P. J. Hoover on Writing, Adventure, and Why You Should Build a Deck… Maybe

© Salima Alikhan 2020

Recently, Jacqui *virtually* sat down with her client P.J. (Tricia) Hoover to ask some searching questions about Tricia’s latest release, Homer’s Excellent Adventure, released on April 7, and writing through the pandemic and beyond. Here’s what Tricia shared with her:

Jacqui: Your new book, Homer’s Excellent Adventure, is a tremendously fun introduction for young readers to the Odyssey, Greek mythology in general (and Dactylic Hexameter!) with a serious nod to writing craft. What inspired you to combine all these ideas into a single book?

Tricia: Thanks so much! It really started as me wanting to retell the Odyssey for young readers in a fun, approachable way. I talk about the Odyssey all the time in school visits, but I had yet to write a book about it. Then one night I decided to re-watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I loved the way they had to travel through time to learn about history and save their grade. I decided that this would be my hook! A kid who has to travel along with Odysseus on his journey. As for what kid, why not break the mold and make it Homer himself? But instead of being a crotchety old guy like we may have all imagined, I decided to make him an eleven-year-old kid. Boom! That was the finishing piece, and I started the story. As for the writing advice that is peppered through this story, this started organically. Homer (in my story) is so much like me as a kid. He doesn’t like writing. The concepts are beyond him. He just wants to make it through. So many kids deal with this every single day in school. I figured if he was actually going to tell the story of the Odyssey, he was going to need to learn to write and enjoy doing it. And that’s how Homer’s Excellent Adventure was born!

Jacqui: The chapter names are so funny. Which is your favorite, and which were the easiest and hardest to come up with?

Book cover: Homer's Excellent Adventure

Tricia: Thank you! For those who haven’t read it or didn’t pick up on it, many of the chapter names are song titles or lyrics. I loved music when I was a teen. Bands like Styx, Rush, and the Grateful Dead filled my music shelf. With chapter titles like “Skeletons in the Closet” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” I had a ton of fun coming up with them. My personal favorite is “A Farewell to Kings” which happened to be my favorite Rush album. It’s the chapter where Homer says goodbye to two kings. I think it’s kind of clever. The hardest to come up with I would have to say are the ones I wasn’t able to cleverly sneak in song (or book) references to 🙂

Jacqui: I love a good retelling of a classic tale or myth and you’ve written quite a few of them now. What are the biggest challenges in reworking a classic story for a modern young readership?

Tricia: I love retellings, too! Myths are my favorite, and I would love to retell every single one. For the middle grade market, I find working with the myths to be easier since so many kids in that age group LOVE mythology. I think as we get to the older teen readers it gets a bit harder since not as many kids who are readers are obsessed with mythology like I am.

One thing I like to note on retellings is that it is okay to deviate from the myth as long as you can justify it.

One thing I like to note on retellings is that it is okay to deviate from the myth as long as you can justify it. Deviate too much and kids will leave you reviews telling you all the things you did wrong. Don’t get your facts wrong or the kids will call you out on it. But twist it cleverly enough in your deviation, and it will work!

Pick Your Own Quest: Dragon vs. Unicorn, by P. J. Hoover

Jacqui: Along with your traditionally published work, you also publish some really cool choose-your-own adventure type stories for young readers under the Connor Hoover pen-name: notably the Pick Your Own Quest series. What inspired you to write those books, and what is your favorite part about writing them?

Tricia: I wrote my first one of these, King Tut’s Adventure, as an extra that I had for free on my website to go along with the release of my middle grade novel Tut: The Story of my Immortal Life. It was so much fun to write. When I decided I wanted to start self-publishing chapter books under the Connor Hoover name, I thought to pull it from my website, publish it, and see how it went. The short answer is that kids loved it! I decided to write a Minecraft Pick Your Own Quest, which went over very well, and it kind of took off from there. They are such a great mental break from novel writing because I can honestly just write and enjoy the process. I also love formatting them and designing the covers. There’s pretty much nothing about the process that I don’t enjoy. Surprisingly, my best selling title of them is Dragon vs. Unicorn. Who do you think would win?

Jacqui: What are the biggest surprises (either good or bad) about being a full-time author during such a strange time in the world? How has the current health crisis impacted your writing life?

Tricia: Well one not-so-good-thing is that I’ve had tons of events cancelled. From TLA to Comic Cons and conferences, everything has either been postponed or cancelled altogether. The silver lining of this is that I have a lot more time at home to get stuff done. Oddly though I am crazy busy. The good thing is that I am used to working from home, so disciplining myself to go through my to-do list each day is not a problem. The hardest part is really stopping one activity and starting another. It’s a good place to be to have enough to keep my busy. I’m hoping for a day soon when I can step away from the computer and marathon Star Trek: Picard during my free month of CBS All Access, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Whatever it is, be in control. 

 One great thing that’s come out of all this is connecting with family, friends, and fellow writers on Zoom. I have loved chatting, having happy hour, talking about what is bothering us . . . pretty much anything. Even after the world settles back down, this is something I plan to keep up because it makes me very happy to feel so connected.

Jacqui: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Tricia: My best advice would be to maintain something in your life that you are in control of. With creative writing, so much of our “happiness” and “success” depends on people’s opinion of your work. Does an agent love it enough to represent it? Does an editor love it enough to acquire it? Do readers love it enough to buy it? Many of these things we have very little control over. So keep something in your life that you do have control over. As a hard worker, I want my hard work to pay off. I also crave the hopeful news of selling a book to a publisher, but I can’t hinge my entire happiness on it. Build a deck. Foster a dog. Start a blog. Whatever it is, be in control.

Thank you so much for featuring me and Homer’s Excellent Adventure! I’m so excited to share it with readers because I want people to love the Odyssey and mythology as much as I do!

P. J. Hoover

P. J. (Tricia) Hoover wanted to be a Jedi, but when that didn’t work out, she became an electrical engineer instead. After a fifteen year bout designing computer chips for a living, P. J. started creating worlds of her own. She’s the award-winning author of The Hidden Code, a Da Vinci Code-style young adult adventure with a kick-butt heroine, and Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life, featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who’s stuck in middle school. When not writing, P. J. spends time practicing kung fu, fixing things around the house, and solving Rubik’s cubes. For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website here.

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