Thursday, December 1, 2016

Q&A with Jonathan W. Stokes

Jonathan W. Stokes is the author of Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas, a new novel for kids. A screenwriter and former teacher, he lives in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your main character, Addison Cooke?

A: Addison Cooke is basically who I wish I was as a 12 year old! Addison is much more clever than I ever was, and probably ever will be. He is also far braver than I am, and better at coming up with a witty quip under pressure.

I suppose there is a sort of wish-fulfillment in writing dialog for him. I may not be able to sweet talk my way into the first class cabin of an international flight, but I can have Addison do it.
Q: The book focuses on an adventure involving Incan treasure. What kind of research did you need to do and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: The book was pretty thoroughly researched, particularly in the copyedit where everything was fact-checked. I think I most enjoyed learning about the actual history of the lost treasure of the Incas.

The true story is pretty incredible. Francisco Pizarro could have become one of the richest people in the world, but instead he ended up getting himself assassinated. Live by the sword, die by the sword, I suppose.

Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: Screenwriting is my trade, and we screenwriters are obsessive outliners. As with any mystery story involving an elaborate puzzle, the plot needed to be hammered out in advance. So I'm not sure the novel deviated at all from the book proposal.

I love outlining because you're never faced with a blank page. Once your outline grows to 100 pages, you have a pretty solid road map for writing the novel. 

Q: Can you say more about how your experience as a screenwriter and teacher contribute to your novel writing?

A: Screenwriters have to write page-turners. The second an executive gets bored reading a script, it can end up in the trash, and then you're out of a gig.

This is why screenwriters obsessively study structure, reading every book on dramaturgy and watching movies with a stopwatch. If a script drops momentum, it's always because of a structure issue. So I think screenwriters who turn to writing books have a particular fixation with moving a plot forward.

As for teaching, I think my experience around middle grade kids helped constantly remind me how smart kids really are, and how they understand far more than we adults often assume.

Q: Are you working on a sequel to this book?

A: Yes! The second book in the series, Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan, is written and currently being edited. In it, Addison will tackle a new adventure and readers will learn more about his family's mysterious past and the dark forces that are pursuing the Cookes. This novel is due out in fall of 2017 from Penguin Random House.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Thank you for your time, Deborah! I enjoy your blog!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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