Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed author Tim Wright, about his writing and his recently released, The Adventures of TOBY BAXTER: THE RIVER ELF, THE GIANT, AND THE CLOSET (1), a deliciously readable middle-grade fantasy. (Read the review here.) Tim is the co-host of the Wonder of Parenting Podcast: A Brain-Science Approach to Parenting, along with Dr. Michael Gurian.
Tim Wright is the co-host of the Wonder of Parenting Podcast: A Brain-Science Approach to Parenting, along with Dr. Michael Gurian. Tim has been a fan of fantasy adventures since he was in High School. He, and his wife, Jan, have been married since 1979. They have two adult children and five grandchildren. Tim enjoys riding his recumbent bike, Disneyland, and roots for the Arizona Cardinals and the Adelaide Crows (Australian Rules Football.) He grew up in Minneapolis and has lived in Glendale, AZ, since 1984.
What inspired you to write The Adventures of Toby Baxter: The River Elf, the Giant, and the Closet?
Several influences came together in the writing of this book:
- Since 2006 I’ve been working with Dr. Michael Gurian (Saving Our Sons; The Minds of Girls) on rites of passage. Rites of passage have been used by cultures almost since the beginning of time to train boys to become men. In the last 100 years rites of passage have been developed for girls as well. The driving question of a rite of passage is: What kind of a man do you want to be? What kind of a woman do you want to be? I wanted to take the rich insights of rites of passage and put them into a fun, engaging, entertaining book that would at the same time invite the kids to think about the question that challenges Toby during his quest: How will you use your power? Michael’s book, The Purpose of Boys, provides a great outline for answering that question using the word HEROIC. I built my story around the word HERO.
- While I’m an avid reader today, I wasn’t so much in High school. I vividly remember one year being assigned The Hobbit, and dreading having to read it. I eventually did and became hooked on fantasy adventures and quest stories. I couldn’t read them fast enough. As I began to think through how to turn the insights of rites of passage into a story, I created a character, who like me, didn’t really like reading books, until he was caught up into the story.
- I had grandkids! And I wanted to take them on an adventure through this book.
How did you decide on the title?
The title is a tongue-in-cheek ode to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Throughout the book I reference some of my favorite quest stories, including Narnia. My character doesn’t have a wardrobe in his room so his closet will have to do.
How did you come up with the names for the characters?
I’ve noticed that often the names of the main characters of these quest stories have a certain rhythm or beat to them. Har-ry Pot-ter. Per-cy Jack-son. Fro-do Ba-ggins. Years ago I wanted to write a short children’s book for my grandkids and Toby Baxter (To-by Bax-ter) popped into my mind. At that time Toby was going to head off on adventures as a super hero. I never got around to writing that children’s book so in this one, he’s a fan of all things Marvel and their super heroes.
The names of all of the River Elves come from my family. The five main elves are named after my grandchildren and the characters reflect their unique personalities. I changed the spelling on a couple of them to ground them in the fantasy world.
What was your writing process?
I have a full-time job (Lutheran Pastor) so I wrote when I could squeeze in some time. There were periods where I found a rhythm and wrote for several days in a row. Then things would sit for weeks without writing. Overall it was a three year project of writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more.
I’ve written several non-fiction leadership type books but never a work of fiction. So trusting the adage, write what you know, I wrote and let the story take me where it wanted to go. From time to time I would get an idea and then chase it to see where it might lead, but for the most part the story took its own course. Then I had to go back and make sure it all added up!
Having rites of passage as my starting point, rooted in a love for quest stories, and using bits of my life throughout, I found the whole thing to be a lot of fun. I hope the readers feel the same way.
What scene in the book is your favorite?
I have a lot of scenes that were great fun to write. But the one that I feel the most when I read it and re-read it is near the end when Toby has a chance to meet two magical creatures. I intentionally didn’t write a lot of emotion into it, hoping that the scene itself would provide the emotion. It does for me, anyway.
Which scene was the most difficult to write?
The showdown between Toby and the leader of the trolls was challenging because I wanted to do something different. The point of the story for Toby (and the readers) is to figure out what kind of person he wants to be and how he will use his power (his skills, his passions, etc.). In many of these quest stories the bad guy gets his head lopped off by the hero or an army comes in and defeats the enemy.
But Toby is on a quest to discover what kind of Hero he will be. Will he use his power to serve others or to hurt? Will he meet violence with violence? Will his anger get the best of him? Is revenge the only way?
I rewrote that scene several times, going at it from different directions. Toby makes his choice and then wonders if it was the right one… if it was really heroic. Getting that scene and the aftermath right took some time.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook shape your book?
My Christian faith is obviously important to me as I’ve committed my life’s work to pastoring a church. While my faith certainly influences what I write, my hope and goal was to write a good, solid, fun story about the character qualities we hope to instill in our children as they grow, whether we have a religious background or not. Raising boys into good men and girls into good women is something that unites all of us.
What makes this quest story unique from other ones?
Because of my love for quest stories, and having read so many of them, it was a great joy to take some of the familiar images and themes of the genre and put my own unique spin on them. Like the Pevensie children who go through a wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia, Toby goes through his closet to the magical land of RiverHome. But in my story, Toby discovers that the River Elves actually spend time in our world as well. One of the River Elves is a huge NFL fan and wears various jerseys throughout the book. Like other stories, Toby has a Sword, but how he puts it to use is unique.
While the book is written for both boys and girls, I know from my study on boys that generally, they tend not to be as engaged with books as girls. Boys seem drawn more to comic books and books with visuals in them. Toby doesn’t like to read books, only comic books. The set up for his journey into RiverHome has a comic book feel to it. And throughout the book he experiences some humorous struggles with the proper use of grammar.
What are you reading these days?
I usually have three to four books going at one time. Three of them will be work related. The other one is the one I read for me. Every night before I go to bed I turn on my Kindle and read for the fun of it (however, for me, reading is always for the fun of it). My books of choice these days are British Mystery Novels, or mysteries that share that same vibe or tone. My wife and I are huge fans of the British TV mysteries as well. I read once where someone said that mysteries are another form of fantasy novels. They take you on an adventure into good and evil.
I’m about half-way through the second book—The Adventures of Toby Baxter: RiverHome for the Holidays. The book takes place a few months after book one and things are not good in RiverHome. Each of the title chapters is a winter or Christmas song. This time around Toby heads back to RiverHome with his dad and his new best friend, Sid.
Categories: BookView Review Interview