Sunday, January 16, 2011

Author Interview: Timothy Power, Middle Grade Author

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Timothy Power, middle grade author of The Boy Who Howled. Read below for Tim’s insights on writing and publishing! If you have any comments or questions for him, leave your info in the comments and he’ll stop by later.

Before we get started with the interview, here’s a bit about The Boy Who Howled: As far back as Callum can really remember, he's been living in the Wild as the furless mascot of a wolf pack. But when his pack sends him back to live with his own kind—humans—fitting in is quite a challenge. He doesn't remember English very well, so he accidentally says his name is "Clam." He's spent most of his life eating fresh-killed elk, so dining with vegetarians is tricky. And when he tries to impress the Alpha student in the school cafeteria by stealing food, people seem offended! A mix of wildness and humor, Timothy Power's inventive writing makes him a debut author to watch. And Callum's quest to find his place in a strange world will have readers rooting for him—when they're not howling with laughter.

Hi Tim! Thanks so much for talking with me today. First, I’d like to talk a bit about your debut novel, The Boy Who Howled. What was your inspiration for this novel?

Hi, Jennifer! Thanks for inviting me over for an interview.

The Boy Who Howled started out as a kind of writing exercise. Something got me thinking about the feeling we’ve all had as kids when we’re with our parents somewhere outside the home and suddenly find ourselves lost and alone, wondering where on earth Mom and Dad might be. I decided to begin with a boy who was someplace far from home, and then try to figure out how to get him back to his family safe and sound. I imagined his family lived in the city, and the farthest place from that were the woods, so that’s where I put him at the beginning of the story. The rest came together from there.

Callum is such a funny and real character. When reading TBWH, I found myself not only laughing along, but really rooting for him. He made me smile and giggle often. Authors often pull character traits from themselves or someone they know. How many of Callum’s attributes were inspired by you as a child or someone you know?

Naturally, Callum’s incredible intelligence was inspired directly by me. J The other attributes of his personality rose from his situation. In order for me as the author to get him safely home, I figured he had to be curious, and good at making connections, and had learned to be bold from his education in the ways of wolves.

Mrs. T-G is very bossy, and can be curt in a kind-hearted way. I would say there is something a little “Mary Poppins” about her. And she wears a long, sweeping coat of faux animal skin. I think that probably came from Cruella DeVille. But Mrs. T-G is a hero, not a villain!

World-famous wildlife wrangler Buzz Optigon is definitely a kooky version of the late, great Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin.

The setting(s) in the book also felt very real. What inspired your settings? I assume you’ve never lived with wolves in the woods.:) Tell us a bit about creating Callum’s world, both in the woods and out.

I basically wrote the story of Callum’s life in the Wild as if he were living at home with a human family, and then just changed the physical surroundings. Instead of a chair, for example, there was a rock, and instead of a nice meatloaf being served up for dinner, it was freshly killed elk.

What was your favorite part of writing TBWH?

I loved it whenever the opportunity arose to insert a joke or some kind of silliness. It was never my intention to obscure the serious underpinnings to Callum’s story, but I like a funny story more than anything.

Most challenging?

I found it really challenging to maintain the kind of suspended disbelief that allows the reader to accept Callum’s adventures as they happen, without stopping dead in their tracks with a frustrated “What the hey?”

TBWH is a wonderful story for middle grade readers. It’s so much fun to read and watch Callum on his adventure in what many readers undoubtedly laugh along with as everyday life for them/not so much for Callum. What type of young reader were you? What were your favorite books/authors?

I read like crazy when I was young. I loved Edward Eager’s books, and Louise Fitzhugh is a personal hero. I still read as much middle grade as I can. I love fantasy, and also serious adventures, but my favorites are stories that are scary and funny at the same time. One of my recent faves is Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. And I love Dr. Cuthbert Soup’s A Whole Nother Story.

Since there are probably some aspiring authors that will read this, can you tell us a bit about your road to publication? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I have always written, from a very young age. I wrote my first novel when I was 12. An excerpt can be found on my blog. Sadly, it was not received favorably by my family members. My sister’s opinion of it was especially damning. But I was undaunted, and remained so for the nearly half a century it took me to get any professional interest in my writing.

Tell us about your journey to getting an agent.

I queried far and wide, according to Miss Snark’s advice. And the MS was far and widely rejected. A few agents reacted positively, but felt it wasn’t right for them. A few didn’t understand the book, or failed to connect with the voice. One agent memorably explained to me that she didn’t understand how the wolves were talking, since wolves don’t speak English. And she repped children’s books! Of course, in TBWH Callum imagines what the wolves are saying after interpreting their body language. He uses the voice in his head. Jennifer DeChiara called me out of the blue one day, and right away I could tell that she totally “got” it. I was honored to accept her offer of representation.

And how about finding your publisher?

It took some time for the MS to find a home. A few houses already had “wolf” books on their lists and passed. The wise and wonderful Margaret Miller at Bloomsbury connected immediately to the voice and story and the rest is children’s lit history!

What is the best part of the publishing process?

The best part is hearing someone say they laughed out loud while reading the book. I’ve heard from a few people who say they NEVER laugh out loud while reading a book but DID when reading TBWH. That’s great!

The worst?

That entire civilizations can come and go while waiting for THE SLIGHTEST LITTLE THING to happen in the publishing process.

Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on now? What can we expect to read from you next?

I have a second book currently under consideration at Bloomsbury, but I don’t want to jinx it by saying anything! Fingers crossed, though.

Thanks Tim! Looking forward to reading more from you in the future!


  1. I would really like to know how Timothy manages to take one engaging and disarming photo after another. I can't manage even one!

    Awesome interview, guys, as I'd expect from two of my favorite people. I laughed throughout Timothy's books and I figured you'd do the same, Jenn. And Timothy, I sincerely hope book #2 finds a home soon!

  2. What a great post. =) I smiled all the way through. It's refreshing to read about an author who likes humor, and writes it as well. Looking forward to reading your book, and best of luck with #2! (oh, maybe that doesn't sound right....)


  3. This books sounds really cute! I love to find MG books to recommend to my child and friends' children.
    Thanks for the interview!!

  4. I love that you're afraid to jinx things by mentioning the next story -- LOL -- I'm the same way. And I'm really glad you found the agent and editor that "got" your story. I'm sure they'll feel the same about the next one. :)

  5. Thanks, guys! The mysterious "J"s in my answers are meant to be smiley faces. For some reason I AM ADDICTED TO THEM . :)

  6. Thanks for stopping by everyone! If you haven't picked up this book yet, you most def should.

    And Tim, they show up as smiles on my screen! Eep.:)

  7. They show up as mysterious "J"s on mine! But now I know.

    Wonderful interview, Tim and Jenn, and I'm really looking forward to reading TBWH!

  8. What an awesome interview, Tim and Jennifer! I write middle grade fiction, so this particularly interests me. I'll have to pick up TBWH right away!! Thank you for sharing! :)