Emily Buckley, editor in chief
Cache Valley native, Tyler Whitesides, developed a love for books at an early age, and, in fact, has a fill-in-the-blank worksheet from when he was a second grader at Hillcrest Elementary in Logan on which he stated he wanted to be a “book writer” when he grew up.
He says the books that he read, and the media he consumed, shaped the way he chose to spend his time as a child, which included playing outdoors, exploring the mountains near his home, and imagining many adventures with his neighborhood friends.
Tyler recalls loving the movie Jumanji. “It wasn’t ever enough to just watch the movie, though,” he said. “My friends and I, with the help of my dad, constructed an actual wooden Jumanji board and wrote our own riddles that came out of the game. We would play Jumanji!”
Tyler’s childhood ambition was realized when he was picked up by Shadow Mountain Publishing for his popular five-part middle-grade fantasy series, The Janitors. The premise of the story was sparked by ideas developed when he worked as a night custodian at Mount Logan Middle School in his early 20s. The series tells the magical story of a boy named Spencer who notices mysterious things prowling the halls and classrooms of his elementary school. When he sees Marv, the janitor, going after one of the creatures with a vacuum, he knows he’s not the only one who can see them.
Tyler’s next series, The Wishmakers, is a fast-paced, funny two-book story about a 12-year-old boy, Ace, who opens a jar of peanut butter, and releases a genie named Ridge. Ace is granted an unlimited number of wishes, as long as he is willing to accept the consequences.
The first book was released in February with the second, and final part, The Wishbreakers, anticipated to be released in January 2019.
Tyler’s newest series, a trilogy, is about a witty, master con artist named Ardor Benn who lives in a fantastical 17th century world. “It’s kind of like if Ocean’s 11 happened in the musketeer era,” he said. These books are a change of pace for Tyler, as they are geared toward adults and ambitious teen readers. The first installment, The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn, was released in May 2018.
Prior to Ardor Benn, Tyler’s readers were primarily 8-to 13-year-old children, who were mostly pre-social media users. “So, if I want to connect directly to my readers it is difficult.” With this in mind, Tyler has done hundreds of book signings and school assemblies. “I love it,” he said. “I get 45 minutes in an assembly, with maybe 300 third through sixth graders — there is so much energy! I get to tell them funny stories, or encourage them to use their imagination and creativity to create or become something. With my new, older readership, I can put out a Tweet and I’m immediately connecting — they are way more brutal.”
So, when he gets to interact with youth, what does he tell them? “Be confident in [your] hobbies.” He says no one really knew he wrote books as a young man. There were opportunities for young writers’ events that he passed up because he lacked confidence in what he was passionate about. To aspiring young authors, Tyler’s advice is, “Keep going. Your story might not get published right away, but be persistent.” He also advises against writing to the trends, but rather to write a story you would want to read. “If you are writing from the heart and writing what you are interested in, instead of trying to find some kind of angle, then you’re writing from a good place. Write a story because you love it and because you have a story to tell.”
Tyler also said he would tell children and adults alike, “Don’t be afraid to get bored. Boredom has a negative connotation, but maybe it isn’t such a bad thing,” he said. “We live in a day where we are constantly preventing ourselves from getting bored, but I have discovered, through my writing, that sometimes I can’t get the ideas that I need to get unless I descend deep into the pit of boredom… but if I jump on Facebook or watch Netflix, I prevent myself from getting bored enough to find the right ideas. Today, that’s huge; the minute we might feel a twinge of boredom, the devices come out and we save ourselves from getting bored. I feel that we might be cutting off our avenue to creativity.”
Tyler and his wife, Connie, both graduated from Utah State University, Tyler with a degree in percussion performance and Connie in elementary education. He gives Connie much credit for his opportunity to become a full-time writer, “Not only did she provide the financial support by working as I got started, but she encouraged me to chase my dreams. She was a huge reason why it worked.”
He says Connie is also a fantastic sounding board, “Sometimes I just need to talk through a particular problem in the story, maybe I’ve gotten stuck on a situation and I’m not sure how a chapter is going to unfold,” Tyler said. “Just saying it out loud, and formulating my thoughts into sentences, will often resolve the problem. My wife is super patient and always willing to listen.”
When asked if he knows how his stories will end before he begins writing, Tyler explained that in the writing world there are two camps of writers: “plotters” and “pantsers.” Plotters are those who outline their plot heavily and know what they are going to write, and pantsers are those who fly by the seat of their pants. Tyler said he leans more toward being a plotter.
“I like to know what is going to happen in the story, but, at the same time, I don’t plan 100 percent, nor would I want to,” he said. “I think a lot of the magic and excitement that happens in writing is stuff that you are discovering as you write. It’s a piece that you didn’t have fully flushed out in your mind, and you sit down and start typing — it takes you maybe a direction you hadn’t foreseen. I might plot 70 percent and leave about 30 percent up to inspiration in the moment. That is the part I get to discover as I go.”
Tyler says plotting, and knowing the end before he starts, helps him ensure completion of his stories.
Tyler doesn’t take this opportunity to live his dream of being an author for granted, “The first day I signed a contract for The Janitors, my agent called and said, ‘Congratulations, you just a had a day that tens of thousands of people around the world would long for.’ That stuck with me all these years. It has helped keep me in check. A bad day writing is still a pretty good day for me.”
Custom artwork by @lacyllamacrafts