Today I'd like to welcome author Nathaniel Wyckoff, tell us a little about yourself.
I am a Jewish author, living in Los Angeles, California, with my wife and our six children, one girl who’s nearly 19 years old, and her five younger brothers. Our youngest son is nine years old. I work as an engineer during the day, and like to squeeze in an hour or (hopefully) more for writing and related activities during the wee hours of the morning, while everybody else is still asleep.
I have always enjoyed storytelling, inspired by my parents. My father used to tell my brothers and me bedtime stories every night, with all kinds of creative and fun characters. He also made up stories for us on the spot whenever we asked him for stories; he often initiated the stories himself, too.
Naturally, I wanted to tell stories to my children from the time that they were young. Eventually, I decided to start writing storybooks, as well. When a friend took numerous blog posts that he had written, consolidated them into a book, and published it through a self-publishing service, I realized that the barrier to getting into print was no more. So, I plunged into self-publishing!
It's amazing the impact that parents reading to or telling stories to their kids at bedtime can have on a person. My mom reading the Chronicles of Narnia to my siblings and me and probably what started me on my love for books. Will you share a short excerpt from your novel.
Here is an excerpt from Yaakov the Pirate Hunter, my first novel:
The late afternoon sun cast long shadows as Yaakov and family carefully carried the wooden box across the lawn, toward the Sapir home. AutoRiser trundled after its owners. Yaakov pictured himself in an elegant living room, heroically presenting the stolen object to its prosperous and kind owners. Maybe they’ll let us keep some of the jewels inside it, he imagined. Even a few of them could be worth a fortune.
Suddenly, a loud shout interrupted his daydream.
“Avast!” Yaakov turned and found himself face to face with a short, grumpy-looking, disheveled man with a scraggly beard. On his head, he wore a striped rag, and he carried a worn pack on his left shoulder. A black patch covered his left eye. Yaakov took a look around, and then gasped as soon as he noticed the other five strange-looking characters, similarly dressed, standing around them. They were surrounded by pirates!
Immediately, Yehuda turned and faced the bearded ringleader. He loudly clapped his hands together in front of him and announced, with a broad smile, “Perfect! Thank you so much for coming. You’re just the guys I’ve been looking for all weekend. We’re putting on a production of ‘Peter Pan’ down at the NoHo Arts District in the Valley, and we’re badly in need of extras, especially with summer vacation and all. My kids are still a little young for it, but the six of you? Just what we need. Pity we had to come all the way to Santa Barbara to find you, but it was worth the trip. I can even put in a good word with the director, and get you a speaking part here and there – you know, a ‘walk the plank’ or two, or another ‘avast,’ if you prefer. Can I put you down for next Sunday afternoon?”
All three children were now chuckling quietly at their father’s sudden, improvised performance. He seemed to have a real talent for relieving tense situations with silly humor.
The bearded man ignored Yehuda and fixed his menacing gaze on Yaakov. “No one messes with Pete Weasel the Pirate,” he said in a gravelly voice. “Pete Weasel – that’s me, and you’re carrying our treasure.”
“You’re also messing with me, Eyepatch Izzy!” yelled another pirate.
“And me, Red Louie,” grunted another.
With anger in their voices, the other three disheveled members of this gang introduced themselves as Barracuda Harry, Jake the Claw, and Powder-keg Fred. It all seemed like a scare tactic.
Pete Weasel continued speaking. “I guess you didn’t notice the tiny tracking device that we attached to the bottom of that treasure chest! You think we’re a bunch of fools? That tracker told us where our treasure was the whole time. We just followed you here to get it. That treasure’s ours. We robbed it from this here house fair and square! Now put it down and walk away, and nobody gets hurt. You’d better listen, or I’ll smash this robot of yours to pieces!”
Sounds like quite the adventure. What brought about the idea for this book?
I used to tell my children stories as I drove them to school in the morning. Generally, they would ask me for stories about whatever topics were on their minds. As the number of kids on the way to school increased, it became a little chaotic, so I set up a system: every morning, a different child got his or her turn to suggest a story idea.
As I remember it, one morning, one of my sons requested a story about a person with ten huge robots. I came up with a tale of a man on a strange planet, who owned ten huge robots that worked for him, crushing diamonds with tools. One of the robots malfunctioned, and started saying, “This thing doesn’t crush. It is silly. This thing doesn’t crush. I’ll call it ‘Willy!’” Somehow, the story developed into something exciting, and I didn’t even finish it before dropping off the kids. The next morning, I continued that story.
