PJ Haarsma & Frank Beddor discuss becoming authors at AETA

Date October 19, 2009

Today at Arizona English Teacher’s Association Frank Beddor, the author of The Looking Glass Wars, and PJ Haarsma, the author of The Softwire Series, are discussing their books in a keynote entitled “Something funny happened on the way to becoming an author”. The two men have been friends from before they became authors and told the story of how they were both writing and hiding it from each other, before they finally told each other and had a great laugh about it. Frank was denied often by the publishers and he finally went to a UK Publisher since his books are based off of Alice in Wonderland. They published him pretty quickly and after he sold 500,000 the US editors stepped up and made him an offer.

0910_AETA__DevonAdams10Frank Beddor

They both made worlds for their books, and to do that well, Frank said it took him two years to build his world, and as he wrote the narrative sometimes wholes filled into his world. It took him two years before he even began writing the first book. PJ’s books are sci-fi so he has to use more science for his book, and he has volumes of journals of science. He used that information for the background information. PJ hopes his book is a stepping stone towards science fiction for kids.

Editors don’t understand social networking and multimedia. Many times the authors who know those things were working in the classrooms, and the publishers weren’t listening. The publishers wouldn’t even put PJ’s website on his first book. PJ had so much tension with his publisher that he met with the president. The publishers only think about making books, but they don’t think beyond that. Publishers don’t contribute money to books but just to funds, and there is a disconnect between publishers and sellers. The publishers don’t have any control where books are placed in bookstores, even.

0910_AETA__DevonAdams04PJ Haarsma

Kids aren’t getting excited by the titles presented to them. When these authors go into schools and make kids excited about reading, then they read more. PJ even started a non-profit called http://www.kidsneedtoread.org/ to promote exciting kids about reading. Authors like Frank and PJ are changing the way students read, and someways include graphic novels, video games, chunking book text into the games, ereaders, and other ideas that they’ve not shared.

Frank said he understood and tried to nail down the structure in the Alyss books, and as he became more confident in book 2 and book 3 he moved away from the structure and became more confident in his writing. The first book took five years, but the second and third one only took 18 months each.

Science Fiction is difficult to get into, and PJ’s purpose with The Softwire Series was to make a jumping point towards heavier sci-fi. He clearly kept the names simple instead of using more difficult name. After The Softwire PJ recommends moving towards Asimov, Hienlen, and Card, as a pathway to heavier sic-fi, like Cyberpunk.

Someone asked about how to make archetypes work within the literature. PJ said you should first nail down the story first and then massage the characters into the narrative, while Frank focuses on the characters first and through them the stories emerge.

They went on to answer more questions and then thanked everyone before leaving the stage.