Author, Translator and Writing Streamer Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson works as a translator and editor for the Japanese news-entertainment website SoraNews24. He runs ScottWritesStuff, a creative writing livestream on Twitch, and in his free time can be found playing video games and Magic: The Gathering with friends. Metl: The ANGEL Weapon is his first novel. He lives in the Japanese countryside with his wife.
What interests you in the children's middle grade science fiction and fantasy genre?
Middle grade speculative has always been my jam. The first real book (with chapters!) that I remember my parents reading to me was The Phantom Tollbooth, and it left an impression as it's still my favorite book to this day. I reread it—along with many other childhood favorites like Animorphs, Ender's Game, and of course Harry Potter—all the time, and they're still just as great now as they were when I was in elementary school. There's just something timeless about the genre.
Funnily enough though, when I wrote Metl I didn't set out to write a middle grade speculative book. I just wrote a story that I wanted to tell. When you (Mark, my agent) told me that it was middle grade, it was a bit of a surprise since I'd never really thought about it that way!
Realizing that also helped make Metl even better. When I imagined a middle grade audience reading it, I suddenly didn't like some of the language or weapons the characters used, so I changed them. For example, I changed the "swear word" in the book that the characters use to "steel," since anything metallic is illegal in their world. I think changes like that made the story a lot more fun and flavorful.
The age-old parable of the battle of science vs. religion features extensively in your book Metl. Do you feel that it's a war that can ever be won, or is it best left settled?
In Metl, I don't think the theme is so much science vs. religion as it is thinking critically about the world. I'd love it if readers came away from the book a little more skeptical about ideas that they've been told are good their entire lives, especially ones that come from people in power.
The Peculiar, Keeper of the Lost Cities, Bot Wars, and The Fog come to mind when I think of your book Metl. Are there any particular authors or books you've enjoyed reading that have influenced your writing in some way?
The author who has directly influenced my writing the most is Eiichiro Oda, the writer and artist behind the Japanese manga/anime One Piece.
I know it may sound strange to hear this about a story starring supernatural pirates directed at elementary school Japanese boys, but One Piece is the best story I have ever experienced. In any medium—book, TV, movie, whatever. It's the only story I've ever encountered where its length adds to the story, rather than detracts from it. Most stories start off great, but then grow weary after a few sequels or seasons. One Piece is arguably just as good, if not better, today than when it started. And it started amazing.
One reason for that is because of the story structure. The goal of the main characters in One Piece has always been the same from the very beginning, and that gives a sense of cohesion to every single arc and episode. And that doesn't even begin to take into account the incredible world-building, the emotional backstories, the genius setups and payoffs, and the fact that watching a certain scene is one of the only times in my adult life that I blubbered like a baby.
Ever since I started reading/watching One Piece, it has been my dream to tell a similar story myself.
“As long as the story is good, those insane things will just make people love your story even more.”
Japanese mythology, anime and manga is culturally rich. Has living in Japan also been an influence to your storytelling methods?
From living in Japan for years and working as a translator, I've experienced a lot of Japanese stories, and one thing I've noticed is that Japanese media is fearless when it comes to doing cool things.
I think that American media is quite often scared of doing off-the-wall stuff in their shows and movies because they think people won't take them seriously. But Japan has taught me that doesn't matter. You can have giant space robots, magical girl transformations, massive hammers and swords pulled out of nowhere, whatever! As long as the story is good, those insane things will just make people love your story even more.
And Japan has been doing it since forever! Just look at this picture from 1861 of John Adams shoving a sword down the throat of a giant snake. That's way more interesting than anything I ever read about the guy in America!
In your Twitter profile it is written: “Writing is a muscle, so let's get swole.” Do you feel that writing is just as much as an art as it is a craft that can be improved upon with rigorous practice, or are the skills associated with writing more innate?
I think literally anything can be learned, it's just a matter of how much time and effort someone is willing to put into it. Whether it's writing, learning a foreign language, or being creative, the only limit to your ability is how badly you want it.
Personally, I know that I certainly didn't have any innate writing skill. My first novel was garbage, as were the five others that came after it. It was only after six straight years of reading and writing every day, along with attending writing workshops and running a few myself, that I finally reached some level of decency… and I still have so much to learn!
Anything in life that's worth doing is difficult. If it was easy, then anyone would do it.
It's very good of you to share your writing advice on your livestream Twitch channel. Have you found that it's also a good way to connect directly with fans, and do you also feel that one learns when they teach?
Streaming is hands-down the best way to interact with viewers. It's like hanging out with a bunch of people on one giant couch, and you have absolute control over what gets played on the TV… and the thing that's playing on the TV is you!
My viewers have taught me so much. I've always been more focused on the zoomed-out aspects of storytelling like big-picture plots and payoffs. Chat has helped me improve my zoomed-in skills, chiseling and honing every single word and sentence.
Chat has also taught me something else: the importance of being entertaining. Whether you're streaming or writing a story, if it's boring then people will leave. So do your best to have fun, like this:
If you could be any character from any video game, book, manga or anime world, who would you be and why?
Monkey D. Luffy, the main character from One Piece, has been my role model since the first day I met him. I've always admired his carefree yet determined attitude, his strong bond with his shipmates, and his desire for freedom above all else.
And I guess being a rubber human and having stretching powers is cool too.
Here's a picture of me and Captain Luffy when I finally got to see him in person in Tokyo!
How did you find your current literary agent and go on to get published?
You found me through the 2016 Nightmare on Query Street contest run by the amazing Michelle Hauck. She helps run several contests throughout the year, and I highly recommend them to all aspiring authors.
“...if your goal is to sell a book, then making sure it sounds exciting and salable before you even start writing it should be a high priority.”
Do you have any advice for hard-working writers hoping to become published authors?
I don't want to parrot the same advice we always hear about never giving up or writing what you love or whatever. Instead, I'd like to give a concrete piece of advice that worked for me: write your query letter first.
It may sound ridiculous, but if your goal is to sell a book, then making sure it sounds exciting and salable before you even start writing it should be a high priority. When you write your query letter first, you can easily identify if there's something missing in your story that would make it better, and then add it in before you even begin.
Writing the query letter before I started Metl was a huge help. In my first stab at the idea for the book, there were no stakes. The main character just went on an adventure… and that was it. I needed something bad to happen if he failed, so I added in the artificial moon on a collision course with Earth. Suddenly my query, and subsequently my story, went from bland to grand!
And if you've already started writing your story, it's not too late. Writing the query at any point is always a good way to orient yourself and make sure that the story you're writing is on track to be the best it can be.
What can we expect next from the writing desk of Scott Wilson?
I just sent in Metl's sequel to my publisher, which is super exciting! I'm very proud of that book and can't wait to share it.
I've also started writing the next book in the Metl series after that too. There's another completed manuscript I have that's been gnawing away at me, and a new project I'm working on that came out of nowhere and won't leave my brain alone. Hopefully I'll be able to blab all about them sometime in the near future!