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Interview with Blake Bobechko, Author of Frog of Arcadia
Chatting with an author of children's fiction
I met Blake a few weeks ago through a Twitter thread discussing the importance of children’s literature in this new age of independent publishing and media. After learning he was, himself, an indie author of a children’s book, I asked if he would be willing to be interviewed by me for the magazine. He was thrilled and thankfully agreed.
Below is my conversation with Blake Bobechko, author of Frog of Arcadia, in which we discuss books, faith, writing, and the state of children’s fiction. If you wish to support Blake by purchasing his book, I’ve linked it below.
I’ll be cracking open my copy this week. I suggest you do the same.
- Frank Theodat
Frank Theodat: How long have you been writing fiction? What first inspired you to become a writer?
Blake Bobechko: In a sense, I’ve always been a writer in that I’ve always loved storytelling, and that I grew up admiring the written word. I was raised in a home chock-full of old books and I strongly believe that they had had a profound impact on my outlook on things, even if it was just through breathing in their dust sometimes. You might almost call it inspiration through osmosis if it weren't for some sincerely cool relics that captivated my mind.
Funny story about that – when I was young and my family first moved into the town that I now call home, my parents had bought an old, abandoned house that they could fix up over time. One of those projects involved making the attic space livable. Like so many century-home attics, the structure had vaulted ceilings that sloped from the peak down to the floorboards. There were no proper walls, just floors, and angled ceilings.
One day, my dad decided to remedy this architectural frustration by walking into a used bookstore and making an offer for their entire inventory. If that seems eccentric, that would be because my dad’s an eccentric fellow. He then proceeded to stack old crates and pine boards so as to create makeshift shelving, which would also serve as walls. At this point you might be wondering if it would have been cheaper just to put up some framing and drywall, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But my dad knew the importance of children reading, and so he sought to create an environment which stimulated a love for books. Mission accomplished, Dad. But I digress.
From those early days, I knew that I wanted to read or write books for a living, in some uncertain capacity. I thought about being a teacher, and had other such notions, but my feet were firmly set upon the career path of the family business and that is where I am still employed to date. But reading and writing remained my pastime, though much of it I kept private. I would dabble in fiction, poetry, and what some might call journaling. But it wasn’t until I had children of my own that my thoughts started seriously turning to writing for someone else. And that’s how Frog of Arcadia was birthed! I wrote my first book as a story that I could tell my own children. While I didn’t originally set out to publish a book, I am thankful to have received strong encouragement from my wife. And here we are.
FT: I understand you are based in Orangeville, Ontario, and love the outdoors. How much of that was an influence on Frog of Arcadia and your writing in general?
BB: Great question! Though my family weren’t farmers, I had the privilege of spending my earlier years on a picturesque farm property in rural Ontario, right between the small towns of Orangeville and Fergus. That glorious tract of land is called East Garafraxa. Friends have doubtless noticed that I tend to wax poetic whenever I see her pastures and rivers.
Well, hidden behind our white, wooden driveshed, was a small patch of wetlands. This glorious little muskeg was just small enough that adults could be excused for overlooking it. But a child’s eyes can perceive such features with a different level of utility than a grown-up’s might, for an abundance of frogs and turtles would pay me visit from the bosom of that swampy paradise.
Given that upbringing, it might come as no surprise that the topic of my first book should revolve around the backyard critters which I had so much joy catching in those formative years.
FT: How would you describe your writing process?
BB: Brainstorming bursts followed by weeks or months of piecing it all together, only to find myself tearing half of it up and recycling the rest into something new.
I have a wide variety of interests which regularly engage my mind; I’d say that biblical studies, western history, adventure and mythology are my regular genres. Those readings are where I’ll usually find something that strikes a chord with another thought that was already simmering on the back burner of my mind.
Of course, thoughts need time to incubate. Unfortunately, those thought-eggs usually want to hatch right before bed, and I need to quickly fetch a pen and a pad of paper.
FT: Frog of Arcadia seems to continue that long standing tradition of stories told by animals in similar fashion to Wind in the Willows and Watership Down. Was this an intentional decision? If so why?
BB: Absolutely! I am very keen on animal-fiction. You actually mentioned some of my favourite fictional books in your question. Anyone who has read those great classics will recognize that their animal characters are more than just ornamental skins on otherwise human characters. Think Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. The most beloved animal characters are distinctly other, allowing them to embellish the best and worst traits of our humanity.
Children love animal stories because they allow them to bravely rush into frightful places where they ordinarily wouldn’t dare to tread. Think of the timeless collection of Aesop’s Fables. The stakes are much lower when children can read adventures occurring in the animal kingdom — though they may be no less epic, young readers can feel safe knowing that the dangers are somehow otherworldly.
Adults too can find great satisfaction in the reading of animal-fiction because of what these stories teach us about being human. But most of all, this special sub-genre allows for a certain sweetness to be infused to its often fantastical story-telling. Well told animal stories are inherently charming — it's baked into their DNA.
