Monday, May 23, 2016
Interview with Darryl Womack, author of Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings
Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday! Today I have an interview with Darryl Womack, the author of Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings. I wanted to know more as soon as I saw that dragons were part of the title :)
Tell me about the book in your own words.
Long before the invention of television or radio, family groups gathered together at night around a roaring fire to keep warm, share a meal and talk. Often the conversations became stories as a form of entertainment – especially when adults were trying to teach their children traditions, customs and values. Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings grew out of traditional campfire stories. Young children, staring into the fire, fascinated by the shapes of the flames and glowing embers, asked their father to tell them a story. From deep within the ring of fire, burning logs and smoldering ash, grows a tale of an adventurous boy and a magical discovery.
Nat is a young boy who lives with his family in Sutter, a small village in the Kingdom of Westerford. Like all children his age, Nat loves to play “knights” with his friends. He dreams of one day becoming a knight himself and serving the noble King Edgar. Nat’s other favorite activity is exploring the nearby forest where, one day, he, quite literally, stumbles upon a giant egg. When the egg finally hatches so does a series of events that leads to the fulfillment of Nat’s wildest dreams. “The Tale of a Dragon” is the story of two young friends who take on adventures to save the kingdom. Nat falls in love with the princess and must complete a series of increasingly difficult quests in order to win the hand of his true love. With his best friend, Danby, by his side what could possibly go wrong?
King Edgar needs an elite group of knights to take on special missions throughout the kingdom. “The Dragon Knights of Westerford” looks into the process of selecting the best knights to represent the king and kingdom. Choosing the perfect team is a difficult task, especially in a kingdom with many secrets and hidden stories. Nat and Danby must overcome many obstacles to decide on their Dragon Knights. But, their final test is King Edgar’s Tournament where the ultimate mystery is finally solved.
Treachery and magic spells set the stage for “The True Dragon King.” Traveling back to the beginning, and following a trail of dangerous clues, Nat, Danby and the Dragon Knights must hurry as King Edgar hangs somewhere between life and death. Talia, the witch from Tranglam Forest, is out to get the king and seemingly will stop at nothing to end his reign. Only Nat and Danby have what it takes to solve the riddle and break the spell. Saving the king is the only way to save Westerford.
Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings is a collection of stories born in the campfire tradition and meant to be shared aloud with family and friends. Watch as the flames come to life before the children’s eyes with the adventures of Nat and Danby and the Knights and Kings of Westerford.
2. What got you interested in writing tales of Knights and Dragons?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, so knights have been a love of mine for many years. Once you start talking about knights and castles and damsels in distress the conversation has to include dragons whether “real”, legendary or symbolic. As far as writing about knights and dragons, that concept came along much, much later.
Several years ago, when our three sons were young, we used to go camping almost every summer. On one trip, while sitting around the campfire, making s’mores and talking about the day’s adventures, one of the boys asked me to make up a story. I began with the classic, “long, long ago there was a boy who lived in a small village in the shadow of a great, stone castle…”
One thing led to another and the boy got a name, Nathaniel, or Nat. He needed a friend so I added a dragon named Danby, because little boys love dragons. Once I had my setting and main characters I added adventures and villains and relationships. These stories became the evening entertainment on our camping trips. It seems that any time we built a campfire a new tale or adventure would come out.
3. What is your writing process like?
Although it has been a dream of mine for many years, actually writing a book was something I never really thought would become a reality. A few years ago my eldest son, Garrett, who is 24 years old, asked me if I remembered the stories about Nat and Danby I used to tell whenever we went camping. I said that I did and he said, “You should write them down.”
I went out and bought a small journal and probably carried it around with me for six months or more without writing a word. It wasn’t so much a severe case of writer’s block as it was silly thoughts like: Should I write in pen or pencil? Should I write in cursive or print? I was concerned that this journal might be the only thing left of my endeavor to write a “real” story and, someday when I was gone, someone would find it and read it and, although it is terribly funny to me now, I was worried what that someone might think.