What does the story of my made-up story have to do with Yaakov the Pirate Hunter? When I wanted to write a tale for kids, I wondered what would happen if the main character was actually a child, rather than an adult, and if something went wonky with one of his family’s set of robots. Since I didn’t want a story about kids running around and adventuring with no adults to be found, I gave the child, whom I named Yaakov, siblings and parents, and wrote the adventure in a way that involved all of them. One idea led to another idea. I don’t remember what prompted me to throw pirates into the mix, but there they are!
Everything is better with pirates! Who doesn't love Captain Hook or Captain Jack Sparrow. Nathaniel have you been given any helpful advice? If so, what?
When I first published Yaakov the Pirate Hunter, I was in a hurry. Naturally, I made some mistakes along the way. A friend who writes, and has been published in a number of publications, advised me to go back to the story and flesh it out. Some scenes could have used reworking. Some characters could have been developed more fully. Settings were not described in such thorough ways. Also, the story begged for a sequel.
I eventually took my friend’s advice, and took a good, hard, sometimes uncomfortable look, at my original creation. I explained things that had been previously unexplained. I also gave the characters some backstories, reworked some scenes, and filled in some descriptions of settings. The result was a richer, more satisfying second edition.
Not long afterwards, I wrote the sequel, Yaakov and the Treasures of Timna Valley.
From a podcast interview with self-published author Joanna Penn, I learned a great process for writing and editing, and I basically followed it for every book after Yaakov the Pirate Hunter. I print out each chapter and read it, pen in hand, to do my first round of editing. Afterwards, I go back and type in all of my changes (edits, revisions, additions, deletions), resulting in a second draft. Ms. Penn recommends hiring an editor to edit this second draft, but I don’t do so. My next step is to print a proof copy for my beta readers to proofread for me. Their changes go into the book, and result in the work that I will actually publish.
One great thing about self-publishing is that, if you or others find mistakes after the book has been published, you can correct them at any time for future copies of your book.
From another successful self-published author, Monica Leonelle, I learned to use “beats,” to write in timed sessions, and to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Beats are brief paragraphs that implement the content of your outline. So, rather than going from outlining straight to typing, I go from writing down an outline to writing out some actual paragraphs. From there, I take those brief paragraphs and flesh them out into the actual text of my draft. This process makes the production of the first draft more efficient.
Chandler Bolt has a book entitled, Book Launch. I highly recommend it for its excellent advice on producing and launching books. Even by implementing some of his advice, I sold a number of copies of my most recent books within a few days of launching it, and earned an orange ribbon from Amazon: #1 New Release in Children’s Multigenerational Families.
Sounds like great advice. Currently, what are you working on?
I am writing a work of historical fiction for teenagers and young adults. For now, I’m titling it, A Time for Vengeance. It centers on a young man living in Spain during the mid-seventeenth century. That time period was the era of both the Spanish Inquisition and the Age of Exploration. The young man’s name is Simon Mendez. He and his family are anusim (“forced ones”), Jews who perform Jewish practices secretly, while living outwardly as Catholics. Simon has an anger problem and a real grudge against the Inquisition. When an Inquisitor shows up at his home and grabs his father, accusing him of the crime of “Judaizing,” it’s the last straw. Simon is out for revenge. He needs a way to save both his father from real physical danger and himself from allowing his anger to ruin him.
I love Historical Fiction, I love learning about history in a way that doesn't feel like it. Can you tell us a little bit about your main characters from your current series?
Yaakov Peretz is a clever and bold boy, who loves to learn new things, to invent things, and to explore the world. He actually built one of his family’s robots, Digital Drudge, by himself, working on it for about a full year. When the time comes for adventure, of course he immediately wants to use robots to help. In fact, he loves having them around, so that they can do all sorts of chores for him, even getting errant balls and Frisbees off of roofs.
Yosef, the middle Peretz child, is somewhat grouchy, and isn’t all that interested in robots. He’s a brave soul, too, yet prefers to do things in a simple, straightforward way than to convolute a job with fancy-shmancy high-tech junk. He often argues with Yaakov about the need to use robots when there are simpler, more sensible ways to achieve an outcome. Still, he’s basically a good boy with a good moral compass.
Rachel is the youngest of the Peretz kids. She’s a wide-eyed little girl who looks up to her brothers and just wants to go along with whatever cool thing they’ve gotten themselves into.
All three of the kids have character arcs that stretch across the four books in the Peretz Family Adventures series.
