Recently, Isabella and I got the opportunity to interview Arthur Slade, the author of numerous best-selling YA and Middle-Grade novels, including Dragon Assassin, Dust, The Hunchback Assignments, and many more! We talked to him about his journey as an author, his story building, writing techniques, and many other topics of interest.
Here are some highlights of our conversation!
Rosie: To start off with a general question, what really got you into writing? And when did you start taking more of an interest in it?
Arthur: Well, I was always kind of a creative kid, and I liked writing film scripts. I saw Star Wars, and I remember wanting to be a director, and writing film scripts, in Grade 6-7ish. And I started writing fiction then as well, off and on, I tried a whole bunch of things! And by the time I was in Grade 11 — well I blame it all on a teacher. They had given us an assignment to write a short story, and mine was called Under Heaven, Over Hell. But when I got the story back, I got a hundred percent! That was kind of the moment it crystallized for me — it was kind of a reward for writing! That’s sort of how I got started, in Grade 11, I just thought: Well, if I can write a short story and get a hundred percent, I can write a novel too. And… I ended up writing my first novel in Grade 11-12! It…was not a good novel, but it was my first one.
Isabella: How do you usually come up with your stories? Especially since most of your books are fantasy, we were wondering what your process is in creating a whole new world?
Arthur: I tend to write what I’m interested in reading. I grew up reading mostly fantasy and I’ve always loved going into another place, even if it was a scary place, or fantasy world – that was interesting to me. When I get an idea, it’s different every time, but sometimes they’ll just come out of the blue! I have a book called Dust, a book set in the 1980s, I just got an image of a boy walking along in a prairie – I don’t know why it was there in my head – and of this truck coming towards him and just this feeling of doom…something really bad was going to happen. And that’s what I do, I write down that idea just so I can kind of get the mood of it.
It took me a while to figure out when I had a really good idea. Many books I’ve gotten half way through and given up, but now I’ve kind of recognized, when I get that feeling it’s almost like someone punches you in the gut, you just get the sense that “Oh! This could really be something.” It’s kind of a hard thing to explain. Other ideas will come more from family stories, even though I have fantasy elements to my books. I have a book set in World War I, inspired by my grandfather’s story.
So that’s what I do – I find that idea that’s really going to pull me forward through the entire year it takes to write the novel, An idea that will help me really believe in the story and the importance of that story all the way through that time period. Those really powerful ideas will really pull you right through it. The other thing that I do, I don’t plan anything! Like for the boy on the prairie, I just got that idea and started writing the first chapter! I can only see a little bit ahead, like just past the headlights of a car. Although, every once in a while, I will get flashes of the ending and write that down and use that as a connecting point.
Isabella: I find that very interesting — how one little idea can just spark the whole story and inspire a whole book!
Rosie: And it really comes down to getting a sense for which idea you want to continue developing and actually push forward with, it’s almost like you have a sort of instinct!
Arthur: Yes! It took a long time to develop, and it’s a hard thing to teach, but it really is like that. What I’m looking for in these ideas is really: Is this my heart’s work, is it powerful enough to keep me going all the way to the end.
Rosie: Awesome! So on that note, what would you say makes a good story?
Arthur: For me, I think it has to mean something. Just a little bit. And I say that because I want to write something that is both literary, but also entertaining. So I think I’ve succeeded when there is at least a little bit of depth to it, and yet it’s a story that keeps the reader hooked til the end, much like how I want the initial idea to carry me to the end!
Rosie: Of course! I think that’s a great tip. Good stories definitely do have to all tie in. And speaking of good stories, who are some of your favourite authors, what are your favourite books that you admire or get your inspiration from?
Arthur: Well, I grew up in the 70s-80s, and the people who were popular back then were mainly authors of science fiction and fantasy, and so I was reading people like Robert Heinlein – who writes science fiction. One of my absolute favourites is an author named Ray Bradbury, his descriptions just stagger my mind – he is someone I love reading because he just takes you to that other world. Those are the people – and Tolkien [author of Lord of the Rings] too – that I grew up with. So in a way, now, when I write my books for a younger audience, it’s my 13 year old self who I’m trying to entertain!
These are just a few of the many things we learned during the interview! There were several really great insights and we learned so much about the publishing world and what it takes to create a great story!
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Mr. Slade, and everyone, make sure to keep an eye out for his upcoming release: Dragon Assassin: Shadow Hunter!