The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with idea sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
Randomly circle one word on each list, and create a story using them:
Person: Nun, Uncle, Pilot, Teacher, Bus, Boxer, Wizard, Photographer
Object: Paintbrush, Emory board, Rare book, Peach, Vaseline, Radio, Doll, Scissors
Emotion: Anger, Denial, Elation, Frustration, Puzzlement, Relief, Fear, Love
Submit your response HERE!
Who can resist a story full of mystery, adventure, and even a few laughs? A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck with illustration by Nick Bertozzi is a 416 page novel for young readers, set in our very own San Francisco, California! After the death of his mother, Jack Fair moves to the fancy Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco to live with his evil Aunt Edith. Jack fears that his life will now consist of nothing more than serving chocolates to his awful aunt and her pet chinchilla – until one night when Aunt Edith goes missing! Jack is left with nothing but a mysterious note written in… chocolate? He sets out to find his aunt alone, until he meets an unlikely partner: the one and only Alfred Hitchcock! Together, the two crime-solvers embark on a journey full of secret doorways, sinister clues, and hopefully the answer to what really happened to Jack’s mother and missing aunt!
Tips from author Jim Averbeck:
SYI: A Hitch at the Fairmont has such a unique setting. How did you decide on this setting? How did you research this setting?
JA: Richard Peck once said “We don’t write what we know, we write what we can research.” This scared me a little because I remembered doing a lot of dull research on assigned topics in high school and college. So I realized if I was going to be required to research, I had better like the topic. The two things that I thought of, that I read up on just for pleasure, were Alfred Hitchcock and San Francisco history. Luckily the two intersect, as he shot several films here, most notably was VERTIGO in 1956. So my setting was, well… set.
I researched San Francisco in many ways. I read what was online, and went to the library, of course. But because I live in the city I also visited any of the places I wanted to include in my story. I questioned people who lived here in 1956, including a friend’s father who was a policeman, and knew a lot about crime in that era. Another friend had a cousin who worked at the Fairmont Hotel. She arranged for me to interview the concierge (who met Hitchcock in 1976!) and also to have a tour of the hotel, from the $10,000 a night penthouse to the narrow dim corridors of the “back of the house” – the underground area where the staff works and stores all that is needed to run the place. One of my favorite things was browsing through the ephemera collection in the library. This is a collection of odds and ends from the period – cocktail napkins from the Tonga Room, menus from the hotel restaurant, postcards, etc. And of course, when all else fails – ask a librarian. I needed to know the price of taxi fare in 1956. The librarian I asked rubbed his chin for a minute or two, then went right to a book which had the information. Amazing!
SYI: At SYI, we talk about how nearly every book has a bit of mystery in it. Your book is a true mystery, though. What do you think writing a mystery taught you about writing that you’ll apply to your other books?
JA: I had to make a giant chart of when a clue dropped, how the character observed it and how he finally put the pieces together. I was constantly in the character’s head asking “Does he know this yet? What has he seen and what did he think about it?” So I guess my mystery writing taught me to stay close to the character’s point of view and to keep organized. It’s important to remember where that charter is emotionally and intellectually at any point in the story.
SYI: You’re also an illustrator. What role do visuals and visual thinking play in your writing process?
JA: I always envision a scene before writing it. In A Hitch At The Fairmont this envisioning process was made into a part of the book. Because the characters use cinematic conventions to solve the mystery, we used storyboards, like the ones used to lay out a movie before it is shot, to illustrate the action in each upcoming chapter.
SYI: How long did it take to write and revise A Hitch at the Fairmont? What was the most unexpected part of the process for you?
JA:I wrote it over a ten year period, but with many interruptions to work on books that came under contract. I would say the total time actually writing, from inception to publication, was probably one-and-one-half to two years. The most unexpected part was that it was my first novel and it sold on the first submission.
SYI: At SYI, we talk a lot about revision and in particular, about specific strategies to try out when we revise. Did you learn anything about revision while writing your book?
JA: I learned that one way to approach revision is to do like tasks together. That is to say, go through the manuscript pass by pass, working on a specific thing each pass. My first draft was a little bit of setting, but mostly dialogue and humor. Then I went through and fleshed out the setting descriptions. Then I worked on character emotions. Then I added sensory detail. So I was in a specific mode for each pass, and didn’t need to keep shifting gears, or get overwhelmed by all the work. It was like building a lasagna, one layer at a time.
SYI: Do you have any advice for our community about ways to come up with original story ideas?
JA: Learn the rules. Master them. Then subvert them.
Thanks Jim Averbeck!
The A Hitch at the Fairmont is available on Amazon!
For more information about author Jim Averbeck and his books visit his website here.