Happy Monday, everyone! And Happy New Year! We're starting off the year by chatting with author Larry Verstaete about his book, MISSING IN PARADISE. Grab a comfy chair and join us as we get to know all about him and his book.
Hi, Larry! Welcome to We Do Write. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Winnipeg, Canada and live there still. After high school I went to university and worked towards degrees in science and education. Eventually, I became a teacher and over the years have taught the gamut from elementary school to university courses. Somewhere, in the middle of my teaching career, I dabbled in writing for others. The two interests, teaching and writing merged. It's hard to tell sometimes where one begins and the other ends.
As a youngster I loved books and read anything that I could get my hands on. I grew up in a pretty full household and between my brother, four sisters and I there weren’t many books to go around. The books we did have tended to be adult biographies, true adventures, collections of short articles about famous people or essays. I read them all, some two or three times. I think my love for adventure, science and history came from this early experience. My version of writer’s heaven is to be working on a project that contains elements of all three.
I stumbled into professional writing almost by accident after I had been teaching for a few years. One day while waiting for a haircut I picked up a magazine and spotted an ad for a correspondence writing course. On a whim, I clipped out the ad and enrolled in the course. One of my first assignments was to write a non-fiction article for children. One thing led to another and I latched on to a topic that fascinated me – accidental discoveries in science. By the end of the course, I had written about 25 short stories, each one telling about a breakthrough in science that owed much to a mistake, mishap, coincidence or spectacular blunder. That became my first Scholastic book – The Serendipity Effect (later re-issued under the title Accidental Discoveries: From Laughing Gas to Dynamite). Since then I’ve published 13 non-fiction books for youngsters. MISSING IN PARADISE is my 14th book, and my first middle grade novel.
Tell our readers a bit about MISSING IN PARADISE.
Four months after Gramps’ mysterious death, Nate helps out at Gram’s garage sale. An eerie feeling, as if Gramps were reaching beyond the grave to send Nate a message, leads Nate to a box of clues. A missing plane. A secret to keep. A map highlighting the route where Gramps died and the message, “Shipment # 35 – Gold.”
Nate and his best friend, Simon, are convinced that Gramps was on a treasure hunt when he died. They’re just as convinced that Gram’s shifty next door neighbor, Fortier, is after the gold too. Nate and Simon sneak away on a Greyhound bus for the small town of Paradise where Nate is sure treasure awaits.
Can they find the gold before Fortier gets his thieving hands on a treasure that rightfully belongs to Gramps?
How did the idea of the story come to you?
About 10 years ago, when I was working on a non-fiction book called Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery, I thought of adding a fictional component to it where a boy finds a box of postcards sent by a grandfather who’d gone missing on a round-the-world trip years before. The way I envisioned it, each postcard would be linked to a place where a world famous treasure could be seen, and this would lead to a non-fiction story about its actual discovery. By following the trail of postcards, the boy discovers the whereabouts of his grandfather by the end of the book. The blend of fiction with non-fiction never really worked for Lost Treasures, but the idea of a boy finding a box of clues left by his grandfather stuck.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A bit of both. I sketch out the story or in the case of non-fiction, each chapter heading. For non-fiction this helps me establish the theme and the blocks of information that will support it. For fiction, I write a loose chapter-by-chapter outline of events. Most important to me is knowing how the story will end. That way, I have a target to aim at. I’m more of a panster when writing drafts though, because I often deviate from the plan in middle sections, but I do this with the end target in mind.
What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Beginnings are always the most difficult for me to write. They have to be gripping and inviting enough that readers will want to keep going, but they also have to establish point-of-view, tone, mood and provide information about setting, characters, the conflict lurking ahead etc. It’s hard to nail all of this in a few short paragraphs.
What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing?
Prime writing time for me is first thing in the morning. I head out the door, drive to a nearby coffee shop, and write from there with a cup of coffee at my side. I’ve kept the same habit for over 25 years now so there’s no point in changing it now. The hum of voices in the coffee shop, a table free of clutter, unlimited hot coffee – all of these are essential ingredients to my writing process.
What are you reading right now?
Right now, I am reading two books. One is Loot by Jude Watson. It’s a fictional story for youngsters about four kids out to find their fortune. The other is a non-fiction book, The Vatican Diaries by John Tavis.
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
To be physically transported in an instant to places I conjure up in my imagination would be a handy thing. Now that’s an awesome superpower for a writer to have! Of course, I’d want a guarantee that I could return to reality whenever I wished.
What's the weirdest thing you've googled?
For MISSING IN PARADISE, I included a scene where Nate and Simon tinker with an old photocopier that Simon picked up in a dumpster outside Staples. They photocopy everything around them. Then Simon has a brainstorm: “Let’s photocopy our butts”. Of course, having never done anything like that myself, I needed to get the lowdown in order to write the scene. Yes, I googled it and yes, I found more than one entry. The most descriptive was a steamy account written by a young woman who photocopied her butt in her husband’s place of employment. Apparently, you can google anything.
Finish this sentence: If I'm not writing, I'm probably ...
Travelling, hiking or biking, or fixing the house. There are so many places to see, so many trails to hike or bike, and never enough time. And then there’s the house – always something to do there.
Here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Let's hear your shout outs.
First shout out – my wife, Jo. For years now, she’s supported my writing habit, funneled ideas my way, critiqued my work, and nudged me on whenever I faltered. Big shout out there! My entire home team – kids, their spouses & families – has been supportive, too. Thanks gang. I don’t think I would have ever finished MISSING IN PARADISE if it hadn’t been for Writer’s Group and Vast Imaginations, two groups of writers who saw promise in the story and encouraged me to finish it. Then there’s Rebelight Publishing Inc. What an amazing team! Suzanne, Mindi, Deborah and Melanie – you guys rock! Thanks for welcoming me into the fold and providing such a strong network of support.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Larry. We wish you luck with your book.
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