13 Aug

Games & Books & Q&A: Melissa Wiley

inchrolysunnydayMy friend Melissa Wiley is the next children’s/YA author that I’m featuring in the Games & Books & Q&A series.

Melissa is the author of more than a dozen books for kids and teens, including The Prairie Thief, Inch and Roly and the Sunny Day Scare, Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, and the Martha and Charlotte Little House books. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Scott Peterson, and their six kids. Melissa has been blogging about her family’s reading life at Here in the Bonny Glen since 2005. She is @melissawiley on Twitter and @bonnyglen on Instagram.

CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?

MW: First video game I played had to be Pong. I think my dad brought it home from Radio Shack, if I recall correctly. My little sisters and I were enthralled. There is a certain shade of glowing green that always brings Pong rushing back to my mind. Was it even really green? That’s how I remember it.

CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?

MW: We got an Atari 2600 when I was around 8th or 9th grade. I. LOVED. THAT. THING. Fave game: Adventure. The way the dragons curled up when you stabbed them! I went through a whole blissful nostalgia-binge not long ago, revisiting Adventure on a desktop version. It’s amazing the wave of feelings it conjures up. That exhilaration of discovery; the happy state of tension I love in a game.

We also had Atari Pinball and my prowess at that game became a badge of honor — I rocked it. Nobody could skirt just this side of a tilt like I could. For a kid who was hopeless at sports and miserable in gym class, excelling at a video game was a confidence boost beyond measure. I was this tiny, scrawny, late-blooming kid, but at Pinball I could whip my best friend’s older brothers. I’m still proud. :)

Other friends had a ColecoVision, and I spent hours at their place playing Donkey Kong. They also had an Indiana Jones game (Atari? Coleco?) that I loooved. Those snakes, the music, the ankh. To this day I love adventure games where you have to puzzle your way through.

CB: What role do games play in your life today?

Melissa WileyMW: Pretty major, I’d have to say! I have six game-enthusiast kids, and playing together is truly one of my greatest joys. My favorite group game is Minecraft — I’m fond of sandbox games. We have our own server and I love logging in to see what new marvels they’ve built in our world. In my own world (created before we set up the server) I have a giant Tudor mansion and English garden. I’m constantly tearing down wings and renovating. :)

We play a fair amount of Wii Mario Kart and Wii Sport together (especially Scott and the kids, for the latter). I also like the ski jump game in Wii Fit.

We love World of Warcraft but unfortunately my computer is the only one in the house that can handle it, so the kids can’t do much there and it’s been a long while since we’ve logged on.

The game I loved most of all and mourn deeply is Glitch. Another sandbox game, but with art and music like none other, and a charming, deeply creative community. All my phone ringtones are from Glitch which means constant nostalgia pangs. We were so sad when it shut down! Tiny Speck released all the assets to the public, though, and a couple of teams of volunteers are working to recreate the game, so I have high hopes of feeding sloths and milking butterflies again someday.


I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.

10 Jun

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Melissa Wiley asked if I’d like to participate in this rolling series of authors’ monologues about their current projects and writing processes, and I thought…

Well, from the title of this post, it’s pretty obvious what I thought. So here goes:

What are you working on?

I’ve got a couple of things going on at the moment, both of them picture books under contract.

One is a biography whose ending my editor and I are still trying to nail down — we want to make sure that we hit the final note just right. Do we leave the reader with one last impression of the subject himself, or encourage the reader to view the bigger picture beyond this one person’s life, or invite the reader to look inward and consider how the subject resonates with them individually, or attempt to accomplish something else? The runaway for figuring this out is growing pretty short.

