Tim Wright - Epic Adventures, Giants, Elves, Trolls and Other Magical Creatures
Tim Wright is the co-host of the Wonder of Parenting Podcast: A Brain-Science Approach to Parenting, along with Dr. Michael Gurian. He, and his wife Jan have been married since 1979. They have two adult children and five grandchildren. Tim enjoys riding his recumbent bike, Disneyland, and roots for the Arizona Cardinals and the Adelaide Crows (Australian Rules Football.) He grew up in Minneapolis and has lived in Glendale, AZ, since 1984.
Please give us a short introduction to The Adventures of Toby Baxter: The River Elf, the Giant, and the Closet.
Toby Baxter is turning 13. In the days leading up to his birthday, he’s visited by a hobbit-looking character and a Giant who looks and smells like Christmas. The hobbit turns out to be a River Elf, who has come to bring Toby to RiverHome, located on the other side of Toby’s closet. The River Elves believe Toby to be the HERO who will fight with them in their battle against the trolls. Unfortunately, the trolls have stolen the Sword meant to help Toby in his fight. That sends Toby and his River Elf friends on a Quest to retrieve the Sword, leading to a showdown between Toby and Clygon, the leader of the trolls. Throughout his Quest Toby is confronted with the question: How will you use your power?
In addition to trolls, a Giant, and the River Elves, Toby encounters gnomes, giant wolves, Drones, unicorns, and flying dragons.
What inspired you to write the book?
Several influences came together:
Since 2006 I’ve been working with Dr. Michael Gurian (Saving Our Sons; The Minds of Girls). We do a weekly podcast together: The Wonder of Parenting Podcast: A Brain-Science Approach to Parenting. We’ve also collaborated on the creation of rites of passage. Rites of passage have been used by cultures almost since the beginning of time to train boys to become men. In the last 100 years rites of passage have been developed for girls as well. The driving question of a rite of passage is: What kind of a man do you want to be? What kind of a woman do you want to be? I wanted to take the rich insights of rites of passage and put them into a fun, engaging, entertaining book that would invite the kids to think about the question that challenges Toby during his quest: How will you use your power?
While I’m an avid reader today, I wasn’t so much in High school. I vividly remember one year being assigned The Hobbit, and dreading having to read it. I eventually did and became hooked on fantasy adventures and quest stories. I couldn’t read them fast enough. As I began to think through how to turn the insights of rites of passage into a story, I created a character, who like me, didn’t really like reading books, until he was caught up into the story. The book begins with the opening line from The Hobbit, which Toby has been assigned to read. He promptly closes the book with a sigh and that’s when his adventure begins.
I had grandkids! And I wanted to take them on an adventure through this book.
Tell us more about Toby Baxter. What makes him tick?
Toby is a huge fan of Marvel comic books. He has a stash of them in his bedroom. While he’s not much of a book reader, he can spend hours on his comic books. He’s like many about-to-turn 13-year-olds: he’s trying to figure out who he is; he’s discovering girls; he likes sports, although he’s average at best as an athlete; he’s not all that crazy about school; he has occasional run-ins with the school bully; and he gets along with his parents. His grandpa, his dad’s dad, died before Toby could get to know him. But he will play an important role in Toby’s story. On his Quest Toby discovers some of his flaws and some of his gifts. In the process he has to overcome self-doubt.
Why did you pick as your protagonist someone about to turn 13?
Historically, 13 has been the year when cultures begin to look at boys as men-in-the-making. It was the time of life when boys were taken through rites of passage experiences to begin to train them for manhood. Even though we don’t consider 13-year-olds adults today, entering the teen years is a significant milestone. Questions of identity, value, skills, gifts, and passions, all start to surface. It’s a wonder-filled age, and at the same time, one of the toughest ages in our lives. It’s a time when kids long for and need (though they may not admit it) adults pouring insight and wisdom into them. My hope is that 9-15-year-old readers will be able to relate to Toby and his adventures. I also hope that parents and grandparents will enjoy the adventure with their kids and grandkids. I threw in several references for them as well.
What did you have the most fun with when writing this story?
The whole process was great fun for me. I’ve written several books, but all of them works of non-fiction on leadership issues. This book allowed me to let my imagination go. The joy came in seeing where the story would take me. The five River Elves are based on my five grandchildren, so it was a delight to watch their personalities come out in these elven adult versions of them.
