M.T. Anderson Speaks! (Part II)

(Here's the link to Part I of this interview. Again, the High School TV reporter is referred to in this interview as "HSR", the interviewer from George Mason University is referred to as "GMU", and Mr. Anderson is referred to as "M.T.A.")

HSR: How long do you usually take to write a book?

M.T.A: Well, it depends on the book. The Octavian Nothing books will have taken me a total of seven years to write, while Whales on Stilts and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen took me about two weeks each. So it really varies, depending on the kind of project.

GMU: Do your interests change really often? What happens when you find a different interest in the middle of a seven-year project?

M.T.A.: It’s a pain when you really feel like you don’t want to be working on your current project, but you’re in the middle of it and you have a deadline and everything, so you don’t have much choice. But I find that other interests actually enliven prose: say, if I suddenly become interested in ghost stories or something when I’m working on Octavian—what the hell, I’ll just put a little ghost story in there. It changes the texture a bit, but it reinvigorates the story for me, and the reader will think: okay, here’s an interesting new thing.

Wordcandy: Did you have any favorite books as a child?

M.T.A.:When I was a little kid I loved Dr. Seuss. I also loved these books—I know this sounds obscure but they were incredibly cool—by the author Tove Jansson. She wrote this series called the Moominland books, about these amazing creatures who lived in the forest in the Midlands and had very wonderful and depressing little adventures. I also loved Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising and Robert Cormier’s I am the Cheese. I thought that was amazing when I was a kid. It just blew my mind.

HSR: Do you have any advice for your readers who are looking to become writers?

M.T.A.:I think my biggest piece of advice is to actually write. Because I think that what happens with a lot of us is that we want to be writers but we think of it as being more of a persona than something that actually involves writing. So we just get a funny hat and walk around and be all writer-y. But I would suggest that it is actually a good idea, even if you are not aiming at publication, to sit there and do things like keeping a journal—even if what is in your journal is all lies and crazy stories that you make up about yourself. Write as often as you can because that early experience with writing creates a facility that allows you to bypass a lot of the technical issues without even knowing it. I also say you should read a lot of different stuff—really stretch your reading into areas that you find bizarre or uninteresting at first. Maybe you could follow those obscure interests to try and see the world in as many different ways as possible.

Wordcandy: Can you give us a glimpse of what we might see coming out next?

M.T.A.: The second of the Octavian Nothing books is coming out. It will be called The Kingdom on the Waves. And I hope the third of my Whales on Stilts books will be coming out this spring. It’ll be called Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware. Delaware, yes... I always feel that Delaware in the title always grabs the eye.

GMU : Do you approach the writing of your books differently, or do you have a standard way of actually physically writing one?

M.T.A.:You mean like chiseling as apposed to other forms? No, there is a difference to writing the Octavian books. I have to create a really historical mood for myself. For that I have to get into, like, a meditative state. I go up to a place in Maine where I can’t be easily contacted, and I read a lot of 18th century stuff and I pace around in circles and I go walking in the woods a lot, until finally I’ve arrived at a point where I really feel that 18th century is imprinted on me. Then I sit down and write, but I really can’t have much contact. When I write the lighter books I can be anywhere and it is a much more straightforward writing process, without all that “Don’t change your shirt!” weird superstition attached to it.

Wordcandy: Have you ever been approached by Hollywood? Is there any chance we’ll ever see a film version of your novels?

M.T.A.: There’s a chance. They’ve all at one time or another been optioned for movies, but none of the options have been exercised. Scripts exist for several of them and I am waiting to see if anything happens.

Wordcandy: Do you get much say in how your book is translated into a movie script?

No, you don’t really get much of a say about that. Basically, the most say you get is if you make or break the contract. But in spite of that… the only time I have ever really intervened was when they were writing the script for Burger Wuss and there was a joke that was just sort of homophobic in it. It didn’t make sense for the character to be making that kind of joke and I thought it was irritatingly offensive and juvenile. Then I did say to them: look, you really have to take that out. But in general, authors really don’t get much say in their movies and in many cases authors are very angry about the movies that get made as a result.
Posted by: Julianka


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