The Neophyte Writer Presents: Nathaniel Wyckoff
Nathaniel Wyckoff was born and raised in the beautiful San Fernando Valley of southern California. From an early age, he was profoundly interested in reading, writing, telling, and listening to stories. Though he works in a technical field, he counts storytelling among his favorite activities. Nathaniel’s storytelling career took flight with the births of his children. His children enjoy all kinds of stories, but most of Nathaniel’s stories for them involve zany adventures and confrontations with wacky bullies. Nathaniel’s first novel, Yaakov the Pirate Hunter, was inspired by his son’s request for a story about robots. It combines elements of science, adventure, and Nathaniel’s beloved Jewish tradition. As the Peretz Family Adventures Series continues, Nathaniel’s children continue to serve as a source of inspiration.
In addition to writing, the author also enjoys studying his Jewish traditions, reading, playing the accordion and the piano for his family, playing games and sports with his children, and taking his family on hiking trips, camping trips and other adventures.
Nathaniel is a successful author and creates books with exciting adventure and history surrounding Jewish culture. These fun books for boys and girls will keep them engaged for hours. Be sure to visit Kristi’s Book Nook to learn more about Nathaniel and his journey.
The Neophyte Writer Interview
TNW: How long have you been writing?
NW: In a sense, I have been writing for all of my literate life. In school, I always loved the liberating feeling that writing assignments provided. It was actually fun to come up with original stories, populating them with my own quirky characters and inserting them into my own oddball scenarios. When a teacher gave out a list of spelling words and assigned the class to use as many of them as possible in an essay or story, it was a real treat to come up with something creative.
At about the age of 11, I invented a wacky superhero character and started producing little comic books: “The Adventures of Super String Bean.” I did all of the writing, drawing and stapling myself. My readership of each issue consisted of one or both of my younger brothers. One brother, in turn, made up a comic book character of his own: “Captain Cheerio.” So, we cracked each other up with our comic books.
A defining moment, although I didn’t appreciate it that way at the time, was when an eighth-grade English teacher gave us a list of opening lines from Edgar Allan Poe stories, and assigned the class to take at least one opening line and to invent an entire original story to follow it. For me, it was an exciting opportunity to produce something remarkable, and felt like a no-brainer. In one night, I composed two stories. They were so well received that I later chastised myself for not having written three or four.
Another milestone came during the next school year, when I actually won money in an essay-writing contest. Although I was more motivated to pursue a technical career, that prize served as a validation and an encouragement; I knew that I was capable of contributing something that others valued.
When my eldest child was still very young, I started telling her stories, both stories that I made up on the spot and stories from our Jewish tradition. My father is a master storyteller, who used to keep my brothers and me spellbound day after day with the tales that he simply made up. So, I decided to continue that practice with my own kids, and they still enjoy it. One day in 2008 or 2009, while driving the kids to school, one of my sons asked me for a story about a person with ten huge robots. I had a captive audience of three kids in the car for the next twenty minutes, so I started talking, and the story just kept flowing and flowing. At the time, I was taking a correspondence course on writing for children. Eventually, I adapted my son’s original concept to write a short story for the course. Later, that story became my first novel, Yaakov the Pirate Hunter.
TNW: Have you always written for children?
NW: Yes. For now, they are my natural audience, because I interact with my kids every day. They’re very receptive to new ideas, and some of our most meaningful time together involves my telling them stories or reading books for them.
TNW: Are you aware of the online battle for diversity in literature?
NW: I am aware that there is a large and growing interest in stories that reflect diverse ethnic and cultural groups and experiences. I don’t see it as a battle, though, because literature is not an antagonistic activity. The more experiences that people with diverse backgrounds can bring to the table, the richer our collective body of quality literature becomes. There are more opportunities than ever for tales reflecting all types of diversity to be told, and that’s a benefit for humanity. Also, I like to think of authors as working in a giant collaboration with each other, rather than a competition.
TNW: Is diversity what drives and motivates your writing?
NW: Partially. My main motivation is a desire to provide clean, safe, enjoyable tales, with some educational value, that all children can appreciate. Because we are a Jewish family, I have chosen to create Jewish characters who express themselves as Jews, along with stories that are related to Jewish tradition and experience. It does have an inclusive effect on my children, who are the first to read my stories, and on other Jewish readers; they are not left out of the corpus of literature at large. However, I try not to lose sight of my aim to contribute great stories that people of all backgrounds can enjoy.
