Smack Dab is thrilled to be joined today by Gregory Funaro, author of the forthcoming WATCH HOLLOW:

SD: Give us the elevator pitch: Tell us about WATCH HOLLOW in one sentence.

GF: A widower and his two children move into a spooky old house to fix its giant cuckoo clock, whereupon the children join forces with a host of magical wooden animals to defeat a vicious monster that lives in the surrounding woods.

SD: I’m always interested in a writer’s process—especially since you indicate in your Acknowledgements that this started with two false starts and three different drafts. Describe how this book came to be.

GF: I was approached with an in-house proposal by Abby Ranger when she was a senior editor at HarperCollins, and after two false starts and three entirely different drafts, I finally got it right. For me, the biggest challenge was incorporating the original idea into a cohesive story in which we cared about the characters. At the same time, I'm always conscious of the broader symbolic and thematic elements, so making those gel in just the right way was challenging, too. Consequently, entire plot-lines changed over the course of those drafts. David Linker, another senior editor at HarperCollins, helped me develop the final story so, needless to say, I am eternally grateful to both him and Abby for everything.

SD: I love the many magical elements of the book: the forest, inanimate animals that come to life at night, etc. Where’d these elements come from?

GF: Many of the plot elements (such as alchemy, wooden animals that come alive, the sentient house, the encroaching woods and its monster) were there in the initial proposal, but I added a lot of my own ideas and characters to bring everything together--for example, the giant cuckoo clock and the Tinkers being recruited to Blackford House to fix it. Justifying where and why the wooden animals were there was somewhat of a challenge, and the idea of them being batteries that power the clock evolved through conversations with David.

SD: I’m fascinated by the symbol of the watch. Do you think children have a different sense of time than adults?

GF: Absolutely! The clock animals experience time much the same way children do, existing mainly in the present with little thought given to the past or the future. Therein lies the magic of childhood, I think. Or at least part of it.

SD: Do you think children’s lit handles magic or magical realism better than adult fiction? 

GF: I think it depends. JK Rowling set the bar for magic in children's lit, but as far as magical realism goes, in my opinion, no one does it better than Isabel Allende.

SD: I’m really interested in your description of the power of fear. Usually, we focus on action rather than feelings (bullying rather than jealousy, for example). Why did you decide to focus on this emotion this way?

GF: I wanted to symbolize the misuse of power created by a climate of fear. In the book, this power is literal energy, generated in the same way a perpetual motion clock runs off changes in atmosphere--or, as Mr. Quigley puts it, "Fear begets fear. Just as love begets love." I'll let the reader draw their own conclusions as to how this might be relevant beyond Watch Hollow...

SD: What is your own biggest fear?

GF: No, not telling. I don't even want to think about it... let alone write it down. I'm very superstitious. 

SD: Have you been to a real place that’s like Shadow Wood?

GF: My grandparents used to have some woods near their property in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. The whole area was probably no more than an acre, but when I was Oliver's age, those woods seemed endless, and often in the fall after I finished stacking wood for my grandfather, I would sneak off and pretend to get lost. When I was writing Watch Hollow, I imagined the Shadow Woods were those woods near my grandparents' house.

SD: You write great action scenes. I [Holly Schindler, administrator of Smack Dab] am always looking to improve my own action writing. Any tips you can share?

GF: Thanks for the compliment! Action scenes are hard, aren't they? I struggle with them, too. Keeping the description of the physical actions simple and picking up the pace helps. I also try to sprinkle in some emotional description and inner dialogue as things unfold. That's the trick, I think: balancing description, pace and the internal life of the character. Write only what is necessary, and let the reader fill in the rest. 

SD: What do you hope readers will take from WATCH HOLLOW?

First and foremost, I hope readers enjoy the book and are scared (just a little). If the story stays with them afterward, or if some of the larger thematic elements hit home, well, that's all I can really hope for.

SD: What’s next? What are you working on now?

GF: Incorporating my editor's notes for the sequel to Watch Hollow--which I hope it's even better than the first!

Be sure to snag a copy of WATCH HOLLOW (release date: Feb. 12, 2019) for yourself (check out the IndieBound and Amazon links.)

Keep up with Greg Funaro at his site