Author Interview: Ben Guterson

Books by Ben Guterson

Pictures from inside the book:

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the titles?
Winterhouse (and its sequels The Secrets of Winterhouse and The Winterhouse Mysteries) is a book about an eleven-year-old girl named Elizabeth Somers who lives with a cruel aunt and uncle in a little house in a small town. When mid-December arrives and her school goes on break, Elizabeth--much to her surprise--is sent to the mysterious Winterhouse Hotel far from her home for a three-week stay. At Winterhouse, Elizabeth makes a good new friend named Freddy Knox, discovers a strange and magical book in the enormous Winterhouse library, and comes to realize that the hotel may be endangered by a shadowy sorceress who has a connection to the family that's run the hotel for over a century. The title of the book came to me when I first thought of the idea for the story--I imagined an enormous hotel set amidst snowy mountains, and the name "Winterhouse" just popped into my head.
Q; What is your inspiration behind Winterhouse’s storyline?
A:I first seriously considered writing a children's book when my youngest daughter encouraged me to do so one spring day when she was eight or nine. I remember it clearly.  My daughter suggested we walk to the small lake near our house and bring notebooks with us—she thought it would be fun for both of us to draw pictures and write stories beside the water. Once we settled in, I sketched an enormous hotel in the mountains and called it Winterhouse—I don’t know why I chose that name, but I thought it sounded nice. I pictured a grand hotel set beside an ice-covered lake in some snowy, northern location. On the back of my drawing I started to write a story about a girl who lived with a cruel aunt and uncle but had somehow ended up visiting the fabulous Winterhouse Hotel for Christmas vacation. I read my three or four paragraphs to my daughter as we sat together, and she urged me to write a whole book about Winterhouse. We returned home and I put my drawing in my desk—never quite forgetting about it, particularly because, over the years, my daughter kept prodding me to continue the story. By the time she was in high school I decided to take her advice; and after a few more years and several drafts, the book ended up being published!
Q; What are some challenges unique to writing mysteries?
A:It's difficult to create a satisfying mystery, because the clues have to be hard enough or tricky enough that they can't be solved quickly, but they can't be so difficult that the solution relies on knowledge or abilities few people would actually possess. Also, I don't think it's very interesting when a mystery is solved just on a hunch or some chance event or discovery--that feels sort of like cheating, to me. Finally, the mystery at the heart of a good mystery story has to be something that people really care about or find compelling: figuring out an ancient code is interesting to most people, I think, whereas locating a missing hat most likely won't hold a reader's attention.
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A:I think Winterhouse has a nice mix of friendship and mystery, as well as a lot of puzzle solving and some magic. Those are the sorts of elements I like in stories, so maybe middle-grade readers will like all of that, too. Plus, the story takes place in an enormous hotel in the mountains, which is a setting that allows for a lot of discoveries to be made and adventures to be pursued.
Q: What does your daily writing life look like? (Do you set a word count for yourself daily? Or a page goal? Where do you write? How often if not daily?)
A: When I'm really working hard on a book, I typically write from about 8:00 to 11:00 in the morning and then again from about 7:00 till 10:00 at night. I aim for 3,000 words a day, but if I find that's too ambitious, I'll lower it to 2,000. I have a little office (my older daughter's former bedroom) where I like to write, and it's a very rare day when I don't write at all. I love to write and feel sort of "off" if a day passes and I haven't spent a few hours at it.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A; The best thing for me about being a writer is that I'm able to spend my time dreaming up stories and putting sentences together. I've always loved to read and I've always been enchanted by books, so it's a real thrill to be able to devote my days to creating stories. I think everyone enjoys being creative, and I'm no different in that regard. Being a writer allows me to be creative for several hours a day.
Q: Future projects you are working on?
A:I'm working on two more middle-grade novels that will be coming out following the release of the third Winterhouse book, The Winterhouse Mysteries, this December. Here are the details of those two books from a recent announcement released by my book company, Macmillan: "The first book, The Vista Point Einsteins, is a mystery featuring a grieving family eager to start fresh by relocating to a remote bed-and-breakfast; it's scheduled for 2021. The Hidden Workshop of Javier Preston, scheduled for 2022, is a mystery layered with art, puzzles, friendship, and family."
Q: What else would you like us know?
A: If you really love to write, always remain focused on the writing itself rather than the fruits of your efforts.  Any degree of financial reward or public attention--or even publication itself--is outside of your control, so if your happiness and self-worth is based on the external rewards, you could be setting yourself up for dissatisfaction; stay devoted to the pleasure of putting words together and telling good stories. I've always loved to read and I've always loved to write--I'm sure I would have kept writing for the rest of my life even if I'd never been fortunate enough to have anything published.

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