Bruce Hale has written and illustrated more than 25 books for kids. His Underwhere series includes Prince of Underwhere and Pirates of Underwhere. His Chet Gecko Mysteries series includes The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse, The Big Nap, The Malted Falcon, Hiss Me Deadly, and others.
Q. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
A. No, in fact as a kid, I was more drawn to the idea of being a pirate, firefighter, cowboy, or Daniel Boone. Late in elementary school, I decided to become a children’s book writer, but switched to cartoonist by middle school.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project?
A. My latest project, the SCHOOL FOR S.P.I.E.S. series, is a mash-up between Oliver Twist and James Bond – orphans being trained to become super-spies. Intended for the upper range of the middle-grade audience, it’s fast, funny, and suspenseful. The first book, Playing With Fire, comes out at the end of June.
Q. Do you have any advice/cure/ for the infamous “writer’s block”?
A. In my experience, writer’s block is just fear — fear of not being perfect. My way of beating it is to give myself permission to write a really crappy first draft, and then write it as quickly and sloppily as possible. The idea is just to get the rough shape of the story down. Nobody else needs to see your ugly first draft, and if you intend to make it crappy, there won’t be the pressure of trying to achieve perfection the first time out.
Q. How did you get started in the writing industry and what is your best piece of advice to people interested in pursuing writing as a career?
A. I started out by sending out stories and collecting rejection letters, which I did for 8½ years. During that time, I self-published five picture books, which taught me a lot about writing, promotion, and publishing. Finally, I met an agent at a writers’ conference who liked my Chet Gecko story. Three months and a quick rewrite later, I had a three-book contract with Harcourt.
Q. What is one interesting thing about you that most people don’t know?
A. I’m a former actor and current singer. I perform with a Latin jazz band called Mezcal Martini, and if I weren’t an author, singer would probably be my next choice of career.
Q. What is the best food you’ve eaten in the past week?
A. Fresh chocolate-chip walnut cookies. Mmm…
Q. Is there anything new on your plate? What can we expect from you in the future?
A. There’s always something new. Right now, in addition to my ongoing SCHOOL FOR S.P.I.E.S. series, I’m doing several picture book and easy reader stories about CLARK THE SHARK. And I’m pitching a fractured fairy tale mystery series, so my writing plate is nicely full.
Q. What is one thing you are really looking forward to with the Summer Writing Institute?
A. I’m looking forward to diving deeply into the subject with my group of writers. When you take this much time, you can really learn something and apply it, which isn’t necessarily the case with brief weekend conferences.
Q: How important is networking and social media in the field of writing?
A. These days, social media is becoming more vital than ever – but it’s important not to get lost in it. In the end, what counts more than anything is good writing. If you haven’t made your book as awesomely good as it can possibly be, all the tweeting and blogging in the world won’t help it, or your career. However, if you’ve really spent the time on your work, the networking can be truly helpful. I’ve heard of writers whose social media abilities helped land them a book contract – because they had a great book to back it up.
Q: Can you give us a rough breakdown of the process of writing a novel from the point of conception to having the book published and sitting on bookshelves?
A. Now that’s a big subject. Okay, here’s the reader’s digest version… A story idea is like a grain of sand in an oyster, slowly growing into (hopefully) a pearl. Sometimes, the initial idea will knock around in my head for years, sometimes only for a month or two, but always evolving and becoming more complex. When I’ve jotted down enough rough ideas, I spend a few weeks to a month plotting things out. Then comes a first draft, rough and sloppy. It’s followed by revision after revision – however many it takes to get things right. If it’s an already-contracted book, I send it to my editor; if not, I send it to my agent to shop around.
More rounds of revisions follow. Sometimes, I also do illustrations, if it’s that sort of book. After a final round of copyediting, it’s out of my hands. Then the publisher’s team does its part – designing, hiring illustrators, promoting, and physically producing the book. What seems like a short forever later, I finally receive a box of printed books, and shortly after that, my books are out in bookstores.
Q: What was the best piece of advice about writing or becoming a writer that someone has ever given you?
A. Barry Moser said that talent is like house dust – we’ve all got a little bit of it stuck to us somewhere. What counts more than talent is persistence. That’s what gets you published.