Q&A with Author Kimberly Pauley
What inspired you to write The Accidental Wizard?
Believe it or not, it was a bet. For almost 10 years, I’ve had a yearly bet with some fellow authors. Brian Farrey (The Vengekeep Prophecies, etc.), inspired by Stephen King, started it. Catherine Ryan Hyde (Pay it Forward, etc.) and I have participated every year and other authors have also joined in at different times (Andrew Smith, David Lubar and others). We would each pick a horse in the Kentucky Derby and the winner (i.e. the person with the horse that came in first) would give the next person down the list a short story title and so forth. I nearly always lose.
In 2016, Catherine (who has won the bet more often than not) gave me the title “A Slight Exaggeration” and the short story I wrote for that became, essentially, the first two chapters of The Accidental Wizard. It was actually one of the easier titles I’ve had to work with over the years. The worst was probably either “Uncle Mo’s Gastrointestinal Tract” or “The Druggist and the Apostrophe.”
What do you want young readers to take away from reading this book?
Enjoyment! First and foremost, I want them to enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! My first book (Sucks to Be Me) won an award for appealing to reluctant readers and I try to make every book I write something that people have fun reading, whether they are an enthusiastic reader or someone who just hasn’t found the right book yet.
Also, I hope that they, like my main character Twig Thicket, will learn to trust in themselves and stand up for what’s right.
The Accidental Wizard is packed with funny moments, and feels very Terry Pratchett in tone. Who are your favourite funny fantasy writers?
That’s the best compliment! I adore Terry Pratchett. I was also a huge fan of Douglas Adams when I was younger, as well as T.H. White, Piers Anthony, and P.L. Travers. Even when I write “serious” fiction, I can’t help but work some humour in there.
What was the most challenging thing about writing The Accidental Wizard?
Hmmm, if I had to pick one thing, perhaps it would be writing in third person and primarily from the point of view of a boy? All of my young adult novels were all told in first person and from a female point of view. But when I began writing for a younger audience, I gravitated towards a voice that I thought would appeal to my son (he’s twelve now) but also to the young girl I once was (and still am, at least in my head). The Accidental Wizard has magic and danger and silly situations as well as found family. And a grumpy gnome! I was obsessed with gnomes when I was my son’s age and I finally wrote a story where I worked one in!
Maybe my answer to this question would be that this book was a lot more fun than it was challenging. I really enjoyed writing it.
If you could be a powerful wizard for one day, what would you do?
Oh, that’s a hard question. I want to say something like cure cancer or solve world hunger or create worldwide peace, but I’ve read too much science fiction and fantasy. Tackling big things like that can often backfire on you when you don’t consider all the angles, especially if you only have the power for one day. So I guess I’ll have to say something smaller like learning enough to be a better person and help others, even after my powers were gone.
Do you have any tips for aspiring young writers?
Read a lot! And write a lot too. Honestly, those are the two biggest things. But don’t read just your favourite type of books. Try and read in different genres as well. And, when you begin to share your writing with other people, learn how to take constructive criticism. It’s hard. I know adults who have a hard time with this! Learn how to listen with an open mind.
What have been your favourite children’s books released in 2020?
That is a surprisingly tough question to answer this year. Between COVID, moving house, some challenging family issues, and writing book two, I haven’t done nearly as much reading this year as I normally would. However, I can list off some 2020 books that I am very excited about and can’t wait to get to now that I’ve unpacked my books!
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim, On the Horizon by Lois Lowry, City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda, The Story Seeker by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Shadowsea by Peter Bunzl, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook, StrangeWorlds Travel Agency by LD Lapinski, and Keep It Together, Keiko Carter by Debbi Michiko Florence.
Some of those are written by friends that I know I can always count on for a rollicking good story, while others feature POC characters, which is near and dear to me, being half-Chinese myself. There are so many other 2020 books on my list too! It’s hard to just mention a few.
What are you working on next?
Well, I’ve finished the first draft of the second Accidental Wizard book and am outlining a potential book three. I’m also working on a different middle grade novel with a working title of Yonder that’s also a funny fantasy adventure with some very crazy magical creatures. I’ve really enjoyed writing for younger readers and hope to continue writing for this age group for a while longer, though there are a few more 12+ stories I’d like to finish someday too!
The Accidental Wizard is published by Scholastic and became available to purchase from all good booksellers on 3rd September 2020.
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.