for every project. I just wrapped up the second draft of a script, and so far I've listened through the entirety of Handel's Messiah about 75 times while working on it. As I hit the final revision (a pretty light one), I'll click play again, and do a few more laps. (FYI: I'm listening to the 1751 version by the New College Choir, Oxford).
8. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Then I would be currently involved in trying to become a writer (or writing without pay). The only question for me was always whether or not I would succeed as a writer, not whether I would write. But if the writing wasn't paying bills, I might be teaching full-time or I might be building/designing. I can't really avoid that kind of thing-I love to envision and then build. When my family and I are strolling through neighborhoods, I can't look at houses without mentally taking them apart and adding on or shifting (and occasionally bull-dozing). I bought the house we currently live in because it was across the street and I thought I might be able to add an entire story to the top of it-which we since have). I really do approach stories in a similar way. I love the artistry of expression, but I also love to build. On all of those goofy personality tests, I always get tagged as an inventor, never as an artist.
9. What was your favorite book to write and why?
Don't know that I can answer that one. They've all brought their own unique ups and downs. Don't ask me which is my favorite kid either . . .
10. Are there any plans to translate any of your books into other languages? If so what books and the timeline?
The 100 Cupboards series has now sold into well over (I believe) twenty countries. In some, it is just releasing, in others, Dandelion Fire is already out. My kids love looking at the Japanese versions especially. I hadn't really thought about that side of things when I first started writing, but now I'm almost always in correspondence with one translator or another, explaining baseball idioms or expressions unique to the books. I've discovered that I'm a rough one to translate because I like to . . . depart . . . from standard usage. And when I resort to idioms and slang, I tend to riff on them more than I use them in a 'Dictionary of American Slang' sense.
11. Your two books in the old Time Stories (The Dragon and the Garden, In The Time of Noah) series both reference a third book The Sword of Abraham. Are you still hoping to get it published?
Yeah, there have been some issues there, but I actually want to do piles and piles of those books. Not because they're hot sellers (they aren't), but because I want to tell my kids those stories in that voice and style (rather than in the more traditional, cartoony way).
12. What are your favorite books to read with your children?
Currently trudging through "The Lord of the Rings". Love it. Love watching them love it. Waiting patiently until the right moment (a few years from now), when I can read them That Hideous Strength. That, preemptively, is my favorite book to read them.
13. What were your favorite books and authors to read as a youth?
Shockingly, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, P.G. Wodehouse, G.K. Chesterton. And that's chronological-youngest introduction to oldest. Loved them all. Love them all. There are a lot of others that I enjoyed, but those are the authors that shaped me and set the bar in my head for how a thing should be said, how a story should be told, and even how a thought should be thunk.
14. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
Ha. See above. Of course, I have branched out (I like Tom Wolfe and P.D. James, to name two), but very few have yet impacted me as much as those early fellas. Flannery O'Connor is definitely on my short list, and Annie Dillard's earlier stuff is top notch.
15. There are rumors of a new series written by you, The Ashtown Burials?
Yes, there are. And those rumors are true. The first book is finished and in copy editing. I like it a whole heap.
16. Being the author chosen to do the screen play for C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce must be both an honour and a fair amount of pressure. For no matter how you interpret it there will be fans and detractors. Can you tell us a little about the process of adapting someone else's book?
Well, I'm still learning that process. I'll be able to tell you more once I'm done. But, obviously, I want whatever I do to honor Lewis's vision, and impact people in the same way that he wanted to impact them with the book. I'll be doing my best, let's put it that way. And I'll also be applying the golden rule-easier to bear in mind while someone else is adapting 100 Cupboards.
17. What are your some of your favorite movies?
I'll throw out some ranging shots (incomplete random list) with no explanation, justification, or apology: Slumdog Millionaire, Stranger than Fiction, The Queen, Gladiator, Damn United, Brazil (director's cut), Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, Braveheart. What the heck, I'll even throw How to Train Your Dragon.
18. You have signed a deal to bring your 100 Cupboards series to the big screen; will it be a trilogy of films?
I've signed an option on all three books. The first one is still in development, but I assume that whether it is a trilogy of films will depend on how well numero uno does. So here's hoping that it makes it all the way through production and into a friendly box office.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
Do, don't talk. Work your tail off trying to become as good as you can possibly be. Cream will rise, so become cream. Too many bright Potentials spend their days hoping something will fall into their laps. Know that the world wants art, that publishers want good books, and then go get good. Sustained, patient diligence is a powerful cocktail.Oh, and don't ever get hurt by criticism. It's your friend.
With so much accomplished and much more to come, I for one look forward to reading more books by Mr. Wilson and thank him again for taking the time to answer some questions.
Books by N.D. Wilson
Dandelion Fire - 100 Cupboards Book 2
The Chestnut King - 100 Cupboards Books 3
The Dragon's Tooth
The Drowned Vault
The Dragon and the Garden - The Old Stories
In The Time of Noah - The Old Stories
Non-Fiction:Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl
Death By Living
Author Profile Interview with N.D. Wilson