The following interview with Donnell Ann Bell was originally posted on the Get Lost in a Story blog (http://getlostinastory.blogspot.com/search/label/Bill%20Allen). The authors who bring us Get Lost in a Story describe their blog this way:
“This multi-genre group of debut authors hopes to create a forum that not only introduces authors to readers, but where we can all explore our love of great storytelling in its various forms. Get Lost In A Story will emphasize interviews and posts primarily about books, but occasionally about television, film or other media, as long as fantastic storytelling is involved. We also offer debut and established authors a chance to promote their upcoming titles to readers, and in doing so, give readers the chance to connect with new and favorite authors, ask questions and make comments. There will be great conversation, fun giveaways, and something new to delight every day.”
And now, the interview:
DONNELL: Hi, Bill, thanks for joining us. If you could live anywhere on earth, where would it be?
BILL: Hi, Donnell, thanks for having me. A lot depends on whether I can also be anything I want, because then I’d want to keep living in my house, but as a cat, having the humans feed me, pick up after me, give me free massages and generally pamper me anytime I make the slightest of noises. If I had to stay human, though, I’d want to be somewhere in the mountains, deep in the woods, where I could ski in the winter and hike all year round. Of course, the way I ski, it would have to be a woods like the Enchanted Forest of Myrth, so the trees could slither out of my way.
DONNELL: You have to stay human 😉 What’s your favorite room in your house?
BILL: Well, there are times when I have a nearly overwhelming desire to be in my bathroom, but if we’re talking true favorites, I’d have to go with the family room, mostly because that’s where the TV is and let’s face it, my wife and I are TV junkies. My computer’s in there too, so I can always write if I’m feeling particularly crazy. We even have a foosball table behind the couch, but before we can use it we have to play another game we call “Sliding Furniture Puzzle.”
DONNELL: Your resume says you are 700 years old. Is that true?
BILL: Now, Donnell, I know you’re not that accustomed to interviewing men, but we’re really not that different from women when it comes to revealing our ages. No matter what you have heard, I have NOT been telling everyone I’m 699 for a few centuries now. The truth is, people only think I’m 700 because I tell so many “back in my day” stories, but if they ever actually paid attention to what I was saying (something few people ever do) they would realize I tell the same stories over and over again. In fact, the older I get, the more likely you are to hear the same tale again, probably five minutes after I told you the first time.
DONNELL: I enjoy interviewing men, but you’re right. I haven’t asked any their ages 😉 You write children’s stories. Is this something that possessed you as a child or something you fell into as an adult?
BILL: I like to tell people I really had no choice but to write for children, since I never fully matured, mentally, but I actually did grow up at one point. It wasn’t until years later that I returned to the mental level of a seventh-grader.
DONNELL: Why do you think that is?
BILL: When I first wrote what would later become How to Slay a Dragon, I wrote it with adult characters for adults. Then I tried to find a publisher. I might as well have tried to fly. Everyone wanted children’s books, so I brushed off my keyboard and got busy rewriting for children. It was way more fun. Of course, by the time I was finished, the children’s market was completely saturated (Timing has never been my thing.) Fortunately J. K. Rowling made tweens start looking for more books to read, so publishers once again became more open to children’s submissions.
DONNELL: So you do have experience writing adult fiction? Talk about the differences between adult fiction and children’s novels.
BILL: For the YA and tween markets, I strongly believe there’s only one difference: the age of the characters. A lot of people think this isn’t true when it comes to humor. They think the subtle nuances that make something funny for adults will be overlooked by tweens. Sometimes they’re right, but children are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. And when it comes to picking up subtle nuances, kids often catch things adults miss. You know, like monsters under the bed and ghosts in the attic. Even if kids do miss a few things, as long as they catch some of the humor they’re going to want to uncover it all. They might even read the book more than once, looking for things they missed. When was the last time you watched a Disney animation or Pixar film? Those guys get it right. They throw in a lot of adult humor because they know parents are going to have to watch the films too. Much of this goes over the heads of the kids watching, but it doesn’t stop them from enjoying those movies and wanting to see them over and over again.
DONNELL: Your stories seem to carry a theme of bullying and underdogs. You’re now a successful children’s author and a software engineer. How much is Bill Allen like Greg Hart or Orson Buggy? And what message do you hope readers take away from your books?
BILL: Okay, you got me. There’s more of the young Bill Allen in both of those characters than I care to admit, from being the scrawniest kid (and therefore the fastest runner) in class, like Greg Hart, to living a life where everything seems to go wrong, like it does for Orson Buggy (Actually that one hasn’t changed a lot since I’ve become an adult.) I would hope that kids who read the Journals of Myrth books learn that being a hero doesn’t necessarily mean bravely facing everything that comes your way. It’s okay to be afraid of the unknown. You just can’t let it stop you from taking the steps you need to move toward your goals. Orson Buggy is a different animal. I’m not sure how far I will carry that series, but the two books I’ve finished so far are so packed full of lessons, I could barely come up with enough humor to hide them all. Orson has an overwhelming number of shortcomings, but since the books are told from his point of view, he doesn’t know about most of them. Over the course of the series I plan to have him learn a lot about relationships that I hope will stick with young readers.
DONNELL: When you’re not writing where will we find you?
BILL: Probably in front of the TV (see previous admission about being a TV junkie). Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not a total couch potato. I’d like you to show me another 700-year-old who’s still playing soccer and sand volleyball every week. But that’s the point. I’m 700 (actually 699) and still playing soccer and sand volleyball every week. I need my recoup time!
DONNELL: So, as a software engineer, I assume you’re organized and have no problem with technology?
BILL: HA!. . . . . . . . Oh, you want more. Being a software engineer provides a constant reminder of how little I know about technology. Most of my time is spent in total overwhelm mode. When I leave work, I try to leave technology behind. I’m the guy that buys the cell phone that can make and receive calls and hopefully do little else. I don’t have a data plan. I’ve set a personal goal to never send a text message, and so far I’ve been successful. As for being organized, I, er, can be (much like the alcoholic who can stop drinking whenever he wants. He just doesn’t want to.) My wife does make fun of me for constantly making lists of things I need to do and then never doing any of them. Hey, I do my part. I put them on the list. It’s not my fault they can’t be done from the couch.
DONNELL: When writing, do you act out your scenes?
BILL: Hmm…I’ll bet you get a lot of interesting answers to this from your many romance author guests, but no, I don’t act them out. Not that I wouldn’t like to, mostly because I’m a firm proponent of the Benjamin Button approach to living life in reverse, and to effectively act out my scenes I’d need to start off by becoming a kid again. To further answer your question though, a lot of times when I’m first writing scenes I’m not clear on what I want to happen, aside from a few key points. During the edits I know what’s going to happen, so I can picture the scene a lot better in my mind, as if I’m watching the characters act on screen. That’s when I get to add in the details that make it come to life, especially when it comes to the timing of all that sarcastic dialog.
DONNELL: Are you superstitious?
BILL: Absolutely not, knock on wood.
DONNELL: If you could meet anyone, past or present who would it be, and why?
BILL: Oh, I see where you’re going with this. You’re fishing for me to say Donnell Bell here, aren’t you? Well, that would be amazing. A lot of other possibilities run through my mind too. Gandhi? John Lennon? Any one of a dozen Victoria Secret models? But if I really had to choose just one, I think I’d like to meet the guy who invented the four-way stop sign. I’ve got some choice words for him.