June 03, 2020

Don't Stand So Close to Me: Q & A with author Eric Walters

Don't Stand So Close to Me
Written by Eric Walters
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-4598-2788-2 (pdf)
978-1-4598-2789-9 (epub)
116 pp.
Ages 9-14
June 2020

Yesterday author Eric Walter and publisher Orca Book Publishers launched an extraordinary middle grade novel and I was pleased to review Don't Stand So Close to Me here on CanLit for LittleCanadians.  Today I'm pleased to share with you some background into this unprecedented publication and launch via this Q & A with author Eric Walters.  Enjoy!

Eric Walters

HK:  If there was one thing that compelled you to write a story based on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what was it?

EW:  Almost immediately I started receiving emails and twitter comments from students, teachers and teacher/librarians asking me if I was going to write a story about the pandemic.  At first, I simply told them it wasn’t something I was contemplating.  As those contacts reached over a hundred, I began to realize that there was both a desire and a need.  Young people needed to see something that reflected their present lives, to understand their situations, and teachers needed something to get their students engaged.

HK:  Though literature can be solely for entertainment and not harbour hidden messages to illuminate or educate, Don’t Stand So Close to Me cannot help but facilitate young readers’ understanding of the circumstances. If there was one message for them to take away from reading the book, what would you like it to be?

EW:  There were some very important pieces of information I wanted incorporated into the narrative including ‘flattening the curve’ and ‘exponential growth’.  I wanted these to be explained in a way that they could understand.  The overall message, however, is about changes, adapting, understanding what’s lost, acknowledging the anxiety of uncertainty, and perhaps more important, remembering what is still with us – family, friendship, human connection and hope.

HK:  Don’t Stand So Close to Me is more than “just” a book. It is an undertaking to involve young people in tackling the pandemic at their own level. It doesn’t require action but it certainly empowers them to look beyond the inconvenience and see the big picture of how they might help reduce the impact of this dangerous virus. If you could choose 3 actions that you would encourage them to take, what would they be?

EW:  It all stems from a basic understanding that, while we’re certainly not in the same boat, we are in the same ocean.  We have a deep connection, and need for that connection, with those around us.  Be kind.  Have faith.  Have hope.
a)    What can you do to show kindness to those in your family?
b)    How can you connect with others in your community to make their lives better?
c)    Change always starts with one person.  Be the person that helps to change your part of the world.

HK:  I applaud your characters who seem to follow the saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But, we know that there are many for whom this pandemic is a struggle. As a former social worker and teacher, do you have any guidance for young people who might be struggling emotionally?

EW:  This pandemic has helped to expose the fault lines in our society.  We are not all blessed with the same support systems – either internally or externally.  Share a gentle word, encourage, make a phone call, a donation. Be kind to each other – and be kind to yourself.  Being kind to yourself may be the hardest.  Don’t judge – support.
    If you’re having problems, reach out to your parents, teachers and friends. It’s a sign of strength to know when you need help.  Be strong enough to reach out.

HK:  The book’s dedication is to your grandchildren whose names are coincidentally that of the three main young characters. But your grandchildren are far younger than Quinn, Isaac and Reese in Don’t Stand So Close to Me. Do the characters share any characters with your grandchildren or are they modelled after other young people you know or have known?

EW:  I love being a grandfather.  My grandchildren are all 2 or under.  Someday they’ll look at this story, see their names, and this will be part of my gift to them, to help bind them together.  You always invest bits of yourself or people you know in your stories.  I REALLY like these characters.  They are caring, capable, funny and thoughtful.  

HK:  Getting a book written and to press is usually a lengthy process. How were you able to complete this process so quickly, especially under the circumstances of everyone working remotely?

EW:  From the very beginning this was an act of trust and partnership.  With just a rough outline my publisher trusted me to craft and complete a novel on a tight schedule. While I was writing they were simultaneously editing, marketing, working on digital strategies, designing a cover and doing all the things necessary to publish a book.  We not only published in record time but created a marketing and promotion path that was more comprehensive than any plan previously attempted with any of my books – or any of their previous books!

HK:  Fingers crossed that this pandemic will be over, some time. Would you consider a sequel to reveal how Quinn, Isaac and Reese and their peers and families managed and look back at how this event has shaped them? Or would you perhaps write another book that addresses life in the aftermath of the pandemic? Or are you just as happy to let Don’t Stand So Close to Me be the end of this story?

EW:  Until you asked this question, I hadn’t thought about it at all!  Maybe I better call Orca before I answer. 
          This story ends with hope.  It’s the best possible place for any of us right now.  I’ve always believed in the power of hope.  At the same time, I strongly believe that you prepare for the worst and pray for the best. 
           I enjoyed those characters so much I would like to revisit them in another story.  I think what the story might be well be dictated by what’s going to transpire in the world.  I choose to believe it will be better. 
          You have to have hope.


Many thanks to author Eric Walters for inviting me to be part of the process of getting Don't Stand So Close to Me to young readers during this challenging time.  

Thank you also to Leslie Bootle at Orca Book Publishers for allowing me to share in this amazing journey to launch.

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