Well gang, you came to the right place for some fun this morning. What better way to launch into the week than by reading a goodie-filled interview with a talented and mysterious author. I present my chat with MAC, author of the delightful Middle Grade mystery, Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink. Read on for lots of pictures, secrets, and even a sneak peek of several chapters of the second book in The Professionals series. Yay Monday!
What inspires you?
I have two words for you. Marlon Brando. I mean, c’mon. Have you seen that Larry King interview where he’s barefoot, sings show tunes, and kisses Larry on the mouth!? Comedy gold.
(Marlon and his feet were actually the inspiration for a character in the upcoming Quenton Cohen: Professional Chef named “Feets” Tenenbaum.)
The kids in your book each have a particular, unique talent. So, what’s your secret talent?
Without a doubt, my talent is sleeping. I can do it anywhere and at anytime. On the sofa, at the movies, sitting at my desk, having an outdoor lunch with a friend while donning really dark sunglasses. I’m excellent at it. And my motto is, when you find something you’re good at, you should do it as much as possible.
Where do you write?
Sometimes, if I write too much in one spot, my brain goes offline, and I end up staring at the blank computer screen with my mouth half-cocked open, and a spittle of drool leaking out. Kind of embarrassing. Especially when in public places. So, I try to mix it up a little. I write from the computer in my den. I also take my laptop out and write from various cafés in the Village.
Sometimes, I’ll go with a couple of writer friends, sometimes by myself. My favorite drink to order when it’s cold is a warm apple cider with a cinnamon stick. My favorite snack is hummus with warm pita.
Writer’s block for me is not finding a good seat at one of my favorite cafés. That is why I always pack my remote controlled fart machine in with my pens, paper, and laptop. But I definitely have to change up the locations after draining all of the psychic energy from that particular spot.
Anna Smudge is the first in The Professionals series. Did you envision a series from the start? If yes, have you got them all plotted out in your head like an amazing authorial master-planner?
Yes, and yes. I always envisioned a series. And I have all six books in the series plotted out. The individual mysteries and how they connect to the bigger Mr. Who overplot was just too complex not to.
I am very meticulous about pre-writing, plotting, and planning. It is just easier to see if something is working earlier on in the process. A lot less time is wasted on sub plots that don’t connect back to anything or tie in. So, I can work faster overall.
Speaking of inspiration, which character came first for you, Anna, or Mr. Who, and where do you think your idea came from?
About six years ago I was working at a diner in downtown Manhattan, and I was miserable. So, I started scribbling on my order pad and Anna just kind of popped into life as this girl who wasn’t good at anything and was just a bit too ordinary. Even her name was the same when you spelled it backwards. But she was a great listener and always there for her friends. The rest of the story just came out of that. My friends tell me I probably needed a bit of therapy working at that diner. So, a book about a kid shrink was just wishful thinking.
Aside from Mr. Who (of course), who do you think are some of the most dastardly evil masterminds in children’s lit?
Lex Luthor (What do you mean comics aren’t literature!?)
Voldemort (two baldies/baddies in a row)
Homer Zuckerman from Charlotte’s Web (the uncle who was going to kill Wilbur for Christmas dinner)
Mrs. Coulter (not Ann Coulter, but her estranged sister from the Golden Compass)
The comic-style illustrations throughout your book are part of what makes your work unusual and wonderful. They’re so big and bold and I think they do a lot to enhance the overall mood of the story and the reader’s perception of the characters. Was that something that you wanted from the beginning? Tell us more about how the illustrations came to be such an integral part of Anna Smudge.
Yes, I desperately wanted illustrations from the very beginning. My apartment is filled to the brim with comic books and I just love illustrated books in general. I mean, when I was a young reader, what would Treasure Island have been without NC Wyeth?
And when I write, for me, it’s a very visual process. I know a scene is ready when I can see it play out in my head like a mini movie.
But I count myself VERY lucky to have Greg Horn (covers) and Glenn Fabry (interior illustrations) on board the series with me. These guys can literally draw ANYTHING (apparently in any style too: Greg just drew a cartoony mascot for a private school and Glenn did a book for The Simpsons comic in that fun Matt Groening style) and both have such a great sense of humor. So, it is always a challenge to come up with characters and images that will live up to their talent. It is humbling.
