Dustin's journey from reader to writer all started one extended stay at his in-law's home. The house held magic, peril, loss, love, adventure. It was not a tree-house (my dream home), but a for real book-house. His father-in-law's hand-made book shelves lined so many walls in the house that if those walls behind them crumbled, the house would remain standing. Okay, okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating--but just a little. If you don't believe me go read the full story for yourself on his blog, Dustin writes, that's the name of it, Dustinwrites (dot) com. Simple. Cool right? He also draws, farms, plays video games, but today we're here to find out what Dustin writes, right?
So . . . read on and you'll find smiles, some soap, and a box (in that order).
1.Dustin, what manuscript do you have out on submission now?
I’m currently showcasing NORTH, my middle grade fantasy novel that weighs in at a dangerously high 84k words. I know, I know – I’m insane, but the first pass weighed in at over 100 so I consider this big progress.
2. Give us the three to four sentence pitch.
Josie Kettle is an unfortunate teen that decides running away is less risky than chancing another transplant to a new foster home. It’s not the first time she’s run, however, it is the first time she’s run home. Armed with just enough clues to make her feel like she has a shot, Josie packs her bag and begins following a mysterious compass that seems to be pulling rather than pointing her NORTH.
Nice!! Running to her home instead of away, cool twist.
Sheesh, I should put that in my query. : ) NORTH is actually a rotating POV novel, Josie is the MC, but the story follows the journey of a collection of teens that find themselves in similar but unique circumstances.
Even better. And yes, that is your query letter right there. Perfect hook (IMHO).
3. Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph?
Josie sprinted through the quiet city, its doors locked tight and its shop windows drawn down like sleeping eyelids. She darted into the setback entry of Lee’s Variety and flipped open the pay-as-you-go cell phone she had purchased earlier that day. Unlike most twelve year olds, Josie was not a texting wizard. Playing the starring role in the Josie-Kettle-Foster-Hop-Tour-of-Middle-America didn’t come with a cell-phone plan, and if her current foster parents, a term Josie hated with passion, found out she had a phone they would have snatched it from her in an instant.
Josie awkwardly thumbed a message using the phone’s cheap numeric pad. The only number in the phone’s memory belonged to a fellow foster-brat, Vandy, and Josie found the number and hit send, not bothering with grammar or caps.
‘i’m on state street. lee’s variety. hurry.’
Love the opening line. Makes me want to read on to know where she's sprinting to. Nice job.
4. How would your main character describe you? If you entered into a scene in your manuscript, how would you be introduced, how would the MC perceive you? Give us a short scene but keep it under 250 words : )
Josie tiptoed up the carpeted stairs that led to the loft. The ghost-blue glow of a laptop cast long shadows on the walls and gave the space a chilly look that seemed all-together too familiar to young girl, as if she had been in the attic before. She knew she hadn’t but shaking the feeling was impossible.
He sat there, tea steeping in a hand-thrown mug, his round shoulders hunch and his fingers pouncing on the keyboard as he pecked away, typing three words, backspacing two, typing four more, deleting the sentence and starting over again. She almost felt bad for him; his progress was so painfully slow it was like watching baboon trying to do Sudoku.
She stepped on a dog toy, hiding in the dark beneath her feet, and he turned, his glasses reflecting the monitor for a flash then going dark again as swiveled in his comfy chair to face her. He appeared startled, then confused. He cleared his throat.
“Josie?” His voice cracked, as if he were the teen in the room, not her.
She stared at him, recognizing him immediately though they had never met. A billion thoughts raced through her brilliant mind, but she had come for a purpose. She had come to ask him to stop.
“Dude. Knock it off? All this conflict. All this jamming from bad situation to worse is really starting to piss me off.”
The worried look on the writer’s face relaxed and a slight smile crept across his stubbly face.
“You can handle it. I believe in you, Josie. I always have.”
