Interview with William Ritter, author of Jackaby

Interviewed by Elvira Sanchez Kisser, Woodburn Public Library

william-ritter1William Ritter is an Oregonian author who has released his debut novel in a series about a investigating duo in 19th century New York uncovering the strangeness beneath the everyday. I had a chance to interview Mr. Ritter about his novel Jackaby and this great characters.

Where the main characters in Jackaby based on or inspired by any one person?

My characters are mostly inspired by people in my life, but not by any one person. Jackaby, for example, has a few of my mannerisms, but he adopted my wife’s zeal for amazing and outlandish lore, along with her spontaneity and adventurous spirit. Elements of my parents slipped in, too—including my mother’s love of books and my father’s knack for experimental cooking. All of the characters have a bit of that!

Is there any aspect of your writing you find particularly challenging?!

The hardest times for me are when I’ve already written a draft and I find I need to rearrange whole passages. I might decide, for example, that an encounter in chapter twelve would be better in chapter seven. That’s an easy change to make in an outline, but when it’s already a whole book, it requires ripping apart nuanced transitions and connecting thoughts that were never designed to fit. It requires triple-checking the chronology of the scene and keeping tabs on where every character is, what they know and don’t know at that stage, and what their motivation is at that moment. I also have to forget the way it used to be as soon as I’m done, or else I will constantly be trying to make connections that are no longer there. It’s madness.

JackabyJackaby incorporates fun and witty references to everything from Waldo to Doctor Who, was there any reference that you had to leave on the cutting room floor? Care to elaborate?

I do enjoy tucking allusions all over the book, some glaring and others subtle. A few of the ones

that come up often in reviews are actually just coincidental similarities—and a few of the references that I thought were obvious never get mentioned at all. The names of my supporting characters are almost all drawn from the detective fiction genre, for example, and the names of places are almost all drawn from the history of the supernatural. As for the cutting room floor?

My city was nearly called Glanville—an allusion that was as clever and meaningful as it was helplessly obscure. In spite of a fascinating backstory, it sounded totally banal and lacked the quirky character that I wanted for my town, so it had to go. I have my wife to thank for the name that stuck, New Fiddleham.

I’ve read from another interview that you “love odd”, what was your favorite “odd” element you incorporated in Jackaby?
I really enjoyed writing “I excused myself to see a duck about a dress.” I love getting to add little lines like that—absolute absurdity delivered with a straight face. PG Wodehouse was a master of that sort of comedy, and he is a huge favorite of mine.

Do you have any reoccurring themes or topics you find yourself coming back to in your writing?

The big recurring theme in JACKABY is to be true to yourself, to be proud of the things that make you odd, and to keep your head above all the social stereotypes and nosy naysayers. Books are a reader’s escape, and it’s important to me that the escape I offer is a safe and encouraging one, even if it’s a bloody murder mystery. You’re allowed to be you when you’re in my book.

There is many Doctor Who references throughout the book, which Doctor do you relate to most?

David Tennant in a heartbeat (or two). I am a tremendous fan of the series—but in the interest of full disclosure, none of the apparent references to Doctor Who were intentional. In spite of what the marketing blurb suggests, I never set out to write “Doctor Who meets Sherlock.” I just set out to write the sort of story I wanted to read. It has been pointed out to me that Jackaby wears a ludicrously long scarf, runs around after all manner of monsters, is friends with a

Jenny in the 19th century, and travels with a plucky female companion. While I love the show, I arrived at all of that the long way around. The long scarf is my wife’s (I’m wearing it in my author photo), the monsters come from folklore, Jenny is a nice name, and the 19th century just had the right atmosphere of science and superstition. Jackaby’s companion could just as easily have been male (she was, in an early draft), but the dynamic just felt better with a young woman. The Doctor’s basic archetype is similar at its core to Poe’s Detective Dupin and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes—both of whom I did draw from intentionally as I developed the voice of my book.

RitterBookCollageSo after a teen has read your book and wants more, what three books would you recommend?

  • The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker!
  • The Night Circus—Erin Morgenstern!
  • The Diviners—Libba Bray!

All three are period pieces that do a great job with the mise-en-scène (a fancy French term for all the stuff they stick in the corners to makes the setting feel real). They all also boast strong female leads, have a dynamic supporting cast, and play with the supernatural in totally different but all marvelous ways. Check them out!!

