At one time, Baltimore native Alexander London was an award winning journalist who reported from conflict zones and refugee camps.
Today, as he notes in his biography, he can be found wandering the streets of Philadelphia— and when he comes home to Baltimore— talking to his dog, whom he says is the real brains of the operation.
London, 38, has written numerous best-selling books including books for children and teens. He is acclaimed as the author of “The Wild Ones” series, “Dog Tags” and the “Tides of War” series, as well as the “Accidental Adventures” and two titles in the “39 Clues” series for young readers.
In the fall, London will release his new book, “Black Wings Beating,” the first in a series of fantasy books set in a world of cut-throat falconry.
“I’ve been lucky to have a lot of inspirations in my writing life. My parents always encouraged my imagination, even as the wondered how I’d pay the bills using it,” London said. “But, it was probably my 5th grade teacher, John Xanders, and my amazing elementary librarian, Martha Ruff, who put the right books in my hand at the right time that set me on the path I’m walking now.”
It’s London’s opinion that every young writer needs someone to open the world of books to them at some point, to show them they have a place in it, no matter who they are or where they’re from.
There is room for everyone in books, he said.
“Writers talk about ‘pantsers,’ those who fly by the seat of their pants, and ‘plotters,’ those who plot out everything before they write a word. I’m more of a pantser, in that when an idea or a character or a voice comes to me, I just start writing to see where it goes,” London said.
Usually about one-third of the way in to a novel, London gets stuck and then must start making an outline, writing at the same time, he said.
As a teen, London moved to New York to attend Columbia University where he graduated with a degree in philosophy. Later, he earned a master’s degree in Library Science from Pratt Institute.
Some of his adult-themed books include “One Day the Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War,” and “Far from Zion,” for which he was named as a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.
“I believe books belong to their readers, especially books for young readers, so I tend to think that once a book is published and in the hands of eager young readers, it’s up to them to make the story what they will and the book is no longer mine,” London said when asked if he had a favorite book. “For me, my favorite is always the next one, the one that still belongs just to me.”
Currently, that is “Black Wings Beating,” which he says is also about family, love, redemption, longing, and giant killer birds.
“Once [it’s made its way to readers, then the next one will be my favorite and then the one after that and on and on, because I have a lot of stories left to tell, if I’m lucky enough to get the chance to tell them,” London said.
So, what motivates, or drives, this successful author?
“I do a lot of school visits to talk about reading and writing, and it’s the kids I meet that keep me going,” he said.
“Because a lot of my characters come from marginalized communities, especially the LGBTQ community, I’ll often have kids who’ve never believed they’d get to see anyone like themselves as the hero of a story tell me what it meant to feel seen and validated and ‘normal.’
“That keeps me going. I believe books for young people, at their best, create possibilities for young people’s imaginations, whether its believing that they can be the hero of their own story or seeing the full humanity in someone who is nothing like themselves. Books are empathy accelerators, and I’m honored I get to have a part in creating them.”