I also enjoyed looking for opportunities throughout the book to put in unexpected moments of humor. One of my driving forces was to make this a fun, humorous adventure for kids and adults.
Interesting cover. How did it come about?
The cover is everything in terms of getting people to check out your book. What we tried to capture on the cover is that moment when Toby sees the Sword for the first time—the wonder, the awe, and the hesitation. The sword, in fantasy adventures, is a metaphor for the gifts and powers of the one who wields it. In Toby’s case, the Sword draws out of him his passions and gifts. But it also challenges him as to how he will use those passions and gifts. Will he meet violence with violence? Anger with anger? Or can he find a different way? So while the cover hopefully attracts eyeballs to the book, it also serves as a reminder of Toby’s Quest, and the quest all young readers take.
How did you decide on the title?
The title is a tongue-in-cheek ode to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My character doesn’t have a wardrobe in his room so his closet will have to do. Throughout the book I reference some of my favorite quest stories, from Narnia to Percy Jackson to Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings.
In which way is this a coming-of-age story?
Toby’s story is probably more of a starting-to-begin-the-coming-of-age story. He’s moving into that amazing, agonizing, life-shaping time of life where he’s leaving boyhood behind and moving toward adulthood. The decisions he makes and the experiences he has during this period will play a large role in the kind of man he will become. He doesn’t arrive by the end of the story. (There will be other adventures). But he’s beginning to wrestle with the big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I good at? What kind of person do I want to be?
What do you hope your readers will take away from the book?
First—that they had a fun reading experience; that they discovered the power of books and stories and where they can take us. Second—I hope that the readers will see themselves in Toby, and perhaps wrestle themselves with the question, How will you use your power? It’s been deeply satisfying to see, in the initial reviews of the book, that people find it a fun, fast-paced, engaging read with a good message.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished the first draft of The Adventures of Toby Baxter: RiverHome for the Holidays. Over Christmas vacation Toby finds himself once again in RiverHome where things have changed dramatically, and not in a good way. Once again he’ll be called upon to face down the trolls in a rematch from the first book. Each of the chapter titles is a winter or Christmas song. It was fun to head back there again and expand the story.
What was your writing process?
I have a full-time job (Lutheran Pastor) so I wrote when I could squeeze in some time. There were periods where I found a rhythm and wrote for several days in a row. Then things would sit for weeks without writing. Overall it was a three-year project of writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more.
I’ve written several non-fiction leadership type books but never a work of fiction. So trusting the adage, write what you know, I wrote and let the story take me where it wanted to go. Then I had to go back and make sure it all added up!
Having rites of passage as my starting point, rooted in a love for quest stories, and using bits of my life throughout, I found the whole experience to be extremely rewarding.
What makes this quest story unique from other ones?
Because of my love for quest stories, and having read so many of them, I wanted to take some of the familiar images and themes of the genre and put my own unique spin on them. Like the Pevensie children who go through a wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia, Toby goes through his closet to the magical land of RiverHome. But in my story, Toby discovers that the River Elves actually spend time in our world as well. One of the River Elves is a huge NFL fan and wears various jerseys throughout the book. Like other stories, Toby has a Sword, but how he puts it to use is unique.
While the book is written for both boys and girls, I know from my study on boys that generally, they tend not to be as engaged with books as girls. Boys seem drawn more to comic books and books with visuals in them. Toby doesn’t like to read books, only comic books. The set up for his journey into RiverHome has a comic book feel to it. And throughout the book he experiences some humorous struggles with the proper use of grammar.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Public speaking/teaching along with writing, are what get me up in the morning. I’ve had the chance to speak to religious and secular audiences throughout the US and in various countries around the world.
How can readers connect with you?
I have a website where readers can learn more about Toby Baxter, find other resources on rites of passage, and receive the free the prequel: The Adventures of Toby Baxter: I.C.E. Call Toby Baxter, by signing up for my email list.
Toby Baxter can’t wait to be a teenager. On the cusp of turning thirteen, the superhero-obsessed boy’s jaw drops when a baffling stranger appears and begs him for help. But when he’s led through a portal on a whirlwind trip to a magical land, he’s terrified to be plunged mid-battle between elves and a legion of stinky trolls, discovering that the elves believe him to be their HERO.