- Will Weaver -
Will Weaver's appeal to the young adult (YA) reader is due to his extraordinary writing ability. He has a talent for bringing real life problems and decision making challenges into his novels that incorporate family responsibility, sports and the need to follow one's own heart. Weaver states, "I write realism, with a lot of material coming from my life, my observations, and Midwestern setting...All my best stories have a really strong moral dilemma at their hearts...."
Weaver introduces the character Billy Baggs in his first YA novel Striking Out, which was named a "Best Book for Young Adults" in 1994. Billy lives on a farm in Minnesota with his parents and works hard. Bill is also a talented baseball player and must face problems regarding his father and baseball. This is further complicated by fellow players who feel superior to Billy and give him a hard time. The problems and choices made by Billy are similar to what young adults face today. Farm Team, a sequel to Striking Out, brings new and tough experiences for Billy and his family. The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books states, "This has the classic trimmings of an Amerian bildungsroman, with subtle incorporation of the initiation of a young hero into adult complexities that include sex, work, honor and dishonor....The narrative is clearly focused and will hold junior high and high school readers on the strength of its fine-tuned psychological and physical pacing." Farm Team also contains fine humor that can have you laughing out loud.
Weaver's latest published work Hard Ball, continues Billy's story. He is fifteen now, a little older and facing more challenges and decisions that young adults are able to relate to.
The next challenge for Will Weaver will be a different kind of novel. He tells us, "After _Hard Ball_ I've decided to leave Billy alone for a while...But I will come back to him when he's a couple years older, say 16-17...My new young adult fiction in progress is a high-concept, natural disaster survival novel. Say no more, as it's in that delicate, creative stage...." Weaver has also written young adult short stories that can be found in anthologies.
Will Weaver is a talented writer and it appears that we can look forward to a variety of new works from him including more stories about Billy Baggs and his family.
Striking Out introduces the character Billy Baggs. Billy, hisbrother Robert, and their parents, Abner and Mavis live on a farm in Minnesota. One day Abner and Mavis go to town for an hour or so. While they are gone Robert is killed when he falls off the tractor Billy is driving. The family is very distraught and must cope with this tragedy. Billy is a good ball player and Coach Anderson recognizes this and encourages Billy to go out for the team. Because Billy is from a poor farm family he is often ridiculed by some of the players from town, especially King Kenwood. Billy also has to deal with his father who feels Billy should concentrate on the farm work and not baseball. Billy must deal with all this friction. With the help of his mother and Coach Anderson Billy finds his place. Striking out is a book that can relate to decisions that students have to deal with every day in thier young adult lives, plus it is fun to read.
Farm Team is the sequel to Striking Out. Fourteen year old Billy Baggs faces great responsibility after his father goes to jail for crushing cars at the town lemon dealership. He takes over his father's responsibilities and continues to perform his own. He sets aside his desire to play baseball, and the family farm while his dad is in jail. He spends his summer vacation running the farm instead of enjoying it as other young people his age were doing. His mother feels guilty that Billy has had to give up so much. Together they start a baseball team called the Farm Team. They make a Baseball field and get neighbors and eventually people from out of town to play and help. The school baseball coach come to each game and coaches. The Farm Team is made up of neighbor "misfits," but they make an excellent baseball team. The challenge the Town Team (Coach Anderson's Team) to a game. Billy's father is released from jail in time for the game and finds his farm filled fans who have come to watch the game.
Hard Ball is the third book in the Billy Baggs novels. Billy's father is out of jail and back to running the farm the way he ran it before he went jail. Even though his father is back, Billy still has lots of responsibility. Billy had the freedom to do things differently while his father was in jail, but now things were back to normal. The Farm Team and the Town Team have a rematch which Coach Anderson calls off when Billy and King Knewood (the Town Team's ace pitcher) fight over Suzy Langen. Coach Anderson wants both of the boys to get along so they can be part of his baseball team in the Spring. In order to do this, their punishment is to spend a week together. for three days, King lives with Billy and his family on the farm and for three days Billy lives with King and his family in town. They each learn how it feels to "live in each other's shoes." They gain respect and toleration for each other. Their fathers do not get along, and they realize that in order for them to mature and be the men they were born to be their father will have to change. They go on strike as their father's sons.
1. What is your favorite/least favorite book you have written?
TOUGH question! The favorite is my story collection A Gravestone Made of Wheat & Other Stories; least favorite. is my last young adult novel Hard Ball with which I struggled greatly and revised endlessly. I'll like it some day, but right now I want nothing to do with it.
2. How do you come up with ideas for your books? Do you write about personal experiences?
I write realism, with a lot of the material coming from my life, my observations, and Midwestern setting. A good example is my short story "Dispersal" (in the story collection): I attended a very sad farm auction in the mid-1980's, and afterwards was compelled to write the story centered on the moral dilemma of one farmer who takes advantage of another's misfortune. Also my adult novel Red Earth, White Earth is very much a family story, in that my grandfather (white, Scandinavian) lived and farmed all his life on an Indian reservation, as did many whites in this area, only to be "asked to leave" as Indians began to reassert their political rights. All my best stories have a really strong moral dilemma at their hearts.... One more point: each story as its own particular ratio of "fact-to-fiction", or rather, life to art. Some might be 50-50, some might be 30/70, some might be 90/10. My young adult (hereafter YA) novels are generally in the 40-60 range, life-art.