I hear you have a talent for drawing. Do your drawings affect your writing process and do you have plans of incorporating your illustrations in any upcoming books?

I frequently sketch my ideas long before they become words on RitterDuckthe page—it’s a great exercise for getting the creative cogs spinning. I adore the design of the final book, though, so unless a passage clearly called for it, I wouldn’t want to muck it up with unnecessary pictures. I might someday include sketches from Abigail’s notebook or something, but it would need to come about naturally.

As a teen, what advice, from an adult/librarian, would have inspired you to write or read more?

Story time. Books speak for themselves. A read-aloud—one with a really good book and an engaging reader—is greater inspiration than any lecture or truism. Being told it’s good for me is rarely inspiring. Broccoli is good for me. Laughing until my cheeks hurt or biting my lip and holding my breath for the end of the chapter… that’s inspiration to read.

Can you share a little about what you are currently working on with us?

BEASTLY BONES, the sequel to JACKABY, is in final edits and book 3 is coming down the line.

R.F. Jackaby was really in his wheel well in the first book, chasing monsters in his city, but the sequel gives Abigail a chance to be in her own element. Jackaby has some solid strengths, but Rook’s confidence is developing, and she’s finding she can do more than just orbit around him.

There are a few familiar faces and a handful of new ones. It has been a lot of fun to create.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

In the 18th century, if one wanted to view fierce beasts, one might visit London’s Tower Menagerie. Admission could be gained by bringing in a cat or dog to be fed to the lions.

Find out more about William Ritter at


Early Literacy in Action with Teen Parents

By Dawn Borgardt, Beaverton City Library

Alex Bushue is the Director of Continuing Education for Young Parents (CEYP) at the Merlo Station High School in Beaverton. She and I have been working to demonstrate the benefits of early literacy to teen parents for the last several years with varied success. This year, using Ready to Read grant funds and the Every Child Ready to Read 2 curriculum, Alex and I revolutionized our approach and delivered an amazing new program drawing on the principles of active learning.

Alex devised a 6-week course devoted to early literacy that combined traditional academic learning with hands-on experience.  The class consisted of 12 teen parents who read scientific articles about br2015 CEYP storytime 1ain development and the importance of early literacy.  Prior to this class, the teen parents assisted with local Kindergarten classes to get a feel for what Kindergarten readiness actually looks like.  Finally, I visited once a week for 5 weeks to share tips and apply them during in-class storytime with the teen parents and kids.

Literacy book choices

Literacy book choices

Some of the key elements of the course include:

  • Every week each child got a new awesome, age-appropriate book to add to their home library.
  • Parents each had the chance to learn a song and lead the group in that song during storytime.
  • Each parent created a unique picture book for their child, inspired by examples we looked at as a class. (Published using Pintsized Productions)
  • Parents meticulously filled out daily reading logs detailing how they read, played, talked, sang, and wrote with their children on a daily basis.

What was so effective about this partnership was that we not only talked about early literacy, we practiced it. THIS IS THE AWESOME PART.  The students devoured the scientific articles about literacy and brain development, and that motivated them to apply what they learned during our weekly storytimes.  The babies and toddlers quickly picked up on the fun routine, which included putting felt apples on a tree to begin and ended with parents blowing bubbles with their babies (which naturally encouraged conversation and making up fun games – we even wrote a bubble rhyme as a group).  Each week after the teens took their kids back to daycare, Alex and I debriefed with the teens, talking about what went well and what was difficult, and how the activities aligned with what they were learning about early literacy and child development.

At the end of the 6-week course, teen parents were checking out eBooks on their own phones to read in their leisure time. Several teens have started visiting the library for programs and storytimes as well.   “It was truly remarkable to see them so excited about brain development.  The teens, who are often reluctant learners, were begging for more articles, more storytime with their kids, more books, and more read-alouds by Dawn.  This class was a real game changer for many of these teens, and as a result, their babies” notes Alex.

As one teen wrote in her evaluation “Because of you I feel like my child and I have 2015 CEYP storytime 2bonded more through reading.”  Another student echoed that sentiment saying, “I wish we could keep on doing in class storytime!”  By the end of the course, every student reported reading to their child at least 15 minutes each day. They were motivated by what they learned and practiced in class and had incorporated it into their lives and the lives of their children.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Alex says that she plans to offer this course annually, and there is already buzz and excitement from students who didn’t get to take it this year – they want to know when it will be their turn for the library lady to come and do storytime and give them books for their babies.

