Peter Thompson grew up in Illinois, and lives near Chicago. He remembers how excited he was when the first astronaut stepped on to the moon. He has had an appreciation of space, and all its possibilities ever since. His love of children’s books developed while reading to his three sons. His first novel, Living Proof, was a thriller published by Berkeley Books. Summer on Earth is his first book for younger readers. It will be released in August of this year.
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What’s inside the mind of a middle grade sci-fi author?
Curiosity and empathy. I think it all comes down to that sense of wonder, and imagining what things would be like, if something was different. By asking What if questions, and trying to put myself in the shoes of the character experiencing this situation, I get a chance to live life from a new perspective. My novel, Summer on Earth, is the story of Ralwil or Will, an alien who is forced to land on a farm to fix his broken spaceship, and his relationship with Grady, the 11-year-old boy who lives there. It was a lot of fun writing from the perspective of Ralwil, an alien from another galaxy. To him, everything here is new and exotic. Things we take for granted and think of as dull and boring, are fresh and exciting to him. Grady’s perspective was challenging in another way. It has been a long, long time since I was 11 years old. Remembering back to how I was at that age, and trying to make it authentic, was very satisfying in the end.
What is so great about being an author?
It is a wonderful feeling to have an idea, and to start writing, and to see how the story takes shape. I love how characters come alive and go off in their own direction. When a story works, it feels like I am a stenographer, just trying to keep up and write down the story as it flows out of me. I think we all have creative impulses, and it is a wonderful feeling to start with just a germ of an idea, and to see it grow. When my writing flows, it is exciting for it to come together, surprising me at times as the story finds its way, and ends up as a finished novel, telling a story that has never been told in that way before.
When do you hate it?
I don’t think I ever hate it, but writing can be frustrating at times. Every day you start with a blank page. Sometimes the story flows and it feels great. Other times it is a struggle. I try to push through when it isn’t flowing, but there are times where I don’t like any of my ideas, and nothing is working the way I want it too. I just try and relax and keep going. It always comes back if you keep on putting in the time.
What is a regular writing day like for you?
I do most of my writing early in the morning. I try and get up at five thirty, and write for a few hours before going to work. I usually read what I wrote from the day before, say may affirmations, then put on my headphones and listen to some instrumental music, set the timer and start to write. On a good day it will flow effortlessly. Sometimes it doesn’t, but if I keep it up, the story comes through.
How do you handle negative reviews?
There is always a sting when you read a bad review, and I wonder sometimes, maybe they are right? But the truth is, a review is only an opinion. I’ve had enough good response to know that my stories are working, even if they don’t work for everyone. You have to believe in what you do. Our stories are all personal, even when they are fiction, and as an author we need to have confidence that we are telling the story the best way that we can tell it, even when someone else doesn’t get it.
How do you handle positive reviews?
It is a good feeling to know that someone really connected to my story, and I immediately think that they are obviously very intelligent, beautiful and well respected human beings. I’m only partially kidding when I say that. In my heart I send out thanks and gratitude. It feels good and I do get a boost from good reviews. But, like a bad review, it is still only one person’s opinion. I read them, enjoy them, and move on.
What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?
Surprise, mostly. I don’t bring it up as a rule, so they are more likely to hear about it when someone else tells them, or they read an article, or now, it might be because of social media. People see you in the way they know you, or were first introduced to you. We all have many facets, and people who know me through my work, or from family connections or any other relationship, think of me based on how they first came to know me. I know I feel the same way when I find out something new about a friend or acquaintance that I didn’t know before. I recently found out that someone I’ve known for years was a painter. I thought that was so cool, and it made me look at her in a new light. When people find out I am an author, they are surprised, but it rounds me out as a person to them. They see me for more than the one role they might identify me with. Most people don’t know many authors, though, so when they ask me for my autograph, or to sign a copy of my book, I sometimes feel like a minor celebrity.
What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?
I try and write every day, but some days I am very productive, and other days, not so much. I do take breaks from writing, but if I am working on a project and it doesn’t flow, I keep pushing. I’ve found that inspiration comes reliably when I push through and put in the work.
Any writing quirks?
I usually sit in the same spot and listen to music when I write. I also say my affirmations before I start, and find that this helps put me in the right head space for writing.
What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?
I’ve been very lucky in that my family and friends have been very supportive of my writing. And that does make a big difference. But ultimately, I write for myself. When I write it is a form of self-discovery, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Early on, the people I share my work with are those who I know will take it seriously. Sometimes there are stories that I get excited about, and my early readers don’t see it the same way. When that happens I listen to their opinion, and then decide whether I want to accept it, or not. As a writer you have to have a pretty thick hide, because criticism is part of it, and good criticism can make you better.
Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate?
Absolutely. I love to write, and when it is flowing I have a real sense of joy and accomplishment. But there was a long period where I stopped writing entirely. At the time, my life was busy and I had a lot of stress from other sources. I kept getting stuck with my writing. I felt blocked and discouraged and trying to write was just adding more stress. I put everything away and just stopped. I missed it, but writing was too painful at the time. Since then, I have come to appreciate the process more, and now I try and keep writing even when I don’t feel like it is working. In the long run I have faith that what needs to come out, will come out.
Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?
I don’t. Money is important to the extent that it gives you validation. Knowing that a publisher believes in your story enough that they are willing to pay for it, is a great feeling. I remember when I saw my first novel in a book store the first time, it gave me a real rush of excitement. I have to admit, I do fantasize about my book becoming a runaway best seller, and I am looking forward to the movie premier (take note, any movie producers in the audience). But I don’t write for the money. If I was given a choice of having a whole bunch of readers reading my book for free and loving it, or having someone pay me a ton of money not to publish the book, I would always go for more readers. Like most authors, I work a full-time job, and that’s where most of my money comes from.
What has writing taught you?
That’s a great question. I have learned a lot about myself in the process of writing. I know that I can take on a big project, and see it through to completion. I have learned not to take myself too seriously, and I try and separate the process from the outcome. I’ve learned that I have more fun when I write for my own enjoyment, then when I try and write for some potential audience. I know that writing is almost like praying or meditating. I am the one typing on my keypad, but when the writing flows, I connect with something else, and I am often surprised and delighted by what comes out on the page.
Leave us with some words of wisdom.
When writing, especially in the beginning, don’t write for other people, write for yourself. I try and amuse myself. I know things are going well if I’m laughing while I write, or feel tears come to my eyes. I try to turn off my editor, let it go and just have fun.