Thursday, August 23, 2012

Interview with Michael O. Tunnell,
author of Wishing Moon

I'm dusting off this archived interview from the old JP newsletter. Others previously posted:

T.A. Barron, David Farland, and Rebecca Waugh.

Mike Tunnell interviewed by Lana Jordan was first published in November of 2006:

LJ: How extensive was your research for Wishing Moon — did you visit the Middle East?
MT: My research was quite extensive. The culture of the Arab world circa the ninth century was foreign to me, so I had much to learn. I, of course, did a lot of reading in reliable sources. I used the Internet. And I visited the Middle East, spending some time in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.

LJ: At what point did you know there would be a sequel?
MT: Before Wishing Moon was finished. I had originally planned for the story to end at a different place than it finally did. So, I already had an idea about where to go next. And I really should do a third book. By the way, the sequel is titled Moon Without Magic and should be available in the spring.

LJ: The concept of finding a genie (jinni) in a bottle or lamp is so timeless and alluring...how did you go about determining what Aminah would wish for?
MT: I knew right from the start that Aminah would use the jinni’s powers to do good. So, even her early wishes were designed to lead her to that determination—that she would help others.

LJ: How many rejection letters did you accumulate before getting published the first time? What kept you from giving up as a writer?
MT: So many that I can’t recall the number. I’m not sure what kept me from giving up. However, I took a break from writing to finish some graduate work. When I returned to writing for young readers, I was reenergized.

LJ: By comparison, how many rejections did you get on Wishing Moon, and have you found that the challenge of finding a publisher becomes easier with each subsequent book? If so, do you attribute that to being an "established" author, or to your maturity as a writer, gained from experience?
MT: Wishing Moon was originally under contract with HarperCollins. It’s a long and convoluted story, but in short, it came over from William Morrow when Morrow was purchased by Harper.  Actually, I ended up with an open contract with Harper to do a novel instead of a picture book I had had under contract with Morrow. Anyhow, I couldn’t seem to come to an agreement with Harper about the story, so we decided I could shop it around. I sent the manuscript to five places at once. Dutton took it before anyone else responded.

LJ: How did you learn and perfect the craft of writing?
MT: I have never perfected the craft and never will. It is an ongoing learning and growing process. Reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing are keys to honing the craft. Beyond that, I imagine if you polled a large contingent of authors, you would get a great variety of answers.

LJ: Did you have a writing role model and/or mentor?
MT: The many authors whose books I have read. Lloyd Alexander has been a particular favorite.

LJ: What is your plotting process — do you outline the book, the chapters, and the scenes?
MT: I keep trying different methods. I do outline in one way or another. For Moon Without Magic I started by writing a 70-page “outline” divided up by tentative chapters — it was almost a first draft. I’m still wondering how well that method worked.

LJ: On average, how many revisions do you do on a manuscript? What is your revising process?
MT: Because of word processors, it is hard to count revisions as we did in the days of typewriters. I’m constantly revising by going back and forth through the manuscript as I write a draft. However, there are usually at least five or six drafts for a novel that are sent to my editor. In the case of Moon Without Magic, I wrote two long “outline/drafts”—one 70 pages and the other 100 pages. Then I wrote the true first draft. My editor saw and commented on all three of these. After lengthy editorial direction concerning the first draft, I did an extensive revision and sent it to New York. More editorial comments (tons, actually) and another revision. Then yet more comments and another revision. Then another round of comments, fewer this time, and another, lighter revision. Now I’m sitting here looking at the copyedited manuscript, which requires answering a vast number of questions about such things as grammar, historical facts, and so on. I hope I counted all the revisions — it’s easy to lose track.

LJ: How did you find your writing "voice"?
MT: I wish I had a good answer for this one. The best I can do is to say that, in part, it came (and is coming) through the reading and writing I continue to do. It’s a mysterious process, I think, and hard to pin down.

LJ: What's the best advice you were ever given as a writer? What's the best advice you can give us as writers?
MT: Again — read, read, read. Write, write, write. That’s basic. Beyond that, there are a host of other things. However, I believe every writer needs to find his or her own way. There is no single path to writing success.

LJ: Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and expertise with us!

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