Do you have a teen parenting program in your area?

Do you know the teacher/director/principal?

If you’d like more information about the CEYP/Beaverton City Library partnership, please contact

Dawn ( or

Alex (, we would love to share resources and strategies!

OYEA! 2015 Winner—Aimee Meuchel

By Mark Richardson, Cedar Mill Library


Aimee Meuchel, Teen Librairan at Tualatin Public Library

On Thursday April 16th, I was fortunate to present Aimee Meuchel with the OYEA award for excellence in teen services.  I’ve known Aimee for many years and to say she is deserving of this award is an understatement.  Aimee is a fierce advocate for teens and teen services and is constantly trying to improve the lives of the teens that walk through the doors at Tualatin Public Library.  She’s a creative programmer, a voracious reader of YA lit and simply an easy person to talk to – something many teens need more than anything else.  But don’t take my word for it, here are some quotes from her supervisor and teens.

From Jerianne Thompson, her Director:

Aimee strives to develop programs that are engaging and interesting to teens; the consistently high attendance at these programs proves her success.  Between July 2014 and February 2015, the Tualatin Library presented 153 programs for teens, with a total program attendance of 1688.  These programs have included after-hours book-themed parties (Divergent and Hunger Games), an after-hours medieval murder mystery called A Knight of Murder, a mini maker Faire during Teen Tech Week, Kaleidoscope Run (a “color run” presented in partnership with the Youth Advisory Council), crafting programs like Ugly Dolls and Mechanipults, gaming tournaments, Teen Top Chef (promoting healthy eating and active living), an Unlucky in Love party on Friday, February 13, and monthly programs like Animanga.  The weekly Teen Movie Night has recently grown to 40+ teens attending every Friday.  These programs offer teens not only fun but an opportunity for social interaction and teamwork.  Aimee also contributes to other youth programs, including presenting a weekly preschool storytime and partnering with the Children’s Librarian to present a week-long Create & Animate Camp for tweens last summer.

Mark Richardson handing Aimee her award.

Mark Richardson handing Aimee her award.

From a teen, aged 15:

Aimee positively impacts (teen’s) lives.  She has helped teens dealing with any problems with school, stress, and boredom by always being her cheerful self.  I personally have always been troubled with meeting new people and interacting socially in group settings.  I once tried to avoid anyone I could (because of) the embarrassment of trying to talk to others until I met Aimee.  She was very open and welcoming to me and always tried to make sure I kept a smile on my face.  She helped to reassure me to be ok with talking to other teens and challenge myself to go to more social events around the community.  She encouraged me to go to more teen programs around the library, and there I have met many amazing people that I am happy to call my friends.  It was because of having Aimee around to cheer me up that I was able to find confidence in myself and in my abilities of making a difference in my community.  I would never have become the person I am today if it weren’t for talking to that special little red-haired librarian.  Today, I am proud to be working on the Teen Library Committee with Aimee and she has shown great commitment in keeping the teen programs here fun and exciting.  Aimee is with no doubt an amazing person and a spectacular librarian.

Another teen:

I met Aimee my first summer of volunteering, I was incredibly shy, and not one to take leadership roles head on.  However, Aimee recommended that I apply to join the Teen Library Committee to work on my leadership skills and work with other volunteers on large projects.  It was because of Aimee that I began to actively seek out leadership opportunities and become more involved with my community.  Without her guidance and support throughout the years, I would have never grown out of my shell or realized how much I enjoy helping others.  Because she taught me the value of a good and strong work ethic, I improved in school, and was not daunted by higher level classes. Her guidance has been invaluable, she is one of the kindest people I have ever met, and I am very blessed to have had the pleasure of working with her, and she deserves all the best in the world.

As you can see, Aimee engenders strong feelings with those teens that she works with.  Aimee was made to be a teen librarian.  I’ve stolen many an idea from her and I use her as a benchmark all the time to guide me in how I approach teen services.  She is an incredibly worthy recipient of this year’s OYEA Award.

