Interview with J. Curtis Mace
Keeping the Peace, is a fun magical/paranormal story for kids, where did you get your inspiration for the story? What came to you first, your plot or the characters?
Where I got the inspiration for the story is a hard one. I don’t really remember. I know my wife and I were watching Trueblood on HBO, and I’ve always said my stories are like “Trueblood, for kids.” So I think that might have been the initial inspiration. But the characters definitely came first. One rule of writing is to write what you know, so I am constantly writing about my friends and I. All my characters are drawn from people I know (and from myself), and once they start “living” on their own they take the reins and go forward and basically write the stories for me.
The story is written in first person as Rusty, the 5th grade werewolf. Why did you decide to do first person vs. third? And why from Rusty's perspective?
This is the first story/series I’ve written in the first person, and I did it because it just felt right. Whenever I write these stories, I actually get in Rusty’s head (he’s the ME character), and I write from there. So again, it just felt right to write from the first person perspective. I feel like it makes the emotion of the story much more real for the reader that way too, like they’re feeling it/living it themselves. As for why Rusty’s perspective… like I said, he’s the ME character. Everybody wants to be the cool vampire or the magical witch/warlock. But I wanted to write from the very real position of just a kid, a very nervous/humble/fallible kid (I also like the “primal magic” of being a werewolf and the ideas of him drawing on that, as opposed to immortality or actual magic). I like that Rusty is always scared or nervous to do the right thing, but he does it because it IS the right thing or because he is standing up for his friends. I like how Rusty overcomes his fears and how he leans on his friends for help with doing that.
What was your favorite scene to write?
The first scene at the church was a lot of fun (the tension outside and then the scene inside, and the way Rusty almost blows the whole thing at the end). I like that one a lot, but I think my favorite is near the end, when they actually go into FreakyFingers’s house. That was such a reveal/“belly of the beast” type of chapter, it was a lot of fun to write. If you can imagine being in Rusty’s head, it was a lot of fun to explore the house and make all the gross discoveries. And it was quite intense when everything started going down too. Lots of fun and my favorite.
Evie is my favorite. Who is your favorite character?
Of course, this sounds like a complete cop out of an answer, but I love ALL my characters (even the newer ones from later books). They’re all so independent and individual; I love them all for their own reasons. Evie is so feisty and bold, and she cares very deeply for Rusty. Zeke is modeled after one of my best friends who passed away some years ago, so he has a special place with me. I even like my “bad guys” for being so bad and so good at it. But (again, it might sound like a cop out, but…) Rusty is my favorite. He’s so strong and vulnerable at the same time. He loves his friends and will do anything for them. He’s a good guy, and he’s funny. My favorite though is writing them all together, when their all hanging out as a group. They are all such strong personalities and strong characters, whenever they get together, the story and the jokes and all the plans for adventures basically write themselves.
You are great at chaptering. Everytime I could see the end of the chapter coming, I would think, oh good I'll go get a snack, but by the end of the chapter I would have to turn the page. I probably lost a pound---saving me from the snacks, so thank you. Could you give any advice to aspiring MG writers about how to end a chapter?
Thank you for the compliment. Chaptering is something I’ve worked on a lot (I actually made changes to most of my chapter endings right before publication – I didn’t change the narrative as much; I just changed the place in the narrative where the chapter ended). One piece of advice/criticism I got from a friend was that chapters shouldn’t end on scene changes; they should end on tension changes. That would be my advice to other writers. If the scene is over and everything is settled and the chapter ends, that’s a great place to put a book down (and go get a snack). But if a scene is progressing and drama is building and then something completely unexpected/scary/pivotal happens or is revealed and then the chapter ends, a reader’s natural instinct is to keep reading. I wanted most of my chapters (as many as I could) to end with a “Holy Crap!” moment, so the reader will start reading the next chapter just to see that everyone made it through alright. Having chapters end right in the middle of the climactic moment when all the questions in the reader’s head are just about to be answered is a good way to keep the pages turning. Again, thanks on that one. It means a lot to have you appreciate it so much.
What was your favorite book when you were a middle grader?
My favorite book as a middle grader would have to be Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. We read it as a class in the 4th Grade, and I fell in love with it. It was the first book that made me feel and made me think beyond the story and think about the book when I wasn’t reading it. I bought my own copy and read it again. I watched the movie, and I even begged for a coonskin hat, which I got for Christmas. I never got the dog(s) I asked for, but one day the following summer, I was playing in my yard when a stray dog ran up to play with me. (Not making this up) It was a red bone coonhound, just like “Old Dan” and “Little Ann” in the books, and needless to say, it liked my hat very much. I think that is when I first started to believe in the magic of stories and writing.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
My favorite place to write is at my desk (comfortable chair and keyboard and monitor/good desk space/great lighting and all that), but more importantly, is the time I like to write. I love to write in the late hours of the night. When the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed, I can immerse myself so deeply in the story and the characters and the adventure going on. All my characters come to life, and I get live in the world of Nalamist Falls. That is such a great time to hang out (and be a kid again) and have all kinds of adventures with my friends. There have been times when I was up so late writing I couldn’t really remember what I wrote the next day. Quite a fun/surreal experience to reread those pages and find out all the things we’d gotten into, like it happened all on its own.