Mount Alvernia Academy (MAA) Fourth Grade teacher, Mr. Christopher Doyle, will be at MAA’s book fair on Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 – 11:30 am, selling and signing copies of his latest children’s novel, The Enchantment of Jack Horner.
The author of three published novels, Mr. Doyle has been writing for almost 20 years. He sat down with us last week to discuss his novel, how he got his start writing, and share some advice for young writers. A transcript of our conversation is below. Congratulations Mr. Doyle!
How long have you been writing for? Has it always been a passion or was it something you discovered later in life?
I was in my mid-twenties when I first became intrigued by children’s literature. Up until then, I hadn’t read much in that genre — mostly Peanuts comic strips, my encyclopedic set of World Book of Knowledge, and a selection of picture books that my mother and my grandmother read to me at bedtime. But, when I took an undergraduate education course in children’s literature, I found it wildly exciting and I was amazed at how much I had missed out on as a young reader.
During my student teaching, I studied the novel Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson with my fifth-grade class and created lots of lessons around it. As I analyzed the book, I was fascinated by the author’s craft and the structure of fiction, and how it all worked together to pull at my heartstrings. Not long afterward, I received a postcard in the mail from The Institute of Children’s Literature, offering a correspondence course. I signed up, mailed in the monthly assignments, and slowly uncovered my passion for this kind of writing. I’ve been at it now for over twenty-five years.
You have written three novels now, correct? Tell us a little about your first two novels!
Actually, I’ve written ten novels, many of which never made it beyond the first draft. I either lost interest in them or couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say and eventually abandoned them.
My first published novel, The Silver Creek Secret, was completed in 2003 and took me five years and eight drafts before I had decided it was time to let it go. It’s a good story, I think, inspired by another of my favorite books, Holes. The story involves time-travel in which the main character finds himself in the Old West town on which his grandfather based the family theme park he created in his younger days. It gets even weirder when, after the main character arrives in town, all the townspeople graciously welcome him back after being missing for several years. How he gets back to the present is because of the Silver Creek Secret.
Lessons from the Cape is a realistic, more personal story about a family of three who takes a chance on welcoming someone new into their lives. During a vacation to Cape Cod, the main character finds that the hole his father left in his life when he died of a heart attack can only be filled by one thing — something he had worked so hard to avoid. The lesson it teaches is up to the reader.
What was the inspiration for The Enchantment of Jack Horner?
I was writing a bunch of nonsense short stories when I stumbled upon the idea of a novelization of the Mother Goose nursery rhyme characters. Although I was only a young child when I learned those rhymes, I did not know what an integral part of my childhood they would become. Once I started writing about the characters, I couldn’t stop. Maybe because the meanings of the poems had so many layers.
Jack sounds like such an interesting character — can you share a little about how you developed his character?
Like Michelangelo said about one of his works of art, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” Jack took a bit of rewriting to get to know. He’s not based directly on anyone in my life, but I often think that my characters reveal themselves as different aspects of my personality under the influence of time and place.
What would you want a young person to take away from reading The Enchantment of Jack Horner?
Enchantment, of course. Being spellbound by the mysticality of our human nature — our birth, our death, and how we are connected to history and our ancestors.
What is the most challenging thing about writing a novel?
Not giving up. Every novel is a learning experience. Although I don’t have my own children, each of my stories is like a child with a mind and spirit of its own. Just like being a parent or teacher, we have to give our stories form and structure but also nurturance.
Why have you chosen to write for this age group?
It’s where I feel most comfortable. After working in various types of schools and teaching different grades, the 8-12-year-olds resonate most with me.
What advice would you give a student who feels inspired to write fiction?
One, read a lot of what you like. Authors are the best writing teachers. Two, ask yourself “what if?” as in “what would happen if Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz met Thomas the Tank Engine?” Next, keep a private notebook of all your ideas, and write them down before they escape your memory. Finally, get support. Tell people you’re writing a book — your teacher, your friend, your cousin, or someone your trust — just don’t ever let anyone talk you out of it. There are a million reasons not to write a book but only one reason to write one. Find that reason.