Joshua Kriesberg lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife and two sons. His sons were willing listeners to countless “make-up” stories, which eventually formed the novel Horatio’s One Wish. Kriesberg has written for most of his life. Horatio’s One Wish is his first children’s novel.
“Although I wrote the book for children,” says Kriesberg, “the story’s characters and universal themes of friendship, family, loyalty, and courage can appeal to all ages. The story is really about how a lost and lone creature, Horatio, ventures out into an unknown world and overcomes great odds to find his true home. A journey all of us can relate to.”
1) Horatio’s One Wish is a moving story with strong human pathos. Why did you choose to write this novel with animal characters rather than people?
I’ve always had an affinity for animal characters in fiction. Moreover, most children love stories with animals. A fictional story with animals inherently will be an imaginative, adventurous story, often taking place outdoors. I think many readers, particularly young readers, have a sense of fun when they pick up a book with animal characters. That’s the response I wanted from readers and what I wanted while I was writing.
2) Why did you choose a hedgehog as your protagonist?
Horatio is set apart in the story. He’s been separated from his home and he lives alone. I wanted to choose an animal that was physically separate and distinct from other small mammals as well. In the case of a hedgehog, the physical difference which makes it stand apart is its quills. I also wanted to choose a small mammal, as opposed to a larger animal, because I wanted the main character to be vulnerable. The predator-prey relationship is a strong theme in the story. It creates immediate tension because the character that is the potential prey can be attacked at any time.
3) How did you come to choose the names for your main characters?
I chose the name Horatio because that sounded like a heroic name to me; it reminds me of the word ‘hooray’, so it has an upbeat sound to it. I came up with the names of Whisklet and Whimser because I wanted somewhat light and whimsical names. The main nemesis of the story, Scarretchen, needed to be a threatening sounding name, so I combined the words ‘scar’ or ‘scare’ with the word ‘wretched’ to make the name ‘Scarretchen’.
4) Do you have any favorites scenes from the book? If so, what are they?
I have many scenes and characters that I like throughout the book. I like the scene where Horatio meets Whisklet and Whimser, and the snails, Mish and Mosh, in Chapter 3. I like the scene with Graysent where he explains the tale of Scarretchen in Chapter 4. I like the character of Latch, the flying squirrel, who appears in Chapters 9 and 10. I like the character of Francis Hopper, the bullfrog, who appears in Chapter 18. And, of course, I very much like the scene where Horatio makes his one wish, in Chapter 21. But I won’t say anything more about that scene.
5) What was the most difficult thing about writing this book? The easiest?
The most difficult part of the book was the ending, because I wanted it to be unique. I wanted to find a way for good to triumph over evil without the use of violence, which is different from more typical endings in children’s novels. The other challenge was in introducing the character of Leala, the champion archer from the hedgehog village. She appears at different parts of the novel, and I needed to decide at what points she should appear and how often. I can’t say there were any really easy parts of the novel, as each chapter required many revisions. My first draft was about 100 pages longer than the final, so I had to cut out large sections to improve the flow of the story as well.
6) What books do you feel influenced this novel?
Certainly Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows comes to mind, with its whimsical animal characters. I was influenced by Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series, which also is an epic coming-of-age adventure story. Lloyd Alexander’s character, Gurgi, helped influence my thinking for the snails, Mish and Mosh, for example, since I realized the story would be enhanced by having these mischievous, comical characters. The works of Charles Dickens influenced me. Horatio is sort of an Oliver Twist kind of character, venturing out into an unknown world, and finally finding his true home.
7) What do you want readers to get out of this book?
First, I want readers of all ages to simply enjoy the story and have fun reading it. If the book helps foster a love of reading in any child, simply because he or she thoroughly enjoyed reading it, then it was a success. But there are a lot of important themes in this story that I hope readers might think about once they’ve finished the story. How much should a person do to help a friend? What are the examples of loyalty in the story? Courage? Teamwork? Compassion? Sacrifice? What is the importance of family? I believe the story can be read at many different levels. But if the reader just wants to read the story and take a ride into a world of imagination, that’s fine too.
8) Your bio mentions that the book began as “make-up” stories for your sons. What year did the stories begin and when did you start writing them down? How long did it take to write the book once you began?
I started these stories when my boys were about 4-years-old (or about in 2001) and I used the same characters in different adventures up until they were about 8 or 9-years-old. When I made the stories up for my boys, the main characters were the hamsters and the snails. Since my boys were twins I naturally made up characters who were also twins for my stories. I introduced the character Horatio for the novel as I needed one central protagonist. Then the hamsters and the snails became Horatio’s companions on his journey. I knew I was writing a novel primarily for the 8 to 12-year-old reader. I started writing the novel in 2007 and finished the first complete edited draft in 2008. So I completed most of the book over the course of one year, writing for about 2 to 3 hours each day consistently. But then I put the book way and didn’t look at it for a long while. I edited the book off and on, over and over again, for several years before I finally decided I was ready to publish it in 2013.
9) Was it your dream to be a writer?
I have been writing since I was a boy. I remember when I was in 3rd grade I would make up stories to tell to the class. My classmates enjoyed the stories so much that my teacher set 1 hour a week for me to tell the class a story. I would stand up in front of the class and read the story I had written that week. They couldn’t wait to hear the next story the next week. Then when I was in 7th grade I wrote a novella; it was about 70 pages. It was an adventure story and the characters were toys that I played with at home. I found the novella some 30 years later and in re-reading it as an adult it reminded me of the time in my life when I would just write stories for the fun of telling an adventure, without trying for any real higher purpose but to have fun. I wanted to try to recapture that way of story-telling and set off to write my novel. I really didn’t know where it would take me, but I wanted to have fun with it and to tell an adventure story. And I feel if I stay true to the purpose of writing I felt as a kid–create an adventure and have fun with it– I will continue to be able to produce more novels readers will want to read over time.