Author Joe Beernink Discusses ‘Nowhere Wild’ and Writing Books
The Children’s Book Review | May 17, 2017
Denise Mealy: We’d love it if you would tell us a little bit about your book, Nowhere Wild.
Joe Beernink: Nowhere Wild is a young adult thriller set in rugged Northern Manitoba, Canada. It’s a survival story told in two parts: Jake Clarke—a 16 year old son of a wilderness outfitter who is stranded at a summer hunting camp after tragedy befalls his family; and Izzy Chamberlain—a 14 year old girl who has already survived a catastrophe, but finds herself now in a predicament where the only escape may cost her everything.
What inspired you to write this book?
I grew up reading books by Farley Mowat (Lost in the Barrens) and Jack London (Call of the Wild), and then graduated toward thrillers by Steven King (The Stand) and Tom Clancy (Red Storm Rising, etc). I always loved the stories of individual survival, but I also like the high-concept stories that follow the individual through times of struggle for the whole human race. When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of thrillers for teenagers in between middle grade and adult. I wanted to write a story that teenager Joe Beernink would have wanted to read.
What was the most challenging aspect of the book?
When I first wrote Nowhere Wild, it was just a story about Jake. Izzy made a brief appearance toward the end of the story, but all of the feedback I got on the original manuscript was that people wanted to know more about her, and how she had survived so long. It took many iterations (over 3 dozen) to get the mix right between Jake and Izzy. It wasn’t an easy process, and there was more than once that I was tempted to throw my hands up in the air and give up. But I had a great support network with my readers, my agent, Sally Harding and eventually my editor at HarperCollins, Hadley Dyer who kept me going and helped to make the story what it is today.
Are you a plotter, or a pants-ter? Do you like to outline everything or just go with the flow?
Nowhere Wild was written by a pantser, and the very first draft was nearly 140,000 words. The published version was right around 80,000. That’s a lot of extra story cut out and rewritten. After that, I vowed to never be a pantser again. Now, I write a short synopsis of a story idea, and then write a longer treatment, sometimes 2-3 pages, sometimes 10-20 depending on the complexity of the plot. That’s not to say that I don’t change things as I go—the characters often make choices that I didn’t see coming, and that sometimes drives major plot changes. I often retrench halfway through the story and plot out the last half of the book, chapter by chapter, to make sure I can get where I need to be before I run out of word count.
How many words do you write on an average day? How long does it take you to draft a book?
An average day is somewhere between 500 and 750 words. I go back, re-read what I wrote the previous day, edit it, and pick up from where I left off. Some days need more editing than others, but I try to fix the problems right away, and correct the direction of the story before it gets too far out of whack.
Most books take about 6 months for a draft that I feel comfortable letting others read. I’ve written books in as few as 42 days, but I was between jobs at that point in my life and was able to crank 2500-3000 words a day before my brain turned to mush.
How many books did you write before this one? What’s next?
I wrote a book while I was in college that will likely never see the light of day. When I wrote that first draft of Nowhere Wild, it was officially my second book, but by the time it came out, I had written two or three others, and greatly improved my story-telling skills so that the final version of Nowhere Wild was the result of all of that extra-experience.
I’m currently working on a YA thriller set in Central Washington, and I am editing Nowhere Home, the sequel to Nowhere Wild. I don’t have a publication date for the sequel yet, but hopefully we’ll see it on the shelves within the next year.
Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a special hangout? Rituals?
I go into work early—around 6:30 AM—find a chair in one of the lounges, open my laptop, put on my headphones, turn on music and get to work. I write for 45-60 minutes, less if I feel my mind really wandering or if the story needs more thought before the words will come. I have a hard time writing at home (too many distractions) but I can write just about anywhere else as long as I have my laptop and music.
How do you balance your day job and family with your writing?
Balance is the hard part of being a writer and a parent. When I know I have to leave work early to handle something at home—like baseball or soccer or whatever—I have to skip my morning writing session to get my day job work done. Those days tend to happen in bunches, but my schedule usually gives me at least two or three days a week to write. The longer I am away from writing on a daily basis, the harder it is to get back to it, so having the early morning ritual forces me to not go a week without doing it.
Who is the first person to read your drafts?
I don’t have an official critique group, but Jason Black (plottopunctuation.com) has helped me out tremendously over the past few years.
What novels are you really enjoying right now?
I just finished the first two books in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles on Audible, and absolutely loved them. (C’mon Patrick, where’s book 3?). I also just finished reading John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire, and have just started on GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire on Audible as well. I don’t have quite as much time to read as I want to right now, but who ever does?
Written by Joe Beernink
Publisher’s Synopsis: A dark and riveting survival story set against a rugged northern landscape . . .
Izzy is just thirteen when a flu pandemic turns the world upside down. After her sister is attacked by a roving gang of looters in what remains of their town, Izzy flees to the wilderness with a man who claims he will protect her.
Sixteen-year-old Jake is stranded and alone in the unforgiving northern Manitoba backcountry. His mother and grandfather have died and his father has gone missing while searching for help. Desperate to find a way home, Jake begins a trek over some of the most forbidding landscape in the country.
Both Jake and Izzy are forced to make decisions and take on responsibilities they could never have imagined. They must draw on every shred of resourcefulness and courage as they try to save themselves and, ultimately, each other.
Ages 13+ | Publisher: Harper Trophy | 2016 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-1443422444
“Extremely high stakes make this book a gripping read. Highly recommended.”—Denise Mealy, The Children’s Book Review
About Joe Beernink
JOE BEERNINK grew up in rural Southwestern Ontario, and graduated from York University with a B.Sc. in Space and Communication Science. He currently makes his living as a software developer near Seattle, Washington, where he lives with his wife and two children. He blogs about his writing and his life at joebeernink.com.
This interview was conducted by Denise Mealy. Discover more books like Nowhere Wild, by Joe Beernink, by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with Adventure, Survival, Thrillers, and Young Adult Fiction.