The Booktopia Book Guru asks
R. J. Palacio
author of Wonder
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born and raised in NYC, the product of pubic schools and great teachers in the city of Flushing, Queens.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be an archeaologist and a writer.
At eighteen I wanted to be an illustrator and a writer.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I could change the world. I still believe that, but now I realize that you have to let the world change you in order to do that.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
1. D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, which had a profound effect on me when I was a young child.
2. The Pyramids of Egypt, which had a lasting effect on me when I was young adult.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Although I made my living as a an art director and editor, I was always writing—I just never found the need to finish what I started. With Wonder, I didn’t so much “choose to” write it, because it really felt like I had no choice in the matter. It simply wouldn’t let me stop writing it. The characters wouldn’t leave me until I told their stories. I was kind of held hostage!
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Wonder is about a ten year old boy who wants to be ordinary, but can’t be— he was born with a facial abnormality. Homeschooled his whole life, he enrolls in a small private school for the fifth grade, and learns through the course of the year that he’s going to be okay in life. The book is told from his point of view and from the point of view of the kids around him, and while it sounds like it would be a sad book, it’s really very uplifting and feel-good. More than a book about bullying, it’s really a meditation on kindness.
(BBGuru: the publisher’s blurb – The most poignant, moving and heartwarming tale you will read this year; a book to devour in one sitting and press urgently into the hands of your friends and family. A true Wonder of a book.
WONDER is the funny, sweet and incredibly moving story of Auggie Pullman. Born with a terrible facial deformity, this shy, bright ten-year-old has been home-schooled by his parents for his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the stares and cruelty of the outside world.
Now, for the first time, Auggie is being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. The thing is, Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?
Through the voices of Auggie, his big sister Via, and his new friends Jack and Summer, WONDER follows Auggie’s journey through his first year at Beecher Prep. Frank, powerful, warm and often heart-breaking, WONDER is a book you’ll read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page. )
I was really just trying to get kids to see what it’s like from someone else’s point of view. It’s hard to actually teach empathy, but it’s not as hard to inspire it. I’d love for people to simply think a bit more about the impact of even their smallest gestures of kindness on the people around them: a reassuring hand on the back, a smile, a gracious word. It might not change someone’s life, but if it can change someone’s day.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I know you’re looking for an answer that involves the name of an author, but my answer is that it’s someone who never wrote a book: my mother. She will always be the person I most admire in the realm of writing, because she such was an inspired and intuitive and brilliant reader. If she hadn’t passed on that love of books to me, I wouldn’t be answering these questions now.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I have a long list of books I want to write: finding the time to write them is my goal.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I realized with Wonder, which I didn’t start to write until I was in my early-forties, that the time is never quite right to “write a novel.” It’s like having a baby: you can’t always wait until all your ducks are in a row to get started because life isn’t usually that tidy. Don’t sit down and try to write a book. Write a page. Then write a chapter. And then don’t stop.
R.J., thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.