Reports of William Ritter’s birthplace are unreliable and varied, placing his hometown either in a series of mysterious Catacombs in Malta or in a quiet town in Oregon. His parents, it can be confirmed, raised him to value intelligence, creativity, and individuality. When reading aloud, they always did the voices.

At the University of Oregon, William made questionable choices, including willfully selecting classes for the interesting stories they promised, rather than for any practical application. When he wasn’t frivolously playing with words, he earned credits in such meaningful courses as Trampoline, Juggling, and Seventeenth Century Italian Longsword. These dubious decisions notwithstanding, he regrets nothing and now holds degrees in English and education with certificates in creative writing and folklore.

He currently teaches high school language arts, including reading and writing, mythology and heroes. He is a proud husband and father. When reading aloud, he always does the voices.

Jackaby is his first novel. It was born in the middle of the night and written on two different hemispheres. It has survived typhoons and hurricanes and was fostered into publication through the patient care of many hands. Beastly Bones is his second novel.

Author Q&A

1.  Favorite books/authors who inspired you?

Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, P. G. Wodehouse . . . authors who write grand and occasionally ridiculous adventures, embracing their storytelling earnestly but never taking themselves too seriously.

2. What’s your writing routine?

Write. I felt for years that if I couldn’t find a regular, reliable time to write, then I’d only ever get a few sentences out at a time, and that was no way to become an author. As a result, I never got those sentences out. I finally started my novel in single lines and lone paragraphs, wrote down one fragmented note one day, or cruised through two or three chapters in a single sitting the next. I like it when I have extended hours to myself. My ideal writing environment is comfortable, quiet, surrounded by some visual inspiration, like period photographs or sketches I’ve made of the characters or set dressing . . . but all of that is extra. My only consistent routine is to write.

3. What part of your book was the most fun to write?

The entire novel is an excuse to have fun with my favorite things. Every time I write I get to explore the strange setting and discover my characters’ eccentricities. I do love odd. I also love folklore and mythology, so Jackaby serves as an elaborate pretext to spend hours reading fairy tales and looking up obscure legends in the name of research.

4. Which part was the most difficult?

Accepting the limitations of history proved a hurdle from time to time. Even after doing extensive research and proofreading, I kept needing to pitch out nice lines simply because they referenced things that did not technically exist yet. The most frustrating of these was an entire scene on a fire escape, the design of which was both integral to the action and, to my chagrin, twenty years ahead of the period.

5. Is there one particular character in your new book that you most relate to? Why?

Abigail Rook has many of my sensibilities about discovery and stories, and the ways in which she bounces between confidence and insecurity have been, perhaps, a little too easy to write. When I originally created the character, Rook was actually a man, older, and much closer to my own identity. As he became a she, the character grew much more dynamic, and more of my wife crept into her personality. Jackaby’s interests and some of his mannerisms are a lot like mine, although I borrowed liberally from my friends and family for him and for all the cast.

6. What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Enjoy the process—all of it. Sometimes making an outline is the most fun, because the whole story comes together, and sometimes the writing is the most fun, because the dialogue is witty or the action is exciting, but try to enjoy the parts that aren’t your favorite, too. Editing isn’t everyone’s favorite bit, but try to think of it as playing with words and not looking for failures. Sometimes I get suggestions from my agent or editor that completely open up a scene or a character, and I love it. Some of my very best pages came after the fifth or sixth drafts. If you’re feeling stuck, write something that is fun to help prime the pump . . . or just write the scene badly to get it out of the way, and then come back to edit it once you remember how to enjoy yourself.

7. Cats or dogs?

Both are equally incompetent in the kitchen, and even less capable with tax returns. That said, I am a pet person, and currently have two of each.

8. If writing weren’t part of your daily work, what career would you like to have?

The one that I already have: teaching language arts. I began Jackaby after an exceptional year in which I got to design and teach classes in literature, mythology, and creative writing. The following summer I felt my mind craving the same kind of stimulation, and that was the start of the novel.

9. Which author would you most like to spend the day with?

I would love to meet Neil Gaiman. His work is marvelous and he clearly has a fondness for the same sort of folkloric and mythological motifs that I love. Beyond that, he seems to be a genuinely decent, pleasant man.

10. What is your secret superpower?

I have developed a superhuman knack for reading high school student handwriting and can translate the dialect of a three-year-old with impressive accuracy. I can also juggle and pull off sleight-of-hand magic tricks, which grooms me to either teach children or run away and join the circus. When I read aloud, every character has a distinct voice, from the inhabitants of A. A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood to the denizens of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I also draw pretty darn well, if only to get the pictures out of my head. 

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