TNW: Do you feel it’s important for writers to use social media? How?
NW: Social media are not absolutely necessary, because there are many ways to publicize one’s work. If a writer chooses to use social media, then Facebook provides a way to give others a glimpse into one’s mind, interests and personality. One can post one’s thoughts on current events, impressions of events recently experienced, opinions on topics that interest one’s readers, or even just silly jokes. Such posts may humanize an author, giving others the impression that they actually know him or her. Facebook also offers opportunity’s to advertise one’s book, and I’m told that such ads can be effective. Twitter provides an easy way to support other authors, simply by tweeting supportive comments about their material. It generates a mutually beneficial relationship, with a community of authors who support and encourage each other.
Social media also provide means to meet other writers who can provide valuable guidance and advice. This is especially important for novices.
TNW: Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
NW: My interests have changed over the years. When I was younger, I had a great deal of interest in reading science fiction and fantasy. Some of my favorites were Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Terry Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Terry Pratchett. All of them created new, expansive worlds, or zany versions of this world, in which practically anything could happen. When I was a teenager, a very serious-minded friend told me that he didn’t like such books, because they prompted him to think, “This can’t be happening.” But that was the whole point! Those books were not so much an escape from a dull life (and my life was not dull), as an opportunity to let one’s imagination run free. They opened up my mind to all kinds of new possibilities. True, the stories “couldn’t” be happening in today’s world, but what if…?
More recently, I’ve spent a good deal of time reading children’s books, both to my children and for my own enjoyment (Shhh! Don’t tell them!) Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones books are a lot of fun. Although Junie is a sassy little girl, she learns a valuable and redemptive moral lesson by the end of each novel. Roald Dahl is a wellspring of enjoyable and informative books for kids. I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator recently, and reading The BFG and Matilda to my kids for the first time. Dahl had a way of encapsulating big, important ideas into messages that were easy for children to absorb. His criticisms of indulgent materialism, gluttony and television are straight on the mark and very humorously executed. I’m also a fan of Herge’s graphic novels about Tintin. They’re my youngest son’s favorite, and I love being asked to read them to him. Tintin adventures involve tremendous ingenuity; complex plots; fun characters; and lessons in geography, other cultures, and how things work.
Young Adult authors write books that appeal to young-at-heart adult readers. My wife, our eldest children and I all enjoyed The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby. I recently discovered Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series. Besides creating riveting stories and compelling characters, Shusterman extrapolates troubling societal trends into an imagined future that is nothing but bleak. His ability to deliver biting social commentary through the medium of fiction is very effective.
TNW: What advice do you have for new writers?
NW: First of all, don’t be afraid to take risks. Just sit down and write, even if you think that you’re about to produce garbage. Don’t fall victim to the fear that paralyzes many potentially great writers. When I first sat down to write Yaakov the Pirate Hunter, I was terrified. I kept asking myself all of the standard fearful questions: Will my book be any good? Who will read it? What if it’s a total flop? What if people hate it? I had to push past those fears to produce my book and to launch the Peretz Family Adventures series.
Second, seek out and find experienced, successful mentors who can guide you and advise you. Look for groups of like-minded writers on the Internet generally, and through social media. Befriend those writers, and open up to them about what struggles you face. They generally will be quite willing to help. There are Facebook groups of writers who provide each other with advice on all parts of the writing and book-production process. Some authors teach online courses on effective writing and marketing. Chandler Bolt, Joanna Penn, Nick Stephenson, and Mark Dawson are a few such authors who come to mind.
Also, talk to other writers whom you know and collaborate with them. You may ask another writer a question like, “Since we both enjoy writing historical children’s fiction, what if the two of us co-wrote a novel about kids who lived through the French Revolution?” Writing and promoting yourself can feel very lonely and very daunting, but it’s an easier project to face if you do it with friends.
TNW: What projects are you currently working on?
NW: I’m involved in a collaborative effort to produce an anthology of Jewish-themed children’s stories about loving and caring for others. I’ve written two stories for the anthology, and we’re looking to release it soon. Also, I’m working on Book 3 of the Peretz Family Adventures Series. It will involve some familiar characters and some new ones, too, along with new places to explore. It’s been fun to work on this book so far.
Thanks so much for sharing with us today. You have plenty of great advice and ideas for new authors to ponder. This was a fantastic interview and I can’t wait to share it.
A review and book giveaway are coming soon for Nathaniel’s latest book at Kristi’s Book Nook: