As a child, McCallum J. Morgan always wanted to write a book. Born and raised in the small town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Morgan spent his youth scribbling out ideas, drawing pictures, and living largely in a world of make-believe. Notebooks began to fill, and they didn’t stop.
McCallum discovered the Institute of Children’s Literature and enrolled in their writing course, Writing for Children and Teenagers and, for their second course, the 18-year-old rewrote those bursting notebooks into A Hole in the Ice. Published on September 19, 2014, the book is an epic Edwardian adventure that blends drama, intrigue and supernatural fantasy.
McCallum still draws and occasionally attacks an unfortunate piece of fabric with a sewing machine, and he may be spotted around Bonners Ferry, sporting his collection of bizarre clothing items, singing The Phantom of the Opera in French, or at the bakery near his home, drinking a caramel macchiato. To learn more about Morgan and his work, visit mccallumjmorgan.weebly.com.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
Memory tends to cast everything in a golden glow but I’d describe it as idyllic. Our house is surrounded by forest in which we played virtually every day, there’s a creek not too far away, and we have horses. We were homeschooled. I read voraciously and I liked to draw and write. I combined the two in my own Magical Creature/Fairy guidebooks, scribbled into old memo pads and the like. Although my parents quit attending church early in my childhood and they weren’t extremely “religious,” I gained a very valuable moral standard from them.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
Lemony Snicket, Lewis Carroll, Phillip Pullman, Garth Nix, Jane Austen, Gaston Leroux, and many others.
What inspired the story of A Hole in the Ice, and how did the story change or evolve as you were writing it?
Many years ago I read The Golden Compass. My brother and I liked to play make-believe back then. So we started a game based on The Golden Compass, except I wanted it set in an older time-period, something more like Pride and Prejudice. Our make-believe games could last longer than a week, and eventually this one started to take on somewhat of a planned route and I started to write about it.
In the beginning there were deamons, like in The Golden Compass, but naturally I wanted it published someday, so I dropped them. They were entirely extraneous anyway. I also lost a lot of my brother’s characters (he had a separate plotline running that didn’t really fit). Balder is the reimagined leftovers of one of his characters.
A couple years later I signed up for Writing for Children and Teenagers with the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL). The last assignment was planning a book and writing the first few chapters. I began to entirely rewrite the manuscript (at that point already named) and submitted the first few chapters. Then I signed up for the advanced course with ICL, Writing and Selling Children’s Books. I rewrote the whole book for that course.
After the course was over I started to look for a publisher. Finally I found Little Bird. The book went through minor changes before publishing, the biggest alteration being the new prologue.
What were the biggest writing lessons you learned while attending the Institute of Children’s Literature?
Marketing. It’s so important to do your research so that you can find the right market for your work. I think the revision tips were also invaluable.
At what point did you realize that your notebooks could realistically be turned into a coherent novel?
Good question. I’d set out with the intention of completing a novel. But I was superstitious. I never called it a book until late in the proceedings. It was my Attempt At A Book (AAAB or Triple A and One B (TAB) for short). After several notebooks, it graduated to a TWB (Trying to Write a Book). I’d had failed attempts before, so I didn’t want to be to ostentatious with what I hoped would finally be a success.
What was the most challenging aspect of the writing process for A Hole in the Ice?
Revision. Revision in tough nails. Usually nailed into your brain. Thankfully I was rewriting it for the second course with the Institute of Children’s Literature and so I had my instructor, the amazing Clara Gillow Clark, to help me out. It always helps to have another person to help point out the problems.
What did it feel like to hold a copy of your finished book in your hands for the first time?
It was crazy. I could hardly believe it.
When you’re in need of inspiration, where do you turn?
Usually, there’s no forcing inspiration, she comes and goes when she will, but I also find inspiration in books, art, and music. I like to sit and listen to music, I close my eyes and let the music and my mind play with images. It’s not always fruitful. It depends on whether or not inspiration is in a giving mood.
Not including your own, what book do you think everyone should read?
After reading Metropolis by Thea Von Harbou, I joked that it should be required reading. But I really don’t think it’s for everyone. I found the elaborate language beautiful and the feel of the work was enrapturing. Others might find it slow. For a fantasy must-read, I recommend The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.
Do you believe in fate, or are we all free to choose and shape our own destinies?
Yes and no. I think there is a certain amount of fate in that God might have a certain path or opportunity for you, but you still have to choose it.
If you could change one thing about the world or society, what would it be?
Courtesy. A lot of people have it, but just imagine if every single person in the whole world had a healthy dose of courtesy. All social problems would be virtually erased. Including war.
Aside from writing, what are you most passionate about?
Drawing, perhaps. Reading, certainly. Social events, maybe. I live for those, which is odd since I’m not really a very social person. I’m terrible at interacting with people; I’m hampered by frustrating inhibitions, but any scent of a social event and I drop everything else.
What are you working on next?
Several magazine pieces and the sequel to A Hole in the Ice. The series is a planned trilogy.