INTERVIEW WITH JOHN TKAC
NEW BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
John Tkac (Pronounced Tack) is the award
winning author of an exciting story about a
boy and his relationship with dolphins, called
Whispers From the Bay (
reviewed here in August ). John answered
some questions I had about his book, and writing.
Doesn't his photo look like he has great fun?
Bev: I really enjoyed Whispers from
the Bay. Tell us about your life up to now,
and your journey to publication.
John: I am a born and raised Miami
boy. As youngsters, a group of us would fish,
snorkel, jump off bridges into the Miami River,
and eat pilfered mangos all summer long. After
graduating from the University of Notre Dame
and getting an M.B.A. from the University of
Georgia, I embarked on a career in (youíre going
to think this is odd for a young adult author)
the retail automobile business. I ran some large,
successful dealerships and was blessed with
the ability to retire at a reasonably early
age. I then began a career as a motivational
speaker, consultant, and sales trainer.
I had more quiet time with my new endeavors,
and my creative writing juices started flowing.
For some inexplicable reason, Whispers from
the Bay bubbled up in me, and novel writing
has now become a passion.
Bev: When did you first think about
writing a book for teens?
John: In 2004 while fishing off Key
Largo, Florida, with a few out of state friends,
we came upon a pod of dolphins. As we watched
them, I mentioned that as a young boy I always
saw dolphins in Biscayne Bay and regularly dove
in and swam near them. We chatted about the
fascinating creatures for the rest of the day.
Soon after that event, the thoughts of writing
an adventure tale began to stir. I had already
left the auto industry, and a pleasant void
had entered my life. I mused about my early
years in Miami and the first outlines and scribblings
Bev: What, or who, has been your greatest
inspiration for writing?
John: Two authors, Mark Twain and
Rudyard Kipling, probably inspired me more than
any other writers. I tried to give Whispers
from the Bay a
Tom Sawyer feel, and I wanted the
dolphins to be as memorable as some of Kiplingís
I read a wonderful Kipling tale fifty years
ago and have always remembered the names of
the main characters: the evil cobras Nag and
Nagaina, the talkative bird Darzee, and the
great Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I can only hope that
readers will remember Nyla, Naar, Naarin, Shanti,
Pike, Finn, and the rest of the dolphins.
One other book that has influenced me is The
Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
When I read a book, within a few pages I can
tell if the author has a copy of Professor Strunkís
work under his pillow. I do.
It would be presumptuous of me to compare myself
to Kipling or Twain. All I can promise readers
is that I will always attempt to climb toward
their soaring prose.
Mike Connelly is such a compelling character.
Is he based on anyone? Tell us about developing
Mike as a character.
John: I suppose Mike is a compilation
of a good many of my boyhood friends and acquaintances.
I knew a boy in grade school who stuttered.
I donít remember his name, but I do remember
him being teased. In Miami, my friends and I
were uncomplicated creatures in an uncomplicated
time. I portrayed Mike as a smart but introverted
young guy in a fairly simple and straightforward
world. Of course, Mikeís world becomes far less
simple as the story unfolds.
Mike promises to keep the dolphinsí secret,
and he succeeds in keeping his vow of silence
because he is a boy with character. I tried
to avoid obvious didactic moments in the story.
It is, after all, just a breezy fun read. I
have been told by adult readers that there is
a message in Mike. It is that having character
will stand you in good stead. I hope younger
readers catch that message.
Bev: And the dolphins? I know that
you have been swimming with dolphins since childhood,
and probably talking to them. How did you create
the dolphin characters?
John: My association with dolphins
from boyhood has left me with the feeling that
they are much more intelligent than humans have
ever realized. I researched dolphins for a year
because I wanted to portray their behavior in
the most scientifically accurate manner. (Except
that they telepathically speak English.)
During my research, I found many documented
instances where dolphins exhibited empathy towards
humans. It seemed reasonable to me that the
dolphins could have many other human traits
and emotions. The dolphins of Whispers from
the Bay exhibit love, anger, fear, compassion,
loyalty, joy, and they have a very human sense
At every presentation or book talk I have done,
at least one young reader asks me, "Do you think
dolphins can communicate with us?" I always
answer with a twinkle, "Iím not sure. What do
Bev: One of my favorite scenes was
fairly early in the book, where Mike cut the
net to free the tangled dolphin, Naarin, and
rescued him from the hungry sharks. What is
your favorite part of the book, and why?
John: The shark scene is a great one,
and I like Mike catching the sailfish, and the
barracuda encounter. My favorite scene, however,
is the hurricane. Mike learns of an approaching
storm from a dolphin, but he cannot warn the
others and tell them how he came by the information.
He chooses to say nothing and keep his secret.
The consequences are disastrous. This is the
pivotal moment in the story.
Bev: And, your least favorite, and
John: Come on. You canít ask an author
that question. There are no least favorite parts.
However, if I had to pick a least favorite
part, I would say—The End. Itís not because
the ending is bad. I wanted the story to keep
going. The sequel picks up with Mike as a teenager.
Tell us about the recent award you received
for Whispers from the Bay.
John: The Florida Book Awards is sponsored
by the University System of Florida and the
Florida Humanities Council. Whispers from
the Bay won the Gold Medal for Young Adult
Literature. And, I was told by the judging committee
that Whispers won the Gold in an unprecedented
unanimous vote—a wonderful validation
for me. The Honorable Governor Charlie Crist
presented me with the Gold Medal at a gala event
in the State Capitol. It was quite a thrill.
Bev: You mentioned to me that chronologically,
Whispers from the Bay is actually number
three in the series, but that numbers one and
two are not yet published. Tell us about that.
John: When I wrote Whispers from
the Bay, I frantically wrote for about seventy
days and produced about 800 pages. I realized
that I was writing an epic. I cut 300 pages
out of the middle and that became Whispers
from the Bay. The 500 pages on either side
of Whispers have become the framework
for books one, two, four and five.
I picked these particular pages because I was
most comfortable with them. Now I think books
one and two are far more exciting.
Bev: Tell us about your writing life.
Do you have your plot all figured out before
you begin? Do you outline? How much time do
you usually devote to writing?
John: When Iím not traveling, I write
every day. I like to start at 5:00 A.M. and
work until about lunchtime. For Whispers
and now the others I have an outline that is
constantly changing. Within the outline the
plot is fairly well established, but not etched
As I said before, it took me seventy days to
write the first draft of Whispers, along
with the extra pages. I then spent over a year
revising and rewriting the manuscript. I did
fourteen major rewrites of the story. Why? To
get the words right, of course. One other thing,
Iím a lousy typist. I wrote Whispers
on legal pads with a pencil.
Bev: Do you have any advice for your
young readers who would like to be writers?
- To be a good writer you must be a great
reader. Read everything you can.
- To write well you must have a good understanding
of the rules of the language and the writerís
tools: grammar, syntax, pace, plot, and a
- When writing fiction and dialogue the writerís
voice and a keen ear are important. (Your
words must sound natural to you when read
- The English language is colorful and powerful.
You donít have to use a lot of words if you
use them skillfully. Less is more.
- Get a copy of Strunk and Whiteís The
Elements of Style. Read it. Memorize it.
Use it every day. It is timeless advice for
anyone writing anything.
Bev: Thank you so much for taking the
time to visit with us here at MyShelf.com. I'm
looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
They almost make me want to abandon Alaska for
the sunny beaches of Florida.
TIPS FOR WRITING FOR CHILDREN
John Tkac gave us some great advice for writing.
Check out this presentation for more ideas:
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