3. How do you structure information for your books? How long does it take you to write a book?
There's a famous writing anecdote about a student despairing over a report she had to write on birds. Her teacher calmly told her, "Just do it bird by bird." For me, that means chapter by chapter. Each chapter should have its own literary shape, which is not unlike a story; in other words, a good chapter should nearly be able to stand alone. My basic plot 'engine' is to have the main character want something very badly; or else, be trying to extricate himself from big trouble.... A YA novel takes a summer to draft, then the next 8-9 months to revise and revise. I rewrite a lot--a short story up to twenty rewrites, a novel close to ten times through. No kidding, here. Only Mozart got it right the first time.
4. Who or what do you read? Who or what has influenced you?
Irony: because I'm always either writing or teaching, I have very little time to read. I can talk about new books, and this author or that, but I find that's because I've read something short about them--not the actual new novel. So I resolve to make more time to actually sit down and read. For me, this would require waiting for a sabbatical year at my university, or to set aside one month of the summer, that sort of dramatic action. I probably read the most in my life in college, and remain influenced by certain authors and works. I like very much Flannery O'Connor's short stories, as well as Faulkner, Heminway, Joyce Carol Oates and Raymond Carver and their stories--and don't let me forget Chekhov, my favorite "classic" short story writer. I learned different things from each of these authors, but from all of them the idea of an "illumination" or epiphany at the end--when the main character learns something, or conflicts are clarified and resolved. Main life inluences have been growing up on farm, having parents with different religous views (see my story "Gabriel's Feathers"), and gradually being draw into 'city' living and being a university professor. I consider myself an accidental professor; it's a career I never imagined...(see next question)
5. When did you first want to become a writer? Why did you choose the young adult literature genre? How long did it take you to first get published?
I never planned to be a writer. I only knew (in college) that I liked literature classes. I took a straight B.A. in English from the U of MN, Minneapolis. with no creative writing classes. It wasn't until I was out of college a couple of years and thinking of an M.A. that I considered fiction writing. This was in California, and with a small deer hunting story and lots of luck I was accepted into the Stanford Writing Program. There I really learned a lot, and eventually returned to the Midwest where I began to publish my short stories. I firmly believe that, for fiction writers, the short story is the place to start. I also never considered YA fiction--not until I had kids of my own. They're in high school now (I'm 48), and all their stories, and teams and little league captured my brain--thus YA fiction. Also will say I'm not obsessed with baseball; rather, it makes a nice 'hook' for boy readers in particular, and then I try to squeeze in the most literary value I can. My YA novel in-progress has nothing to do with sports. It took about two years of really hard, full time writing to publish my first story. And while I have some name recognition, everything I write must measure up to previous work or the publisher will be very reluctant to publish it. In other words, even well-known writers can get rejected.
6. You have written three Billy Braggs novels. Can we look forward to another book about him? What are you working on now?
After Hard Ball I've decided to let Billy alone for awhile. I struggled with HB; maybe the characters were tired of me jerking them around, putting them in trouble all the time...:) But I will come back to him when he's a couple years older, say 16-17. I have this vague feeling that he will be playing in the minor leagues in Mexico.... My new YA fiction in progress is a high-concept, natural disaster survival novel. Say no more, as it's in that delicate, creative stage.... I've also written some short stories for YA; see Delacorte Publisher's Ultimate Sports and No Easy Answers, plus a forthcoming story in Time Capsule. These are all anthologies in which I have a single story.
7. In these books both farm life and baseball play important roles. Why did you choose them? Do they reflect your own background?
As discussed earlier, I write out my known setting (the upper Midwest), and from certain life experiences.
8. What role do sports play in your life?
In high school my identity was mainly tied to sports, basketball and baseball, but now I have mixed feelings about the very powerful role sports plays in our schools and society. Nowadays I stay fit and shoot buckets, that sort of thing. I am not a huge sports fan, though I do like to watch college hoops later in the winter toward NCAA time.
9. Where did you get the idea for the great comic scene when Abner crushed the cars in Farm Team?
Strictly imaginative stuff. Abner has a lot of anger, plus some very heavy equipment, so putting those two together enabled him to take his bulldozer to town. Kids say they love that scene....
10. Your books have many facets. Is it difficult to create such complex situations and characters?
This questions needs a finer point to it, but generally, characters must have both good and bad sides to make them interesting. One problem I have with my YA fiction is keeping it short; sometimes, as with Striking Out I get so much going on that it's difficult to know how to end. For that reason, I wrote Farm Team. Of the three, I think Farm Team is the "best" in terms of its overall dramatic shape and a satisfying ending.
One misc. note: I get quite a bit of mail, and the one question most asked is, "How fast is Billy's fast ball?" Amusing. Also get a lot of requests to visit schools, middle and HS, and do as many I as I can.
Overall, I'm happy to be keeping kids reading.
Page compiled in part by: Jeanice Caverly and Laurie Hoggard
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21 June 2007
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