Sunday, April 6, 2008

An Interview With M.T. Anderson

photo from Candlewick's site

M.T. Anderson, Award Winning Author of FEED &
(and many other titles) discusses:
Why it's Important to get "Knocked Around Mentally"
The Merits of Broccoli
Writing in Various Children's Genres
Back-up Career Plans (or lack thereof)
Playing Twister For Plot Points
His Next Books
and More...

Lynn: Since this is an imaginary blog—and you clearly have a vivid imagination, could you please offer aspiring authors any imagination advice, for example how do you keep going when what you are imagining is not yet showing up for real on the page?

M.T.A.: The only advice I have for this is to go read something you're not accustomed to reading. I mean, go to the library and peruse magazines on subjects that you can't stand, or just walk through the aisles, pick out a book on something obscure, and sit down and read a few chapters. It's important that we all prod ourselves so we don't keep trundling along in the same rut. Startle yourself, so you recall how various and strange the world is.

Maybe you'll use something you read -- as part of a conversation or an image -- and maybe you won't. But either way, it's important to get knocked around mentally.

Lynn: You write across many genres and age ranges in children’s literature. Do you juggle several projects at once? Any advice on managing that kind of juggle?

M.T.A.: Yes, I find it tremendously productive to work on several things in rotation. When one thing gets too serious, too constraining, then I do something zany and young where I can make up anything. Then, after a few weeks, when that starts to seem exhaustingly frivolous, I turn back to something with more substance.

As my editor always says, "A change is as good as a rest."

Lynn: We notice you don’t yet have an author website. Are you a reclusive writer or purposely resisting The Feed? Any thoughts on websites, blogs & information overload?

M.T.A.: Yeah. I kind of dislike the whole part of being a writer that involves self-promotion.

Having said that, websites are important these days since so many kids have to do reports on authors, and I have no real excuse for not having one. Except laziness.

Lynn: What food, drink or quirky rituals feed your creativity?

M.T.A.: We all must eat broccoli before we begin. Broccoli contains formidable doses of vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, and beta carotene. The vitamin C facilitates the easy absorption of the iron. The phytochemicals incite detoxifying enzyme production.

I hate the taste. Disgusting. Like plastic pellets, autumn rot, or, at best, the loam of the good road. Nonetheless, it confers an almost supernatural clarity of thought and engagement with the senses.

Drusius, son of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, abjured all other foods and ate only broccoli for a year. His urine became bright green.

The vegetable’s name in Italian means “little, well-muscled arm”; Romans called it “the Five Green Fingers of Jupiter.”

We should eat it for the clarity, but also because in its form it ramifies, and so reminds us of causality. We should eat it because it is cruciferous, and we all have our little rood to carry. What better thing for a writer to ingest than a miniature tree? If only, before every stint of writing, we devoured not simply this tiny woodland but also diminutive houses, little lawns, trinket people, taking them all within us, holding landscapes and continents in acid, observed by the stomach, applauded by the intestines – and ushered thence to their final glory, their new form, their re-emancipation.

Also, it is worth pointing out that the producer of the Bond films was Albert R. Broccoli.

Lynn: Interesting. And is it true that playing Twister is one of your strategies for scheming up unusual plot twists and turns?

M.T.A.: That would be an incredible way to write a novel. On each circle, you could put a different plot point. You know, "Gets kitten," "gets pregnant," or "dies in a freak accident."

Then, on your hands and feet, you write the names of the characters. You're all set! Spin the spinner -- and off you go!

M.T. Anderson & Jill Santopolo, participating in
Game Night at Vermont College's MFA Program
in Writing For Children & Young Adults.
Are they just playing Twister? Or working out plot points?

Lynn: Do you listen to music while you work? Any favorites?

M.T.A.: I don't listen to music while I'm writing, but I listen to it beforehand to get into my own kind of writer's trance. It varies with the book I'm writing and the texture I'm trying to produce. So when I was writing FEED, which needed a kind of scrambled, angry, distracted voice, I created a mix for myself with things like Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, George Antheil, and John Zorn. For THE CLUE OF THE LINOLEUM LEDERHOSEN, which I wanted to give a kind of early 20th C adventure feel, I listened to Bix Beiderbecke and Fletcher Henderson. For the OCTAVIAN books, I listened to Scottish and English folk music of that period, and things like Corelli and Tartini (O's favorites), and African music which resemble what scholars presume African-American music of the period sounded like. I tried to imagine cities in which those very different forms all coexisted.

Lynn: What childhood experience(s) influenced you in deciding to become an author? Did you have any “back up” career plan?

M.T.A.: I have always wanted to become an author. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't. I don't have any other skills. I can stack firewood, I guess. So maybe I could be a houseboy. Except my lung once collapsed when I was dusting someone's piano. I really don't know.

Now you've got me worried.

Lynn: Don't worry. Your fans are very happy you are an author and we want to know about your next books. What are you working on now? What can we look forward to?

M.T.A.: I'm currently correcting the copy-editing for the second and final OCTAVIAN NOTHING book, THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES, in which our hero is reunited with friends, learns secrets of the past, and takes up arms in the Revolution.

And I'm working on the third of my THRILLING TALES, this one entitled JASPER DASH AND THE FLAME-PITS OF DELAWARE. It's about an expedition which penetrates into the hidden heart of the Blue Hen State.

Lynn: One more request—We’ve begun a Bad Poetry Friday contest on the Imaginary Blog. Do you happen to have a bad poem handy that you’d like to contribute?

(Well, imaginary readers of the Imaginary Blog, we are in luck. M.T. Anderson sent us a sure-to-inspire-poem, but we are not posting it until Friday because as I'm sure you recall, every Friday--well most Fridays--hmm, let's just say on some Fridays, "The Rhymes, They are a Changing."

So folks, come back this Friday to see M.T. Anderson's poem. I'll give you a hint--it's about a one-legged chicken named Peg!)

Today's Forecast: Broccoli with a chance of more broccoli!

1 comment:

eisha said...

Broccoli? Huh. I will admit to having experienced startling sensations as a direct result of over-consumption of broccoli... but acute mental clarity was not one of them.

Great interview, yo.