Family, belonging and … goblins? These are the themes in local author William Ritter’s new series debut, “The Oddmire: Changeling.”
The book follows two brothers as they “follow a curious map into a magical wood, leading them on a journey to discover which one of them is a human and which is the changeling,” all while trying to protect the magic that is fading from the Wild Wood, according to Algonquin Publishers.
On July 22, Ritter spoke about his new book at the Springfield Library, as well as the inspiration and research that went into it. As an English and mythology teacher at Thurston High School, folklore is not a new element in Ritter’s books. His first series, “Jackaby” – described by critics as “Sherlock Holmes” crossed with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – also plays with mythical monsters and creatures.
“I didn’t assume it was going to be published,” Ritter said of his first book. “It felt like all the projects I worked on as a kid, like a passion project that I was having fun with. My wife encouraged me to put it out there instead of just sitting on it.”
Although he graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in creative writing, he said his classes didn’t teach him about the publishing process; it was something he had to “learn the ropes to.” At the time he was first pursuing publishing, his family was living in Japan and he had a 2-year-old son to care for.
Since publishing his first book, he wrote three more in that series and his family adopted a second child. The growth of his family was one of the inspiring factors that helped him create “The Oddmire” world.
“The themes about family and belonging came largely from how our family grew in a nontraditional way,” he said. “Some of the emotions and fears and joys that come with that became a big part of the characters in this one.”
Unlike the “Jackaby” series, “The Oddmire” is categorized as middle grade instead of young adult; middle grade is generally geared toward 8 to 14-year-olds, and because Ritter’s two sons are in that age range, he decided to shift.
“I wanted to put something out there that was more for them, with characters like them, when they were still young enough to think that’s cool,” Ritter said.
As for the writing process, the switch between ages wasn’t as difficult. He said one of the biggest misconceptions about middle grade level writing is that it’s simpler writing or the author needs to talk down to kids, but he found the opposite to be true.
“There’s definitely words in the book they won’t understand right away, but that’s true for me reading as an adult,” he said.
Instead, the biggest challenge for Ritter is time. As a full time teacher and as a father, finding the time to write is his biggest struggle; however, between giving himself permission to pursue his creativity and communicating with his wife – who is also a writer – he has been able to make time.
“I discovered that you can give yourself time to finish the thing that matters to you,” he said.
One of the more daunting aspects of this series was the illustration side: Ritter designed all of the chapter drawings as well as the front cover.
“I’m so proud of it and happy with how it came out,” he said. “I wasn’t good enough when I first started, but they took a chance and let me do the interior.”
He added that halfway through the cover design, Algonquin Publishers decided to have Ritter create his own cover to keep the artwork consistent.
In his writing, Ritter said that with his English teacher background he tends to be a plotter, but he finds that he often writes his best scenes when he stops planning and lets the characters figure out what they want to do. He recalled a conversation with an author who conducted scorpion fights as a child, and said that he’s still doing that with his characters.
“Take those characters and shake them up and make them as stressed as can be, and then you throw them into a room with each other and see what happens,” Ritter said, “I love that analogy – that shaking up characters and seeing what happens can lead to some cool things.”
He has finished the bulk of editing and illustration on “The Unready Queen,” which will be available next June. Now, he’s moving on to book three.
“As each book shows up, there’s more I realize that this character is going to want to know about this background,” he explained. “I don’t have set in stone how far I’m going to go with the series. I’m letting my characters decide a little bit more this time.”