In the fall of 2007, Walter Dean Myers received a fan letter that caught his attention. Ross Workman “seemed to understand writing as process and was interested in that process,” Myers says. So he suggested to Workman, now 17, that they work together.
“We need to do a book about a 13-year-old soccer player who gets into trouble and is facing juvenile court,” Myers suggested, and thus Kick was born. In alternating first-person chapters, Sergeant Brown and Kevin Johnson establish a tentative trust, until Kevin feels ready to confide in Brown about why he was driving a “borrowed” car without a license.
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Did you decide together what the story would be and stick to it? Or did you find that, in the course of writing, the plot and/or characters took you in some unexpected directions?
Walter Dean Myers: We started with a rough outline, but I soon found that we were virtually using ourselves as characters. This was easy for me because I’ve been around for a while. But Ross grew throughout the whole process.
Ross Workman: We deviated from [the outline] and the plot evolved. And it evolved even more when we revised the story. I had to invent Kevin, who is very different from me. He’s hotheaded, and he gets into fights and doesn’t always think before he acts. He gets called into the principal’s office and even ends up in jail—two places I’ve never been! I imagined him to be someone I could know, someone who could be on my soccer team. And I had to make sure he always acted and sounded like Kevin, and not like Ross.
Ross, did you have to teach Walter the nuances of soccer, the way Kevin teaches Sergeant Brown?
RW: I’d been playing soccer for so long that I sometimes forgot that not every reader would understand what I was talking about. Walter bought Soccer for Dummies so that he would understand the game. But it was actually very helpful that Walter didn’t know soccer. When he didn’t understand what I meant in my scenes, I made sure to rewrite that portion so it was completely clear, even to someone who had never played soccer.
Walter, were there times when you coached Ross on his chapters? What did you stress as the main things to keep in mind?
WDM: I didn’t have to coach Ross on the writing; he seems to do it naturally. There were times when his sports and school schedule led him to rush a chapter, and I would remind him that we weren’t in a hurry to get the book done.
The timing of Kevin’s decision to confide in the Sergeant about what really happened the night he was pulled over had to feel authentic. Did you discuss when and how that scene would unfold?
WDM: This was a difficult part of the story and much of the rewriting centered on it. I had never actually co-authored a book before so I was grateful when our editor [Phoebe Yeh] helped by coordinating our efforts.
RW: Phoebe Yeh definitely helped us a lot with this, and this was a part that was difficult for me to capture. I knew this was an important part of the story, and I had to get it right.
What was your favorite part about working on this book?
WDM: My favorite part of writing this book was to see how another writer would take off from where I had stopped and spin the story further. Ross is also a musician, and I often wondered if he was thinking of the book as a jazz piece.
RW: A jazz piece—that’s really interesting. I don’t think I ever thought of the book that way, but I wonder if my musical training helped me to be a better writer. No, it’s true, so much of what a writer does is improvising. And sometimes you have to keep the pace of the story fast, like a Charlie Parker solo, and sometimes you have to slow it down so the reader can stop to think. My favorite part about working on this book was getting to work with my idol.
Walter Dean Myers and Ross Workman
HarperTeen / Feb. 1, 2011 / 9780062004895 / $16.99 / 12 & up
Authors' photo by Bob Carey