Author Q&A: Ferrill Gibbs - The Secret Island of Edgar Dewitt

Edgar Dewitt is the new kid in town. Moving from Alabama to Mount Lanier, Washington has been quite the change, and Edgar quickly realizes making new friends won't be as easy as he thought. On his first day in town, he meets one of Mount Lanier’s best: the incorrigible Chris Weedy, who’s as bright as a sack of socks and as mean as you can get.
  One day while exploring the woods behind his new house, Edgar discovers something mysterious: an old abandoned cabin. But the real magic happens when he finds something even more magnificent inside the cabin itself: a dark and ominous hole. After studying the hole for a few days, Edgar musters his courage and jumps in feet first. It takes him straight through the center of the earth to a tiny island in the middle of the Indian ocean, and Edgar knows he’s stumbled upon something ancient. Something secret--a seemingly impossible way to journey to the other side of the world.   For the next several weeks, the island becomes a sanctuary where Edgar can escape Chris Weedy’s cruel taunting and his parents’ constant questions. But a sudden, nearby wildfire threatens to engulf the town in flames and take Edgar’s volunteer firefighter father along with it. Edgar must act fast and decide between saving his new town or keeping his newly found safe haven.

This creative, new YA book is the perfect story to usher you into the fall! Uncover a hidden magic with Edgar Dewitt as debut author, Ferrill Gibbs, reimagines what it means to travel to the center of the earth. We spoke with Ferrill on the origin and inspiration of his story, his writing experience as a musician turned novelist, and what he hopes for his readers. Get excited for the release of The Secret Island of Edgar Dewitt!

 

AJ: The Secret Island of Edgar Dewitt is such a unique story. Where did the idea originate and how did it develop?

FG: A few years ago, I discovered a great strategy for falling asleep: imagine yourself falling. I don’t know why this seemed to calm me but it did. Every night I’d fall backward and plunge the way other people might count sheep, but soon the logical part of my brain began to protest. If we fall for long enough, we’ll hit the ground! Of course, when your brain starts to protest something, an immediate consequence is that you can’t fall asleep! Suddenly, I was in need of some higher heights to fall from. While at first it was dropping over Niagra Falls or from skyscrapers, it became falling from cliffs or airplanes without any chutes—higher and higher, until eventually I found myself dropping from the stratosphere, like Felix Baumgartner, always trying to outrace my protesting brain to sleep. Soon I was able to imagine the perfect scenario: what if you whisked down a hole to China? If you did this, no hard Earth would ever come up to smash you—it would be just one long and continuous fall back and forth between two poles, like a yo-yo, your body ultimately reaching equilibrium in the center of the Earth’s core as you floated there weightless, like in outer space—that is, if you could only stay awake long enough to imagine it. One day, it dawned on me that this might make for a great kid’s book, so I began to do research and query physicists and mathematicians. What would happen to a boy if he fell down a hole to China, for real? Like, would he go directly to the other side of the Earth or would he shoot straight down to the center of the earth, then stick to the core of gravity like a dart in a dartboard? The physicists shook their head at me. “Your boy would die in so many horrible, unimaginable ways,” they said. “Oh, well, by the way, I forgot to mention,” I responded to them, unfazed, “my hole is lined with ’magical bricks.’” (Before you die, you should just once ask a panel of physicists a physics question, then double down with the concept of “Magical Bricks.”  It’s fantastic…)

 

AJ: Who was your favorite character to explore?

FG: Edgar Dewitt, really, because of all the characters his was not based on any real person. His character was an amalgamation of all the redemptive characteristics I‘ve always appreciated in people—traits I always wanted to possess: courage, sticking up for others, the way he always manages to cleverly dig himself out of so many holes—traits I was never strong enough to possess but desired, especially as a kid. So, it made Edgar difficult to know since he was actually more of an idea than a known entity. I had to create him from thin air and then try to figure out who he was and what he was feeling.

 

AJ: As a creative soul who has experience writing music lyrics, what was something that surprised you about the writing process for a novel?

FG: Well, to note, I have three jobs…four really: I’m a convenience store owner, a singer, a guitar player, and a writer. (I’ve always separated “singer” from “guitar player” because they both took so many years to learn.) I’ve been playing guitar for about 20 years and have taken voice lessons for about the past eight. I’ve seen people who’ve played for five years who were already better than me 20 years in. And with singing, I have a tendency to sing flat so every note I hit is always an all-out battle. At the convenience stores, it’s possible for me to be called in at midnight or on any given day for vandalism and robberies, or to have to fix a trashed toilet, or to deal with burning cars at the gas pumps (which actually happened to us back in March)—but that said, none of this has ever been as difficult as trying to bring a book to life. And especially trying to get it published—none of it combined.   It turns out, trying to be a real, bonafide writer was one of the most involved, painstaking, and improbable things I’ve ever set out to do. All the editing, the refining, the revision—eventually I had to learn to not only accept criticism, but to seek it out. I had no idea how much of a grueling affair this would be. And then, after the book was complete, I was informed by industry vets that now I was to, like all other authors in the universe, undergo a flattening deluge of rejection after rejection—which is true. People nailing stacks of rejection letters to their walls, puffing their chests out like it was some sort of badge of courage—and this being the reward for accomplishing something so cool as writing a book?! Well, when I finally got back my first acceptance letter, I was able to look back on it all and realize that to have kept this up for so many years—to have kept writing and revising and tinkering and pushing without ever the promise of a reward—it had to be my love for the writing itself. I had to love the process and all the digging because the work-to-reward ratio was extremely out of whack. Lots of people will tell you that, too. So, to answer your question, that’s what surprised me most about writing a novel: how hard it was. And I’d do it again tomorrow.

 

AJ: Are you a fisherman like Edgar? What is your favorite fish to cook?

FG: No way! Edgar’s a deep sea guy—my dad always taught me to catch pond fish and lake fish. I’m not sure what you have where you’re from, but down here in Alabama we have bream and crappie (which are delicious by the way—you just have to watch out for bones.) My favorite fish to eat? No question: Chilean Seabass. You know, Ambercod!

 

AJ: What do you hope your readers will take away from Edgar’s adventure?

FG: Truly, I just hope they have a good time reading it. That’s all. I hope the story is engrossing and helps kids to escape life for a little while, because that’s what the best books do. They help you escape. I want kids to feel the same elation as I did when I wrote the story—the same I felt as a kid when I saw all those movies like The Karate Kid, Back to the Future, ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark—all the movies that were actually great stories, that sowed inspiration into a hopeful and memorable childhood. I’ve been so lucky in life! We had such great content back then. What better stories could a kid be exposed to than the ones of the Eighties?


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