On the topic of talking animals, there is a noteworthy scene in C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian where the children lament the killing of a dumb beast — a wild and hungry bear to be more precise. Lucy is slow to nock an arrow to her bowstring for fear that perhaps it may be one of Narnia’s talking animals, who can be reasoned with. Their dwarf companion is not so reserved however, quickly felling the beast before it can inflict carnage on them. An interesting thought is presented here by Lucy, one that I think is relevant to your question.
“Such a horrible idea has come into my head, Su.”
“Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?”
The conversation is quickly dismissed, but it gives the reader something to ponder about our world. Have we not experienced a growing wickedness in the hearts of men in our godless times? I believe this is Lewis’ commentary on Aslan’s enchantment of the Narnia. In the same way that the soul animates the body, and those who are in Christ are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we human’s can be said to be enchanted by our God; even those outside the faith experience degrees of common grace, as His invisible qualities are seen all around us and are teaching us.
But what happens when a society outright rejects Him and suppresses plainly observable truths? Would not that citizenry slip into spiritual darkness, and thereby willful blindness? So, it seems, did it happen to those brutes who were outside of Aslan’s enchanted country.
FT: Why should children (and parents) pick up your book?
BB: Good question. The world of secular literature is in dire straits right now. It seems that the more we suppress the truth, the more we lose the ability to tell good stories. And I am not just talking about explicitly Christian stories either! Christian culture produced Jekyll and Hyde, Moby Dick, The Lord of the Rings, Robinson Crusoe, and so on. These stories are timeless because they resonate with the human condition. While it's great to be able to show our children these old books, and I think we must, there must also be something contemporary we can give them.
This is my hope, that parents would be able to give their children something new that is written with an old soul. Frog of Arcadia is a riveting adventure with timeless morals, told to young people and people young at heart.
It’s worth saying that I purposefully didn’t shy away from using words that would expand a child’s vocabulary. When I was young, I found great enjoyment reading things outside my immediate grasp, and was still able to appreciate the big picture of the story. And so I intentionally kept the book short as a pay-off, so as not to discourage young readers. Frog of Arcadia clocks in at just over a hundred pages.
It has been a sincere blessing to hear from youth and adults who have enjoyed it.
FT: Being an author of children’s literature, what book from your childhood still has an impact on you and why?
BB: Woah. Big question. I mean, the Bible stories made a huge impression on me from when I can first recall. I still marvel at them. But I think you’re looking for an example of children’s literature, so I’ll ground my answer there.
I would have to say that my first reading of The Hobbit aroused something deep within me that I’ve never been able to quench. While I already loved books by that time, The Hobbit was different.
FT: What are your thoughts on the current state of Children’s Literature?
BB: Not enough books are being written to boys! The world needs more Treasure Island! More Robin Hood! We need more literature that builds our boys up to be dragonslayers in their own time. And for Heaven’s sake, we need decency to be restored.
FT: What book (besides your own) would you recommend for young children to read?
BB: I spend a lot of time recommending good books to my A State of Wonder subscribers, but my readers there are fully grown. It’s difficult to select a single book as a blanket recommendation to all children. But, if I could pick just one that would have universal appeal between boys and girls alike, and across all ages, I would have to select The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
On that note, C.S. Lewis dedicated that particular book to his goddaughter, Lucy. In the inscription, he penned the following: “I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather.”
That inscription had a big influence on my writing style.
FT: As a Christian, how does your faith impact your work?
BB: My faith in Jesus Christ shapes my worldview. He is my chief muse, and in everything I do, I try to be kingdom-minded. Biblically-literate readers of Frog of Arcadia will certainly notice that my work is anchored in my faith, though I wouldn’t call Frog of Arcadia an explicitly Christian text. It’s not preachy, as some people would say. But it does construe timeless morals.
FT: What are some of your interests outside of writing?
BB: I am a wilderness enthusiast. I love fishing and camping, and spying out new critters. As a father, nothing makes me happier than when my family and I are out in the bush.
I like chess and other tabletop games, and I really appreciate a freshly cut lawn.
FT: What are your plans for the future regarding your career? Any new books on the horizon?
BB: In my ideal scenario I would be a writer full time, Lord willing. But I am so very grateful for where He has me. That said, I have managed to write several manuscripts for future books, one of them being the continuation of Frog of Arcadia. It's not yet publication ready but it’s getting there. Plus, I’ve got a handshake deal with my brother Matlock to handle the illustrations once again. So if you enjoyed the artwork, there will be more where that came from.
FT: Where can people find you online, buy your book, and support the work you’re doing?
BB: Thank you for asking. I really do hope that my work is a blessing to people, young and old. Anyone interested can subscribe to my newsletter A State of Wonder at blakebobechko.substack.com, and my Twitter handle is @BlakeBobechko.
Of course, Frog of Arcadia is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. You can also check out my book at frogofarcadia.com where you’ll find links to a wide variety of national retailers who carry it.
With thanks, I would humbly ask that anyone who buys a copy of Frog of Arcadia please leave a review online. As an independent author, I rely upon reader reviews posted on Amazon, and any other platforms you may use. And I can confidently say that if you enjoy reading Frog of Arcadia half as much as I enjoyed writing it, you will have had a good time.
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