Equal parts fantasy, wit, and adventure, Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight, by Douglas Gibson, is a middle-grade modern hero's journey. When Knight begins, Isaac Thompson is just your average fifth grader playing the part of a porcupine in the Castle Elementary School play. But when Isaac's little sister Lily goes missing from their school's creepy basement, he and his best friends Max and Emma set out on a heroic mission to find her. Their journey takes them into the Underground, a mysterious subterranean realm that lurks beneath their school. There they encounter an army of spear-wielding rats, a talking human-sized bat, and a thumb-nosed prison guard. Their biggest problem, though, is this: humans who stay in the Underground too long transform into weird, unpleasant creatures and are forced to work for the horrible Elf King. Can Isaac and his crew escape the Underground before it's too late for them to ever return home?
Curious to learn more about his writing process and influences, we recently asked author Douglas Gibson a few questions.
Capstone Connect: The plot of Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight has many zany situations, characters, and settings, starting with the Underground. How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Douglas Gibson: My wife actually came with the title. My son Griffin and I were into boffering at the time, which is where you do medieval-type fighting with foam-padded weapons. And my wife thought it would be fun to write a book about a kid who did the same thing, and imagined himself as a knight in real life and approached situations at school with a chivalric mindset. Some of that idea ended up in the book, in the character of Max, but I decided I wanted to write a story where an ordinary kid (like I was at that age) somehow wound up actually getting knighted, and Tales ended up being the (admittedly implausible) explanation of how that could happen.
CC: What does a typical writing session look like for you?
DG: I have four different types of writing sessions: dreaming-up/outlining, rough drafts, edits, and polishing. During the outlining phase, I outline my story again and again with increasing amounts of detail. In the process, I’ll have other documents open on my computer to type down ideas, characters, useful items, plotting questions, and snippets of dialogue that occur to me, so there’s a lot of switching back and forth and stopping and starting. I write my rough draft by hand using a pen and paper, mostly because my handwriting is so bad that going back and reading what I’ve just written is difficult and painful. (This prevents me from spending time editing and polishing what I’ve just written before I’m done with the scene or chapter I’m working on.) I print out the rough draft and edit by hand as well, for much the same reason. Polishing, which just means cleaning up the language, punctuation and sharpening the dialogue and so forth, I do on the computer. I’ll do a half hour of any of these sessions at a time, take a short break (sitting is bad for you!), and then do another half hour, then take a longer break, and then repeat for as long as I have time for.
CC: If you could have a different job for one day, what job would you have?
DG: If I could just magically acquire the necessary experience and skills, I think I’d like to be a martial-arts movie actor, like Jackie Chan or Donnie Yen. Or maybe someone who writes and draws graphic novels, like Kazu Kibuishi or Kean Soo.
CC: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?
DG: Besides reading, I just like to spend time with my family. And play video games with Griffin.
CC: If you could have a meal with one fictional character, who would it be and why?
DG: Bilbo Baggins. I’m pretty sure the food would be amazing, and there would be lots of it.
CC: Do you have any exciting projects in the works?
DG: I like to work on several projects at once. So at the moment I’m working on one story where two kids investigate the weird goings-on at their school, another about a kid who builds a winning virtual soccer team, and one about a girl who discovers that her parents are actually pirates. I’m also working on a book for older readers where a teenager learns how to go into other people’s dreams.
CC: Thank you, Doug!
— Eliza Leahy, Associate Editor