A few weeks ago, I got an email from a teacher telling me that his Grade 6 class had just finished reading Wild Ride. They had each written a letter to me about the book and would I mind if he mailed them to me? Being the egotistical writer that I am, I was totally into it.
This post is my letter back to the students in Mr. Sales’ class at Maple Ridge Elementary School. (But you can read too.)
Hey Maple Ridge Readers!
When Mr. Sales first asked me about reading your letters about Wild Ride I was like: “Definitely!”
Then I thought, “Wait a minute! He said they wrote about the book. He didn’t say they wrote nice things about the book.”
What if all your letters told me how terrible the book was? What would my inflated ego do then?
With these serious matters weighing on my mind, I checked my mailbox each day until these arrived:
Your letters! And they didn’t just arrive in one day. They came and came and came over three days. Each time I checked my mailbox there was another batch.
Over the next week, I read them all and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The verdict? You liked Wild Ride.
And you had questions. Lots of them. Which is fantastic. Asking questions of the author is the most important thing a reader can do. I won’t be able to answer all the questions here, but I’ll try and tackle the ones you asked the most.
Here we go:
Frequently Asked Questions from Maple Ridge Elementary
1. Why did Jack die so early?
This was the number one, most asked question ever! It was in everybody’s letter, which is fantastic. That tells me as a writer that I have some explaining to do. It’s a bit long, but it’s gets there in the end.
There’s a rule in writing that goes like this:
Don’t make things easy for the hero of your story.
And it’s the reason why, just when your hero gets the key to unlock the door, the magic potion that will save the kingdom, or whatever, they lose the key, drop the potion or just generally have a bit of bad luck that makes the reader say “Now what are they going to do!?!?”
I was just following that rule when I made Jack die so early on in the book.
And here’s why I had no other choice:
Getting people lost in the wilderness is getting harder and harder to do. Everyone has cel phones with global positioning doodads that tell you exactly where you are anytime you want. Planes have them too. They are called “Emergency Signal Beacons”. They send a little ping out to the world telling anyone who is listening exactly where that plane is. And they are designed to not break in a plane crash!
Also, pilots have to let airports know exactly which route they are taking when they fly from one place to another. It’s called a Flight Plan. All pilots have to give them to the airport so, they know where to look if the plane doesn’t arrive safely.
So, if a plane goes down in the remote wilderness, the Emergency Signal Beacon will help rescuers find the plane. And the airport will be able to tell the rescuers the route the plane was going to take. That way the rescuers will know where to search too.
As a writer, I knew if I didn’t break that Emergency Signal Beacon and get the plane off course somehow “Wild Ride” would be called “Rescued in an Hour”. Not very exciting.
I thought and thought about this and finally came up with a way to get around the advances of technology and aviation safety: make the pilot a not-so-honest guy who doesn’t take care of his plane. Together these two qualities (we writers call them Character Traits) would make things really hard for Devin, Nadia and Marcus.
First, remember when Jack said they were making a “quick stop to Beacon Lake” for a quick pickup? Nadia was like “I thought we were flying directly to Big Horn Valley?” That was me getting the plane off of its Flight Plan. That’s a big no-no for pilots. But Jack isn’t so honest. He’s got a secret package to pick up and he isn’t telling anyone about it. Not even Nadia. With the plane flying away from its Flight Plan, the rescuers won’t know where in the vast BC wilderness to look if the plane goes down. Sneaky, huh?
And that pesky Emergency Signal Beacon? Well, for it to break in the crash it would have to be a really bad one with no survivors. Couldn’t do that. But what if Jack took such bad care of his plane that the Emergency Signal Beacon was broken and he never bothered to fix it? It wasn’t ever working!
That’s why, after they fix Wiley’s arm, Devin asks him about the Emergency Signal Beacon he says “Like everything on that plane, it wasn’t working. I checked it when I was down there.”
Plane off course? Check
Emergency Signal Beacon busted? Check
Characters totally lost in the wilderness? Not yet.
Why not, you ask?
Because even with the emergency signal beacon busted and the plane off course, there is still someone who knows where in the wilderness they are and could lead them back to civilization. Jack.