Finally one day, while out on a bike ride in the hills above the school where I teach, I got an idea how I wanted to start my story, “The Tale of a Dragon”. When I got home I began writing, in cursive and in ink, and within a matter of several weeks filled three of the small journals.
At some point I decided that I needed to type up what I had written to see what it actually said. My scribbles in the little journals turned into a story of more than 50 typed pages. I read it over and edited a bit. I cut some here and added some there and it actually wasn’t too bad. I printed a copy of the story and shared it with a few friends and relatives beginning with my 12 year-old niece and a few of her middle school friends. I know that not everyone will love the story, but I picked my guinea pigs well and received wonderful feedback.
I began to think, with encouragement from others that it might be worth my while to try to navigate the publication waters and see if that dream from long ago might be a possibility.
4. What about your publication journey?
As others read my story a few began to suggest that I try to find a publisher. My sister, Liz, told me she had a friend who is an editor for a publishing company, Elevate Publishing in Boise, Idaho. Her friend, Anna, who we have all known since they were in junior high school, agreed to read my story and give me some advice as to how the publishing game works.
I sent the story to Anna and she emailed back a few weeks later. She began her email by saying that as soon as she agreed to read the story she regretted it saying that she would hate to tell an old family friend his work “stinks”. She immediately followed that statement by adding that, fortunately, that wasn’t the case in this situation. Anna told me that she really enjoyed the story and encouraged her children to read it as well. They enjoyed the story too. She then told me that Elevate was interested in publishing my story. But, she said they would like me to write two more stories to go along with “The Tale of a Dragon”.
The story of Nat and Danby was the one I had told my boys around the campfire in so many different ways and on so many different trips. I would have to work to create two more stories. “The Dragon Knights of Westerford” started out pretty weak, and I knew it. There was a decent story in there somewhere but it lacked something. While writing the second story I came up with a strong idea for story number three – “The True Dragon King”. I was proud of the third story and sent it to Anna within a week or two of sending the second. She and the other editors at Elevate agreed that “The True Dragon King” was every bit as strong as “The Tale of a Dragon”. They encouraged me to beef up “The Dragon Knights of Westerford”.
I had been discussing writing with one of my English teacher colleagues at school and shared my dilemma with her. She asked to read it and I gladly handed it over to her. After spending a weekend with it she returned my story with several sticky notes. One note in particular caught my attention. It said she wanted to know more about a particular place that I had mentioned briefly. That note was all it took. I got an idea and wrote four or five more chapters right in the middle of the story. Sending the story back to Anna and the rest of the crew, I received the feedback I was after. The story was better and with a little more editing the whole book would be sent to the proofer for fine tuning.
I know that I am lucky to have found a publisher so quickly and, seemingly, simply – timing truly is everything. I know that it doesn’t normally happen like this and I am grateful for the opportunity to create something with the support of such an amazing team. I am currently working on a sequel one story of which stems directly from the part that I added in “The Dragon Knights of Westerford” at the encouragement of my friend.
5. Just for fun- favorite ice cream?
A really good fresh strawberry ice cream is always delightful. I also enjoy pralines and cream or other combinations of vanilla with caramel. And, I always make a batch of homemade vanilla on the Fourth of July to go with the rest of the fixins. I make a delicious milk shake that my boys love – vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and banana. We call them “Waldos” after the big mug with the funny face that we used to drink them from.
6. Favorite book as a child?
I’ve always loved Dr. Seuss. When I was young I remember enjoying Stuart Little, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – classics from my childhood of course. Later I fell in love with Tolkien, Vonnegut and everything Arthurian. Now I read anything by Bernard Cornwell – I love historic fiction. Peter Pan and I need to stop there because I keep coming up with others that I don’t want to leave out. Still nothing like the written word on a page.
7. Favorite movie?
The Princess Bride of course! Great book too!