Earlier this month I reviewed the highly entertaining and very atmospheric Jackaby. I had a great time with the story and its characters and I hope to read more about them in the future. I was also able to put Will to the question and have him as an Author Query guest. He sent over the following answers including some of his own art! I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did. Jackaby is out today, so go check it out!
Let’s start with the basics. Who is William Ritter?
William Ritter is a husband and a father who teaches High School Language Arts and likes to write stories. His debut novel, JACKABY, is published by Algonquin Young Readers, and will be available Sept 16th.
How would you introduce people to your protagonist Abigail?
Abigail is a sharp young lady from a small town in England who just wants an adventure of her own. She ends up across the world in a bustling American port, where she finds a job working for the enigmatic R.F. Jackaby. The peculiar position proves to be more daunting (and downright deadly) than she had anticipated, but she is determined to see it through to the end, even if it kills her.
Jackaby is very much a piece of historical fiction with crime and fantasy elements thrown in. What drew you to writing in a historical setting?
The era is a phenomenal time for the convergence of science and superstition. Fervent belief in the occult was as common as fervent skepticism, the Ouija board was created, mediums were hugely popular, and all the while inventors like Edison and Tesla were electrifying audiences with displays of direct and alternating currents (and occasionally electrocuting animals to showcase the danger of it—Edison was a jerk). The impossible was happening every day—and the more we learned, the more we realized was still a mystery. I can’t imagine a more perfect setting for Jackaby.
You very much lucked out in the cover department. Jackaby’s cover is absolutely gorgeous. Did you have a lot of input in how it turned out?
I love the cover. My input was pretty minimal, but I was kept in the loop as they discussed potential styles. I sent my publisher a few images early on. They were never layouts, just drawings to suggest a thematic atmosphere and possible elements to include. Joel Tippie’s JDrift Designs then created the beautiful photo-composite that you see on the final jacket. I don’t know if any of my pictures were remotely inspirational, but the final result captured the tone and period marvellously.
(A couple of my early concept sketches)
You work as a high school language arts teacher. Did that influence your choice to write for a younger audience?
I have thought a lot about what I am contributing to the YA shelves, what lessons my students might take away, and what role models I’m adding to the literary world—but I didn’t actively think of it as YA when I was writing it. Even in revision, I avoided pulling back on the tricky language or darker content (and I am grateful to have a publisher who believes strongly in never “writing down” to readers). I wrote the sort of story that I wanted to read, but also the sort of story my own son might be proud of years from now. My main character appreciates having a mentor who doesn’t treat her like a child, and I always appreciated a book that did as much for me.
Looking at your bio at the Algonquin website, you have a huge love for stories, myths, and legends. Which tradition (Celtic, Norse, Japanese, Arabian, etc.) is your favourite?
If had to pick just one, it would have to be the Norse. They’re not afraid to let their gods be funny. Norse myths are bloody, bawdy, and raucous, better shelved in the action adventure genre than with reverent philosophies. Historically, this is because they weren’t compiled in a somber temple by soft-spoken clergymen—they were sung by sailors and carved on rocks by marauding Vikings, only collected in print centuries later. They are disjointed, fragmented histories of remarkable gods with remarkably human qualities, and I love them.
What’s next for you? Are you working on another Jackaby novel or something completely different? Any appearances or signings planned?
I am finishing the final revisions on the next Jackaby book, which I am already getting very excited about. It will be published by Algonquin Young Readers in the near future. I’ve just visited a great assortment of Pacific Northwest booksellers, and I hope to revisit many of them once Jackaby is out and on shelves. I’m looking forward to the Texas Teen Book Festival in October (where I will be in the company of some great YA authors), and many more events to come—but first, I’m off to be a teacher. I’ll be appearing before an exclusive group of high school readers on a daily basis, signing more hall-passes than novels.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Teaching, which brings me tremendous joy—and, of course, my family. My wife is as creative and brilliant as she is supportive, and my son is blooming by the second (he is four, and currently interested in pursuing a career as a ninja turtle when he grows up). I’m as proud of them as I can be.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m totally impressed by my pub-date twin, The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill. It’s middle grade, which gives it a quick pace, free from all the teen angst that often overwhelms YA… but like Jackaby, it doesn’t pander or talk down to its audience. It’s dark and magical and intense. In that same vein, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is already out and earning well-deserved praise for being a paranormal pile of awesome in which a young protagonist is treated very maturely as he navigates some fairly intense themes.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I’m afraid my shelves are organized only slightly more logically than R.F. Jackaby’s (see page 115). As a proper librarian, you would probably be appalled. They’re sorted mostly by author, and somewhat by genre and by medium. My favorite established authors, like Terry Pratchett, tend to take up a lot of space in one section—but occasionally prolific authors write children’s books and graphic novels with as much grace as they write adult works (like Neil Gaiman), and as a result they wind up all over the room. I also have more books than bookshelves, so they’re stacked two-deep in many places, with the back rows propped up by twenty-year-old encyclopedias (more to shame the encyclopedias than because the back row really needs to be seen).
Thanks so much for having me on the blog! Happy (and fantastical) reading!
Bio: William Ritter began writing Jackaby in the middle of the night when his son was still an infant. After getting up to care for him, Will would lie awake, his mind creating rich worlds and fantasies—such as the one in New Fiddleham. Will lives and teaches in Springfield, Oregon. Jackaby is his first novel.