Yowza!! What a GREAT scene. LOVE it!! And I imagine that's exactly what most of our characters would say to us were we to meet them face to face. And BTW, his manuscript is reflecting off his glasses for real in the picture above. Me-smiling : ) Thanks.
5. What are you working on while you wait?
I’ve always been a big horror/thriller fan and I find it my duty to give my own kids nightmares from time to time, so I’m working on MG thriller. It’s so much fun I feel like I’m cheating. It might be too dark to ever see the light of day, but that might be okay. Books like this should be read in the dark.
Haha, nice. Like I told Michael last week, I have heard requests out in the cyber-sphere for MG horror. Good luck.
6. What book have you read in the past six mo that’s inspired you and why?
Kind of a tough one here. I read a lot and I think pretty much everything I read influences me, not necessarily inspires me. I think inspiration is harder to find, so I might go back further than 6 months.
I re-read THE HOBBIT recently and that first paragraph is so perfect that I feel like giving up. My book is rotating POV (why did I torture myself so?) so THE HOBBIT and Stephen King’s THE STAND, believe it or not, were very important for me during this book.
I also loved THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA, by DiTerilizzi – such a strong female MC and great MG voice.
WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON – Grace Lin – I love this novel – an amazing MC and meticulous plot development and pace. I learned a ton from this wonderful book.
And, certainly THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, by Shannon Hale (Utah represents!WOOT!). Miri is a wonderful example of grace from a teen MC. Beautiful fairytale book and I think Shannon is a masterful writer. I’m a big fan.
ME too!! I loved this book. In fact, now that you brought it back to my attention I may have to go re-read it.
Those were the biggies. You can see a theme there, lots of research for strong female Middle Grade characters.
7. Do you have a literary-character crush?
This is a tough one. Okay, please indulge me a bit of a soapbox. I’m currently writing MG. If I were a woman, claiming to have a crush on a teen boy would be not only okay(for some odd reason), it would be the cool thing to do. The number of married soccer moms with Team Jacob or Team Edward stickers on the back window of their mini-vans is just shy of lunacy. That being said, I’m going to age up from my genre and go old school. It seems safer. (Although I just read Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker and Kate Lowry is pretty much the coolest thing in pink hair).
I've thought of this myself at times. Point taken. Maybe the question should read: If you were between the ages of ten and eighteen who would your literary crush be? : )
Okay, climbing down from soapbox.
I love Jo March from Little Women. I read this book the first time in the 80’s when the Facts of Life (TV sitcom) was in first run, and I thought there were similarities between Jo Polniaczek and Jo March. If you’re my age you totally know what I’m talking about. She is just so head strong and spunky. Funny thing, I ended up marrying someone equally headstrong and spunky, named Jodi, but I call her Jo all the time. It’s my little secret that I’m nodding to Jo March when I say it – now you know too. Dang, secrets out.
I also love Portia from The Merchant of Venice. She’s the strongest “man” in Italy and I see a lot of her in my MC, Josie.
8. Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?
Along with my wife Jo(di), I have four beautiful kids (three of them firmly in the MG reading demographic), a hyper border collie and three scared cats. Yeah, it’s a full house.
I’m a closet farmer. I love to drive tractors, take care of my chickens, turkeys and ducks and garden.
I’ve been working in the video game industry for 17 years and my work as an illustrator and writer has shipped in over 20 million video games including Madden, The Sims, Nerf N-Strike, NFL Street and many more.
Very cool!! I'm sure most boys would love to have your job!! I know my son would, the farming and the gamer stuff, both.
An aside here: I was just at the WW SCBWI conference where Holly Black spoke about the benefits of talking plot and discussing your magical world out loud. She recommended doing so with someone in the gamer industry (if possible) because their minds are programmed (ahem) to look for loop holes.
Dustin, thank you so much for stepping into the spotlight. It's been a pleasure getting to know you and I wish you all the best in finding a home for NORTH. Please keep in touch and I'll see you on the book shelves : )