Their parents are named Yehuda and Leah Peretz. Yehuda is a generally jovial and very loving, devoted father. He wants to give his kids a good time, while doing his best to keep them safe. He enjoys telling them corny jokes, as well as taking them to exotic places to do and to experience new things. Leah is fire and steel; she will do anything to fight for her kids’ well-being, and is the more serious of the two parents. She is also an intelligent artist, who paints stunning scenes at the places that the family visits.
It largely depends upon the type of story that I am writing. For each of the Peretz Family Adventures stories, I researched the various places that the family visited. I researched a national park in Israel’s Negev Desert, including a map of the park, where much of the story takes places. I researched the Channel Islands, street maps of Jerusalem, places in the Himalaya mountains, and – of course – things to do in Jamaica. I also read up on new and emerging technologies, so that I could write about foldable electronics, supersonic trains, and other wizardry.
I’ve also read books and articles about the historical periods involved in my stories. Edward Kritzler’s Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean was a great resource for both Yaakov and the Jewel of Jamaica and A Time for Vengeance.
Do you have people read your drafts before you publish? How do you select beta readers?
My first reader is my wife. She is brutally honest, in the most helpful manner. She has often read my novels as I’ve written their drafts, and often saved my stories from devolving into un-publishable junk. She has provided extremely valuable advice at numerous critical points along the way, and has been a vital contributor to my books’ success.
I mainly select beta readers from my books’ target audience. Because my first four books have been for children, I have asked children to read them and to provide their feedback.
An adult friend has also served as a very helpful beta reader. It’s good to have an adult’s perspective, as well.
I always have adults and children beta read my MG novels. Adults sometimes catch things younger readers miss, and of course you want to see what your target audience thinks. Who designed the artwork for your cover? Or did you design it yourself?
I worked with a graphic designer Jeanine Henning. The cover design was a collaborative process, for each of my books. Jeanine asked me for a lot of information on each book, and I gave her detailed descriptions. She came back to me with very nice representations of what my books were about.
Learn more about Jeanine Henning and her amazing book cover art over here:
How do you handle criticism when it comes to your writing?
If a reader points out a mistake, such as a typo, an inconsistency or wrong information, I thank that person and revise the book accordingly. The critic deserves thanks, because he or she has helped me to make my book the best that it can be.
On the other hand, if one is simply criticizing for the sake of criticizing, I ignore the criticism. One person who read Yaakov and the Jewel of Jamaica had some pretty strong words about the backgrounds of the various characters. I asked my wife and two friends who had read the book what they thought. On one level, the critic had a point; however, she was also splitting hairs about things that most readers wouldn’t notice or take seriously. So, I took her criticism under advisement for my next book, but didn’t panic about it.
Is there something you learned from writing your first book?
I learned a lot from writing my first book. One lesson was that I do have it within me to write a book! My confidence in my own abilities to produce literature has grown with each book that I have written. Another lesson was that it is, indeed, a collaborative process. You might be tempted to go it alone, but that’s not a good idea. Those who helped me by reading the book and offering their perspectives were key team members. I also learned that, in fact, there a good number of kids and parents who want to read inspiring, fun, non-preachy stories with good moral content. Additionally, I can say that I learned the right combination of fact and artistic liberty that go into writing fiction. Yes, you want to write a story that doesn’t contain egregious factual errors; Hawaii has a specific location on the globe, and you don’t want characters to find it without looking in the right place. Still, even if you’ve never visited a location, you can still write something plausible about it; if somebody nit-picks, you drop the self-criticism and tell yourself, “Who cares? It’s fiction.”
Which do you find more challenging inventing the hero or the villain? Why?
Villains are more challenging to write, because I don’t allow myself to get into their heads. I prefer to write from a third-person limited perspective; it’s the point of view that find easiest to implement. So, I like to bring readers into the world of the main character, the hero. I want the reader to understand the main character, to empathize with him or her, to know his or her internal struggles, conflicts, demons, failures, and successes. It’s easier for me to understand a hero.
Although I strive not to make my villains one-dimensional, I don’t like to dive into them too deeply. How, then, do I get a villain to function in a believable way, to help move the story along without just being “generic bad guy?” I have to give him his own quirks, idiosyncrasies, and some motivations that the hero must infer.
Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Nathaniel. Be sure to check out the Peretz Adventures. Happy Reading!!
Yaakov the Pirate Hunter:
Yaakov and the Treasures of Timna Valley:
Yaakov and the Secret of Acra Fortress:
Yaakov and the Jewel of Jamaica:
Jeanine Henning, https://jhillustration.wordpress.com/