UI professor's writing takes off
Ted Sanders, a writing professor at the University of Illinois, is an award-winning writer of literary fiction and a newly signed (four-book deal) middle grade children's author.
Sanders has loved writing since his childhood, even making his own tiny books and creating long stories about his elementary friends solving mysteries.
But he didn't really pursue publication until his 30s, where he's achieved many accomplishments.
After attending the master's of fine arts program at the UI, Sanders won the 2011 Bakeless Prize for Fiction, which led to his short story collection "No Animals We Could Name," being published by Graywolf Press, a Minnesota independent publishing house.
This book is available for purchase on websites, such as Amazon, Graywolf Press and Barnes & Noble and at the Illini Union Bookstore.
His publication success with the short story collection led to securing an agent and a four-book deal with HarperCollins Children's Books for the middle grade series "The Keepers."
The first book, tentatively titled "The Box and the Dragonfly," will be out in late 2014 and published simultaneously in the United Kingdom by Hot Key Books with one of J.K. Rowling's editors.
"The Keepers" focuses on a 12-year-old boy named Horace Andrews, who discovers a small box that gives him a surprising power. He also finds out that many objects in the world are similar to the box, and each instrument grants its own unique set of powers. Then he stumbles onto a secret war over the prized collections of these objects.
"The series is magical, in a way," Sanders said. "But even though it's fantasy, the book focuses a lot on science and plausibility and realism."
Sanders said that his success with "No Animals We Could Name" helped him find the literary agent for his middle-grade series. After winning the Bakeless prize, he taught workshops at the Bread Load Writers' Conference in Vermont, where he met with his agent, who loved both literary fiction and children's books. She signed Sanders after reading the first book in the series.
Sanders loves kids' books. He used to work in the children's department of Pages for All Ages Bookstore when it was at Old Farm Shops in Champaign, and he was one of the buyers for the children's book section for a while.
"At some point, it just seemed natural to give writing for kids a try — I had this specific idea floating around for years, but I couldn't really place it into anything, couldn't really fit it into a literary story," he said.
Then he said that he had a "frantic week" where the concept for the middle grade series unfolded, and he started writing.
Sanders doesn't have weird writing habits or rituals. He writes when he is in the mood or has time or he's on a deadline. He might write 70 hours in one week or possibly none at all. But there's no doubt that he loves writing.
"It's satisfying to me to immerse myself whole-heartedly into a story and obsess over it, and then let it loose into the wild and move on. It makes me feel like the Earth is turning."
You won't find Sanders doing much social networking — building an Internet presence is one of his least favorite parts of being a writer, although his agent recently talked him into getting on Twitter. He has a website where readers can contact him and keep up with news about the publication of "The Keepers" Book 1 at http://www.tedsanders.net.
Sanders lives in Urbana with his wife and children. He loves teaching at the UI, being "a part of a program that did so much for me as a student."
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.