BLOG TOUR – Street of Storytellers
Street of Storytellers
by Dough Wilhelm
Genre: YA Multicultural Thriller
Release Date: September 2019
Luke is dazzled by Danisha, but in the city’s strict Pashtun culture they can’t ever be seen together. He’s recruited by her brother to assist the jihadis — but he also bonds with Yusuf, an Afghan refugee who knows what could happen. Then there are the musicians Luke befriends, and a mysterious Sufi teacher who opens his eyes.
evening of Monday, December 17, 1984
capital of the North-West Frontier Province
DAD GOT US SEPARATE ROOMS. (I’d have thrown a fit if he hadn’t.) We were on the
second floor of the hotel. My room was simple and narrow, with light blue walls
and a window at the end that had wooden shutters, closed.
chair. Out of my backpack I took my new, black-and-red Walkman cassette player
and silver Toshiba headphones, early Christmas presents from my mom. I set them
on the desk beside the red cassette case, size of a kid’s lunchbox, with my
twelve best tapes inside. I looked around the room—it seemed clean, which was a
relief—and thought, Okay. I can stay in here the whole vacation if I have to.
over Christmas vacation, it said so in the divorce, so he could force me to fly
with him halfway around the world to this weird place—but he couldn’t make me do anything
here if I didn’t want to. What could he do, send me home? He had zero leverage
at this point. So I had decided: I would not go anywhere, or do or see or learn
anything, that had anything to do with the Great Goddamn Project.
My dad’s obsession with his project had wrecked my family. I would have nothing
to do with it.
Great Goddamn Project, or G.G. Project for short, was what my mom started
calling it after my dad had been so obsessed for so long with working on his
book about some lost civilization over here that my mom finally gave up on the
marriage and moved out. Now we lived in a little apartment, her and me, except
for every other weekend, when I had to hang around our old house where my dad
kept on typing and typing behind the locked door of his home office, barely
even aware I was there.
There was a door between
my room and his. Stuck in it was a big
key. I went over and turned the key; the door locked with a thunk. I
pulled hard but it held solid. I stood there and smiled.
The lock’s on my side now.
What initially got you interested in writing?
Reading! I read a lot as a kid. Then later I got involved in my high school student newspaper. Luckily for me, we had a good paper, and there I began writing stuff that got published. I was an awkward, unconfident teenager, and that was the first time I ever did anything that I thought I might possibly, maybe, be kind of good at. That was big, for me! I went on to study literature in college, and my first “real” job after college was as a reporter on a community weekly newspaper, where I wrote everything from obituaries and sports to front-page news. That was great training.
What genres do you prefer to write in?
Most writers write the kind of books they like to read, which is natural. I like novels that are good stories, first and foremost. I like realistic fiction, either set in the present day or historical. So those are the kind of novels I’ve written.
Are there any authors you prefer to read and why?
Oh sure, there are lots! As a young writer trying to learn, the authors I loved and learned from the most were Ernest Hemingway, who showed countless writers how to write with simple, stripped-back immediacy — trying to, as he put it, make a thing or an experience rather than describe it; E.B. White, who showed me how you could write in a casual, natural-seeming way; and James Thurber, a close friend of White’s, who showed me how much serious, patient, painstaking work it takes to write in that seemingly casual, natural way.
How did you make the move into being a published author?
Through lots of trying and failure, as is true for most writers. My first book was rejected 75 times and never published. My first four books — two nonfiction books for adults and two picture books for kids — were altogether rejected about 120 times. None was ever published. I finally got a break when I was asked to write a book on a very short deadline, because someone else couldn’t do it, for the then-popular Choose Your Own Adventure series for young readers. I wound up writing 10 books for that series. That was my training in writing for young readers, and that’s how I finally got a start.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Two things. One, when you work through draft after draft after draft, meeting challenges, cutting stuff that doesn’t work, and wrestling to make the rest something readable, if you persist and if you are lucky you can get to a place where you realize that this is all coming together — that this may actually have become something real and even good. That’s a very satisfying feeling. It’s also very nice when you have a book come out and someone tells you it meant something to them. That’s really terrific — but the first, more private and personal reward is deeper.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
That there is, almost inevitably, a whole lot of failure, frustration, and rejection. The great majority of my books that have actually been published have not succeeded in terms of sales, even when I thought they succeeded as stories. You can work your guts out for years on a book and never see it published — or, if it does get published, you can watch it sink in the world without a trace, without finding any readers. That’s hard. And it happens, sooner or later, to almost everyone.
Do you have any tips for writers who find themselves experiencing writer’s block?
Yes! Give yourself permission to just write some junk, and go ahead and start. The hard part is just to start. What stops people most of the time is this mistaken idea that if it doesn’t come out brilliant, beautiful and perfect the first time, you are no good at this, you’re a failure. That’s nonsense — writing never comes out brilliant, beautiful and perfect in the first draft.
Think of the first draft, instead, as a sort of sketch, something to get down so you can build on it. Then go back and look honestly for what works, what you can build on, and what doesn’t work. Often what doesn’t work will show you what could — so everything you try has value. But the key is understanding that your first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s just a start. Looking at it that way takes a lot of the pressure off, and then you can start. Once you start, you’re okay.
What advice would you give to people that want to enter the field?
Find a way to learn the basic skills that writing involves, and to get good experience. For most young writers in past generations, like mine, that has meant going to work in journalism, where you can learn and build those skills: how to gather information, how to interview people, how to grab the reader’s interest, how to take criticism and feedback from an editor (this is vital!), and how to work on deadline. There are far fewer newspaper jobs today, which is really sad — but that’s still the best way. Find a small, community newspaper, and contribute however you can — covering sports, whatever, just to get started. If they’ll hire you, the skills you will build there will serve you well for the rest of your writing life.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
I think what happens when good fiction is read by good readers is that the story and the reader come together, and together they make meaning. A good story is more than just a page-turner, it’s one that comes to mean something — and that meaning develops when you, the reader, bring your experiences, your emotions, you hopes and dreams, your mind as you engage with the story. There’s a huge difference between message, which is what a bad writer tries to shove into a story, and which always makes for a boring story — and meaning, which is what happens when a good story and a good reader come together. So the reader is half of it.
I hope that’s what happens, at least some of the time, when someone reads one of my books. It doesn’t happen with every book by anybody, or with every reader; but when it does, those are the books that you the reader, will remember forever. That’s my hope and aim, to make a book like that: to produce a book that might mean something, at least to some people, at least some of the time.
Is there anything else about you that you think readers might find interesting?
I like to play music, and I play in two or three rock bands, depending on how you count. And I’m six feet ten inches tall.
Doug Wilhelm is a fulltime writer and editor in Weybridge, Vermont. His 16 previous books include The Revealers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), a novel about bullying that has been the focus of reading and discussion projects in well over 1,000 schools, and continues to be part of the curriculum in middle schools across the country.
As a young journalist in the early 1980s, Doug left his newspaper job to spend two years in Pakistan, India and Nepal. He traveled, wrote, taught English and worked on what he originally planned as a nonfiction book about his experiences, which years later grew into Street of Storytellers.
Doug’s other books include three more young-adult novels, a biography of Alexander the Great for young readers, and 10 books for the Choose your Own Adventure series.