Interview with BRUCE COVILLE
I was born in Syracuse, New York, on May 16, 1950. I started working seriously at becoming a writer when I was seventeen. Like most people, I was not able to start selling my stories right away. So I had many other jobs along the way to becoming a writer, including toymaker, gravedigger, cookware salesman, and assembly line worker. Eventually I became an elementary teacher, and worked with second and fourth graders. I feel like a very lucky person. From the time I was young, I had a dream of becoming a writer. Now that dream has come true, and I am able to make my living doing something that I really love.
What are you reading right now?
FOREST BORN by Shannon Hale, the fourth in her Books of Bayern sequence, which began with the fabulous THE GOOSE GIRL. The reason I'm reading it right now is that I've been directing a full cast recording of the book that I am producing for AudioGO. I'm really lucky in this regard . . . I don't just get to read great books; I get to bring them to life on audio!
What first sparked your interest in writing?
The first time I can remember thinking that I would like to be a writer came in sixth grade, when our teacher, Mrs. Crandall, gave us an extended period of time to write a long story on any topic we wished. I had a lovely and encouraging success with this, largely because I could write what interested me, not simply what was assigned . . . which had been a problem for most of the year.
The story I wrote was called "The Long Tramp" which was a mild rip-off of Sheila Burnford's great animal story INCREDIBLE JOURNEY. I had so much fun doing it that I started planning a book of animal stories. (I never got around to writing it, but that was the first time I can remember seriously thinking about writing a book of my own.)
After that it was all about writers. In 7th grade I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs. I fell in love with his John Carter of Mars books and knew that I wanted to do what he was doing.
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
There is a time, sometimes, if you're lucky, when it no longer feels as if you are writing, but as if you are simply a conduit for a story that is somehow being told through you. For me, this usually comes toward the end of the book, after the long struggle to get there. It can be glorious.
What do I like least? All the work it takes to get to the point I just described above!
Tell us a little about your writing process.
Oh, lord. After 100 books and 40 short stories I'm still not sure that I have "a" writing process. Sometimes I just sit down and start, sometimes I kind of flutter around trying to find a way into a story.
I can tell you that I usually outline. Sometimes I follow the outline and sometimes I end up tossing it out and going by the seat of my pants. Other times I do what I call an "ever-expanding outline" where I keep writing ever more detailed versions of the outline, adding dialogue and descriptions, until the outline is almost a book in itself. And sometimes I make repeated runs at a story, getting ten pages into it the first time, then revising and adding new material, then when I feel stuck going back to the beginning and revising what I have and pushing farther in. When I work that way I may be on the fifth or sixth attempt before I have a full draft. I am a demon reviser, and will keep working on a story until my editor hits me over the head and tells me I have to stop!
What are your passions?
Story, performance, and politics.
Story: I love stories, believe that sharing them is one of the essences of being human. We need stories to understand the world, and even more to understand each other.
Performance: One of the surprising things about achieving some success as an author was that as soon as it happened people wanted me to come out and talk about it. I did not anticipate having a career as a public speaker, but that has evolved out of the writing. I now spend about a third of my year on the road talking at schools and conferences. I've discovered that I love being in front of a group, whether children or adults, and trying to delight and inspire them.
Politics: I care deeply about my fellow humans, my country, and my world. Though many people are very cynical about politics, I believe in my heart and my gut that if we want to change things for the better we have to engage in the political process. While it is undoubtedly true that there are many corrupt politicians, I am not one who believe they are all that way – I think many of them sincerely want to serve the people and improve the world.
What inspires you?
Great art, smiling faces, children, honesty, and stories.
Why reality? ; )
Okay, okay . . . first off, I love to read fantasy, so naturally as a writer it is the genre that I most gravitate toward. Modern fantasy is a natural extension of myth, legend, and folklore, which are the forms in which humankind has long expressed its deepest dreams, fears, and desires.
The human heart longs for a bit of mystery, a touch of wonder, a sense of the unknown. As the world becomes ever more mapped and explored, fantasy literature helps soothe that longing by providing new places to dream on.
How was THE UNICORN CHRONICLES born?
Back in the early 1990's Jean Feiwel, who was then publisher at Scholastic, invited me to come into her office to discuss creating a new series for them. We talked about a few ideas, and the one that sparked for me was a world of unicorns. I had already written about unicorns – heck, my second book was SARAH'S UNICORN, one of the first picture books about unicorns – and I was excited to do so again. To me they are the perfect fantasy creature.
The original contract was for three novels of about 150 pages each. I had no idea when I signed it what I was actually embarking on . . . or that in the end it would take me 16 years, 4 books, and nearly 1500 pages to tell the complete story!
Back when I first started writing, my dream had been to create a fantasy world of my own. Luster, the world of the unicorns, turned out to be that world. The story that unfolded in that world turned out to be grander, more complex, more layered, than I had begun to imagine when I first started planning it. Writing it stretched me in ways I had never anticipated, and I am still astonished at what an epic it became.
You have written, well, a lot. Do you have a favorite book or story among your own work?
Ah, the "favorite" book or story question, which is pretty much the equivalent of "Which of your children do you love the most?" Parents know better than to answer that one!
Still, if pressed, I could narrow down this list. And if really pressed, it is likely I would settle on a short story called "The Box." To be honest, I think it is the best thing I've ever written, and (this is somewhat distressing) likely to be the best thing I ever will write.
Oddly enough, I don't feel I can take much credit for the story. I wrote it on assignment in a graduate class on writing for children taught by Helen Buckley Simkewicz, and it just . . . came to me. I think of it as a "gift story" – I was in the right place to catch it as it went whizzing by! It is a story that I love to tell when I am performing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Click here to read Bruce’s writing advice on his website.