Having Jack around would have made things just too easy for my heroes, Devin, Marcus and Nadia. If Jack survived, he could have tried to fix the broken Emergency Signal Beacon or he could have led the kids to safety, since he knew the area very well.
Jack had to go.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun. But if Wild Ride was going to be a good story, I had to have Jack die in the plane crash.
And that is exactly what I did.
Another rule in writing:
Writing a story can get messy.
And that’s not always a bad thing.
2. Why was Marcus a jerk at the beginning but nice at the end? Why was Devin so negative at the start of the story?
Two questions that were asked a lot and can be answered with one answer!
In good stories, characters learn something about themselves from the beginning to the end. Sometimes what they learn changes how they act or think. Writers like to call this Character Growth. It makes book reviewers and teachers happy when they can see Character Growth in a story. So, I put some in Wild Ride.
Many of you spotted Marcus’ Character Growth from not liking nature to really digging the trees in the forest and then finally getting ready to go camping with his dad at the very end. Devin also grows too. At first he’s terrified of the wilderness and not eager to go into the woods. He was especially afraid of bears, who reminded him of the bullies at school. But through reading his book and surviving the wilderness, he learns to believe in himself and gets the courage stand up to the bear. After that, he’s okay with the wilderness too. After his wilderness adventure, he’s brave enough to stand up to the bullies that bother him at school.
I can’t speak for you, but I know that I have gone through things in my life that changed the way I think or act. This happens to all of us. I put these elements in Wild Ride because I thought it would connect with readers and make you go “Hey, that’s just like when I . . .” Writers love creating stories that readers connect with.
3. What inspired me to write Wild Ride and put survival skills in the book?
I’m cheating here. That’s really two questions that I crammed into one using the all powerful conjunction known as “and” .
I love the wilderness. To be more specific: I love the BC wilderness. I lived in your great province for a few years and really enjoyed hiking up the mountains and camping under those tall trees. I still love camping and go with my wife every summer. I wanted to write a story that took place in the wilderness and the best ones are always the “lost in the wild” types of stories.
The second thing I love is survival skills. When I was a kid, I would run out to the woods out back with my friends and build shelters out of sticks leaves and dirt. But the shelter always leaked or fell down. We’d wander until we got lost and try use the sun’s position to guide us back home. Usually, we’d find a road and just follow that back home. So, when I was thinking about writing Wild Ride I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if the book contained actual survival skills. I did some research and had the help of a real wilderness survival expert, Allan “Bow” Beauchamp. Allan advised me on the skills and I tested them out when I went camping (except for the standing down a bear, I didn’t see one that summer, thankfully.)
I can’t claim the credit for having the idea to mix “how-to” instructions. That goes to the writer and illustrator who created the very first graphic novel: Will Eisner. When he was in the army, he wrote and illustrated comics that showed the soldiers how to take care of their equipment, like radios and jeeps. When I saw those, I thought that it’d be cool to borrow that concept and put is in an adventure comic for kids. And so the Graphic Guide Adventure series was born.
4. Why did Nadia take the lead and know so much?
This is a great question that a bunch of you asked, so I could not pass up answering it. In writing Wild Ride, I tried to make sure that each character had their chance to take the lead and show off their knowledge. Devin stands down the bear, Marcus guides them to Eagle Peak. But Nadia does do a bunch more stuff than the boys. And the reason for this is simple: Girls Rock! I think all girls know this, but sometimes boys need to be reminded of this too (me included.) There are plenty of great wilderness survival books for kids out there. Here’s a quick list. What do you notice about them? Most of them have boys as the hero! Now, there are a few in there that don’t but most of them are totally girl-free. And that’s not cool. In Wild Ride, I wanted Nadia to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other heroes of wilderness survival stories and show readers everywhere, both boys and girls, that girls can do anything and be anything they want. All day and every day. And don’t let anyone tell you different.
All right Maple Ridge kids, time for this writer to get back to work. Many of you asked if there’d be more books coming out from me and the answer is: Yes! In addition to the four other books in the Graphic Guide Adventure series, Devin and Nadia and Marcus have one final adventure to go on. Power Play, the sixth and final Graphic Guide Adventure book will be available next month, but you can get a sneak peek a the new website: powerplaygraphicnovel.com.
Thanks for writing and keep reading!