2015 Book Rave Winners

The 2015 Book Raves have are here!2015BookRaveCollage

The OYAN Book Rave is an annual list of recommended young adult literature selected by the members. Nominations are solicited throughout the year, with a final electronic vote occurring around the winter membership meeting. Titles are chosen to represent a variety of genres and reading levels that have been published between November 1, 2013 to October 31, 2014.

This Years List:

  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Family Romanov: Murder Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
  • Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
  • The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • The Sittin’ Up by Shelia P. Moses
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • Clariel by Garth Nix
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • Jackaby by William Ritter
  • The Swap by Megan Shull
  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
  • Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye J. Walton
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
  • Noggin by John Corey Whaley
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Download your PDF to use at your school or library.


Fresh Off the Press: 2015 Sprint OYAN Review!

Check out the Spring OYAN Review!

You will find program ideas on making stop-motion videos, starting a crafting club, and providing early literacy programs for teen parents. Plus insights to letting go of your teen council, meet the new OYEA Award winner Aimee Meuchel, an interview with author of Jackaby, William Ritter, and much more.

Download your copy today!


OYAN Spring Meeting Invite

Sonja Somerville, 2014-2015 OYAN Chair, Salem Public Library

I so hope you are considering joining us for the OYAN Spring Membership Meeting:

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, May 1
Corvallis-Benton County Public Library
DO NOTE! We will be discussing nominations for officers for 2015-2016. I would LOVE to hear from you if you have an interest in getting involved in the Publications Committee (helping with the OYAN newsletter, blog, etc.) or in serving as a representative to the Oregon Reader’s Choice Awards committee (the work is conducted entirely by email and GoogleDocs, so … this is a great committee for people with lots of energy but limited travel opportunities.)
For lunch options, I am suggesting a group walk over to a nearby Panera Bread. Here is a sneak peek at their menu:
Since they have lightning fast service, it looks like the best option is just to head over and order on the spot. There are also other “walkable” choices and, as always, you are welcome to brown bag it.
As always, bring your best programming ideas to share!

Interview with Cat Winters, author of The Cure for Dreaming and In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Interviewed by Bobbye Hernandez, Tillamook Public Library

CatBWOregon author Cat Winters recently had her second YA novel published, The Cure for Dreaming, and she was kind enough to answer some questions about the book as well as some general questions about writing for our newsletter.

 Let’s talk about The Cure for Dreaming. Where/how did you come up with the story?

I was listening to eerie, dreamlike Halloween music during October 2011 and imagined a young woman floating to a ceiling. The experience put me in the mood to write something Gothic, Victorian, and magical, so I turned to the idea of writing about a turn-of-the-twentieth-century stage hypnotist. At the same time, I had also wanted to figure out a way to bring the women’s suffrage movement to life in a novel. An idea struck me: “What would happen if a Victorian man hired a hypnotist to cure his budding suffragist daughter of her rebellious thoughts and dreams?” Thus, The Cure for Dreaming was born.

What made you pair a hypnotist with a suffragist? Also, there are a lot of interesting images and references to early dentistry in the book what made you make Olivia’s father a mad dentist?

Pairing a hypnotist with a suffragist was simply a case of these two different book ideas merging together and turning into one story. I didn’t find any historical examples of people hiring hypnotists to cure suffragists; however, many late-Victorian and early-twentieth-century women were treated for “hysteria,” a catch-all diagnosis that included females behaving in rebellious ways. Extreme cures—hysterectomies, institutionalization, etc.—were used. I wanted to show the dire methods people went to in order to subdue women of the era, but I also chose to incorporate some magical, lighter elements to keep the subject matter from getting too heavy and depressing. CureforDreaming_cover

In the earlier drafts, Olivia’s father was a physician. However, I realized the mother of my In the Shadow of Blackbirds protagonist was a doctor, so I felt I was repeating myself a bit. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be far more interesting and terrifying if Olivia’s father was a Victorian dentist”? My editor loved the choice and encouraged me to go even farther with the squirm-inducing horrors of dentistry of the era.

 Do you ever think that you will follow-up on Olivia or Henry?

I go back and forth on this question, and readers do frequently ask if a sequel is forthcoming. The problem with a sequel is that no significant milestones for the women’s suffrage movement were reached until ten or eleven years after the 1900 setting of The Cure for Dreaming, when western states such as Oregon and California granted women the right to vote. I feel like I’d have to jump ahead about eleven years in order to write a satisfying sequel, which would push the book out of the realm of YA fiction.