The other book is all made-up fun, or will be. Right now, I’ve got characters and a vague sense of what the conflict is going to be, but so far there’s neither a story nor, frankly, much fun. (Though I’m enjoying myself.) What I’m working on, then, is figuring out the specifics of what happens, or might happen, or could happen, or should, or ought to, etc. Opening lines popped into my head late last night, so I need to revisit those and see if they still seem to set the right tone and get the story going in a good direction.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I don’t know that my picture books individually differ drastically from other narrative picture books, but collectively they stand out a bit by falling into two distinct camps. I love writing seriously researched nonfiction, and I love just making up silly stuff, and I feel just as comfortable doing one (The Day-Glo Brothers) as the other (Shark Vs. Train). Enough people have asked me some variation of “How do you do that?” that I understand that enjoying both types of writing is not the norm, but it feels perfectly natural to me. Writing for this audience wouldn’t be nearly as fun if I didn’t or couldn’t do both types of books.

Why do you write what you do?

I write my biographies because something about the arc of an individual’s life — regardless of whether anyone I know has ever heard of this person — fascinates me. I like writing about people who end up in vastly different circumstances from those in which they entered the world, and about how inner drive and outer happenstance work together to change the course of a person’s life, and about the impact that person’s life has on the rest of us. And I like writing about people whose fields of achievement offer lots for me to learn about along the way and lots to distill and convey to my readers.

I write my fiction because I’ve always enjoyed getting people to laugh — or at least taking a shot at getting them to laugh — through the words I string together. It’s no fun when my efforts fall flat, but the times when my audience (even if that audience consists of just one person) does laugh — those keep me going.

How does your writing process work?

For biographies, with the very first piece of research I consult, I generally start creating a timeline of key events in the subject’s life. From that timeline, the period of the person’s life that most intrigues me will begin to emerge — I don’t generally write cradle-to-the-grave biographies, so I’m on the lookout for a significant place to start my telling of their story and a meaningful, resonant place to end my telling. Then I’ll research and research and research until I’m not running into much new information, or not finding any information that alters the story arc that’s taking shape. By then, I’m feeling sort of full and antsy, and I can’t help but start writing, though I’ll probably continue doing research of some sort until the illustrator is entirely finished with the art.

That’s a fairly amorphous process, but it’s even more so for my picture book fiction. Sometimes, I bang out a full draft the first morning an idea occurs to me, or the first day I pull a previously-jotted-down story idea from a pool of candidates. Other times, there’s a lot of mulling — weeks and weeks of mulling — about how to approach a character or theme or plot point before I ever actually start writing what anybody else would consider to be a draft.

For both types of books, I tend to revise a lot as I go. I turn in very clean drafts — not that they necessarily get returned from editors in quite the same condition.

Who’s next?

Who am I going to ask to answer these questions after me? Well, Melissa has already gone to my go-to author.

So, I was thinking that instead I would ask the most recent commenter, which would be Tina Kugler. But I see that Tina has already taken a crack at these questions.

So, how about you? If you’d be up for keeping the Writing Process Blog Tour going — or if you’ve already done your bit — won’t you please leave a comment letting me know where the rest of us can find your answers?

02 Jun

This is your parental brain on Minecraft

Who knows why author Melissa Wiley‘s children chose Minecraft as the vehicle through which to educate her about a major scientist? What matters is that they did, and that the whole thing is adorable:

One day I accidentally fed [Minecraft dogs] Darwin and Newton too many pork chops at the same time, and you know what that means: a puppy. I couldn’t wait for this new pooch to grow up, so I could see what name the girls would give it.

When I came home this afternoon, half dead after a skeleton ambush, the pup was waiting beside the front door, all grown up and sporting a new blue collar. Her name was Annie, the hover-text informed me. I was a little surprised that the girls hadn’t continued the scientist theme.

Shows what I know.

The parental affection is just as obvious, though expressed just a little bit differently, in James Parker’s recent essay in The Atlantic, “The Game That Conquered the World“:

Can it be true that in Minecraft, to apply a line of Philip Larkin’s, how we live measures our own nature? An octopus’s garden, a whirling hall of knives … Choose, minecrafter. Build. It’s all you. My son, to my astonishment, is building an international airport. Me, I’ve killed a couple of cows. I made a start on a crafting table, and then gave up. And now I sit in obscurity, in my roofless house of dirt.

And in case you’re wondering, the “M” in my upcoming book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet does not stand for Minecraft. But the game adored by Parker and Wiley’s offspring is in there somewhere. My own 10-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way.