These are some of the questions I get a lot. If you have a different question, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer if I can.
How long does it take to write a book? Lately I've produced a manuscript in about 6-7 months. That includes time when I set the book aside for a while so I can look at it with fresh eyes. Then the various stages of editing, where I work with my editor and publisher, take a few more months. Altogether, it's about 10 months from when I start until I'm completely finished.
Do you create the covers for the books? The covers are done by my publisher, and they choose the illustrator. I can actually draw pretty well (I also do some cartooning) but I can’t create anything nearly as wonderful as those professional illustrators – these guys are some of the best in the business.
Who publishes your books? So far, all of my books have been published by Simon and Schuster, under their Aladdin imprint.
How did you get published? It took a long time. I spent a couple of years writing The Thief and the Beanstalk. It was my first book and I took a lot of time to learn what goes into writing a novel, with extensive rewrites. Then I wrote letters to a bunch of literary agents with a sample of the book. Finally an agent offered to represent me. Then my agent found a publisher.
Did it hurt when you walked into the glass door? Yeah, it hurt a lot. I think I almost broke my nose, and one of my teeth was numb for a few weeks.
Why do you use P.W. Catanese for your author’s name? My name is Paul Catanese, but there’s another Paul Catanese who writes non-fiction books about arts and media. I didn’t want to cause confusion. So I went with my initials. (The W is for William, incidentally.) Also the url pwcatanese.com was available, and that’s important these days.
How did you get the idea for your first book? When I started writing The Thief and the Beanstalk many years ago, I'd been reading a lot of fairy tales to my kids. I thought about how cool it would be to read a longer, more exciting and descriptive scene of this giant beanstalk erupting from the ground. So, just to entertain myself really, I sat down and wrote it. I threw in this kid and some bad guys, without really knowing who they were or why they were there. And working backwards and forwards from that, I created the whole story around it. So a story emerged along with the beanstalk. At first I thought it might be a short story. But as I kept going, it became obvious that it would become novel-sized, and finishing it would take some time.
How did you get the idea to make a series out of that? Originally I wanted to propose a trilogy of ‘Beanstalk’ books. The Thief and the Beanstalk could actually be the first of three books with those characters. My agent suggested that publishers might be more interested in a series of standalone stories. So I considered other fairy tales and how those stories might be extended.
Where did the idea for The Books of Umber come from? Sometimes, ideas come from other ideas. When I was writing my second book, The Brave Apprentice, I wrote a scene where a king brings his advisors in to talk about the trolls that are invading the kingdom. One old scholar mentions a historian named Umber who has written about trolls... and I really just pulled that name from nowhere. Umber. But I immediately started thinking about how interesting it would be to have someone who was sort of a paranormal investigator in the fairy tale world. Sort of like the X-Files meets the Brothers Grimm. That was the genesis of The Books of Umber, but of course the story got much more complex than that, especially when the character of Happenstance occurred to me.
What is the scientific name for the tip of the tongue? I know this. Wait, don’t tell me. I almost have it. Uhh. This is driving me crazy. Give me a minute.
What other authors do you admire? Among authors for young readers, Roald Dahl was the best ever, I think. Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy) is a fantastic writer. J.K. Rowling is amazing and should be revered for encouraging kids to read. I don’t know if my first book would have gotten published if it hadn’t been for the interest Harry Potter created. If I ever meet her, I’m going to give her a hug. And then her bodyguards will taze me.
When I was a kid, I read a lot of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Tolkien and Edgar Allen Poe. These days my favorite authors include Patrick O'Brian and Carl Hiassen.
Will you read the story I wrote and tell me what you think? This is the toughest question, because unfortunately I have to say no. It would take a lot of time to give a thoughtful answer, and I tend to be very busy with my own writing. Also, I am always afraid that I would read something with some similarity to a story that I am writing or thinking about writing. I would never want an aspiring writer to think I took an idea from them.