Now let’s talk about writing in general, what inspires you to write?

Music, books, movies, places I visit, conversations, emotions I experience, history. In other words, I find inspiration everywhere. I’ve always seen the world through the eyes of a writer, taking everything in as potential scenes for a story.

 Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

The ideas typically start with the discovery of something in history that either intrigues me or upsets me—or both. Oftentimes, I find book ideas from some sort of side research I’ve performed for a previous novel. For example, when writing The Cure for Dreaming, I considered making Olivia’s best friend, Frannie, a quarter Native American. However, when I researched Oregon’s restrictive interracial marriage laws for the 1800s and early 1900s, I discovered I would practically need to write a whole separate novel about Frannie to do justice to this idea. Instead, I turned the information I learned about Oregon’s prejudices of the past into an upcoming YA novel, The Steep and Thorny Way.

What does your writing process look like?

After I’ve formed my initial idea for a book, I let plot ideas marinate inside my head for a bit. I’m a very cerebral writer. Much of my planning and outlining occurs internally instead of on paper. Once I can’t wait another moment to embark upon the story, I sit down and write an opening chapter, which typically helps me figure out the protagonist’s voice and the overall feel of the book. Writing the opening chapter of In the Shadow of Blackbirds immediately helped me figure out the intense setting of the novel, as well as my main character’s no-nonsense way of speaking about her harsh reality.

After I write a first chapter, I usually research and plot some more, and then I dive into the first draft. About halfway through the draft, I print out a calendar for the months and year in which I’m working (October and November 1918 for In the Shadow of Blackbirds) and keep track of all the key moments in the book, leading up to the climax, as if I’m filling out my main character’s day planner. This is the method I’ve used for every single one of my books, and it’s what works for me.

What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?

The waiting. Every single stage of the publishing process requires extreme patience. You wait to see if your book will get published; you wait to receive edits from your editor; you wait to see the cover for the book; and you wait 18 to 24 months from the point when you sold the book to the day the book actually releases.  However, at the same time, I’m extremely thankful the process isn’t a rushed one. A book grows stronger when care and patience are utilized.

Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Ex: Love? Action? Racy?

For me, the hardest scenes are the transitional ones that don’t contain heated action or emotions. It’s far trickier making the smaller moments in a book come to life, even though such scenes are necessary to balance the pace of the book and give characters and readers a breather. Racier love scenes and action scenes are much easier, in my opinion.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it? Why?

Child kidnapping. I have two kids of my own, and when my daughter was two years old, we experienced a murder/kidnapping in our neighborhood that made national headlines. Police helicopters flew over our house nonstop, search dogs investigated every single one of our homes in the area, and updates about the missing seven-year-old girl aired on our TV until long after her body was found. The man eventually convicted for her murder lived in our neighborhood, and we’d walk past his house and say “hi” to him before any of this happened. It was a horrifying experience that disgusts me to this day, and I can’t even read books about kidnapped children because of it.

Thank you for sharing that with us, it is a very powerful story. What are you working on now? What is your next project?

Shadow of blackbirdsI’m actually lucky enough to have quite a few projects in the works at the moment. My adult fiction debut, The Uninvited (my second ghost story set in WWI-era America), will release August 11, 2015, from HarperCollins. I’m also in the midst of edits for a short story that will be appearing in the YA horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, coming August 18, 2015 from Penguin. In addition, I’m working on my aforementioned third YA novel, The Steep and Thorny Way, a Hamlet-inspired 1920s tale about a biracial girl in Oregon.  Amulet Books, the publisher of my other YA novels, acquired that one, and it will be releasing Spring 2016.

What is your favorite genre to read?

Historical fiction, especially if a mystery or ghosts are involved. I suppose that’s not too surprising, considering the types of books I write.

Lastly, what is your favorite young adult novel?

The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. He wrote the novel in such a creative and powerful style, and I thought his use of Death of the narrator was absolutely brilliant. It also opened my eyes to the experiences of German civilians in Nazi-occupied Germany. I always highly recommend the book to any reader, young or old, male or female.

For more information about Cat Winters you can visit her website at