You’ve succeeded in writing a book that’s loaded with kid appeal. It’s funny and action-packed, with gutsy kid heroes you cheer for the whole way through. I know that boys and girls will love this story. What’s your take on the way that kids’ books are often labeled “for boys” and “for girls”?
Well, there’s a pretty dire epidemic spreading through the young community called cooties. I desperately wanted this book to be cooty free. I know there is this big, icky girl on the cover, and she has a girly name like Anna Smudge, but if you young gentlemen would just do me the courtesy of flipping over the book to the back cover, there you will discover a wonderful world filled with scary hitmen wielding toilet bowl plungers, insane art teachers, and the Naked Seaweed Man (‘nuff said about him). Finely crafted bathroom humor, explosions, and dodgeball await!
The important point here is that, yes, I wanted to write a boy-friendly story. But equally, I wanted to write an action story for the present-day girls like me (who enjoy Meg Cabot as well as Jet Li.) And just as I sneak some “guy” action stuff in there to the girls, I sneak some “girl” relationship stuff in there to the boys. All of you parents out there who use the “motor boat” or “airplane” technique know what I am talking about.
Ugh. This answer is long without saying much. Let me boil it down for you. Have you ever met a girl who didn’t like Goonies? Well, that’s what I’m trying to do.
Favourite mystery for kids you wish you’d written: Harry Potter
Favourite diner in NYC: Yaffa Café
Favourite comic book: Watchmen. Ultimate Spider-Man. Surrogates. Top Ten.
Favourite superhero movie:
Without a doubt, The Dark Knight. I was one of the super nerds who saw the 3am showing the night it opened. And then I saw it again a week later with a couple friends. And then I saw it in IMAX with some work colleagues. And then I bought the DVD and watched it again in my living room. And then I watched all of the extras and behind the scenes footage, and talked aloud to the TV I was so excited. And now I’m really regretting writing all of this down for everyone to read.
Favourite book read in 2008:
Wow. I’m not really sure I can answer this one. I absolutely loved The Adoration of Jenna Fox. That book kept me awake at night. Right now, I’m enjoying Fevre Dream by George RR Martin. I think he’s the greatest. He’s so great I may have to invent a word for his greatness… like Greatabulous! (Wow that was a really crummy word.)
The book that I gave the “Most Like Crack-Cocaine Award” to in 2008 was Twilight and its sequels. I am going to shoot whoever recommended those to me. I didn’t get ANY writing done while reading those four books… or sleeping, bathing, or brushing of hair. Just Edward… sigh. I haven’t swooned that much over a male protagonist since MacGyver went off of the air.
The next title in The Professionals features Quenton Cohen, chef extraordinaire. Would you give us a sneak peak?
Join me now on “Mess-terpiece Theatre” for a few chapter titles and selected quotations…
Creepy Crazy Lump
Ignoring his little brother, Quenton padded into the bathroom, blindly groping for the shower faucet. Eager for some much needed peace and quiet,Quenton let the hot water engulf him and thought of things that made him happy: Cornish hen, warm lentil salad, crispy calamari, tangy lemon tarts. Yes,he needed to make some of those this week. Just then, the door creaked open letting in a rush of frigid air.
“Kyle, get out of here. It’s freezing!”
“I gotta go to the bathroom.”
“Aw c’mon! Why didn’t you go before?!”
“’Cause I didn’t have to go until right now.”
Quenton gritted his teeth, trying to block out the grunting sounds.
“Hey, Q, you gotta check this out! It’s like a Yule Log and it’s not even the Holidays! I’ll leave it for you to take a look at.”
“No! Kyle! You get back here! You flush that toilet! Moooomm!”
Pants on Fire
“HEY! DIDN’T YOU HEAR HIM? HE SAID, HANDS OFF!” barked a loud voice. “Now excuse me!”
A cluster of small third-graders squealed and quickly made a large space for Clea Rodriguez, who was clad from head-to-toe in black leather and chains, and holding a long spiked leash which lead to an enormous green Iguana. “I decided to walk Fluffy. She likes the fresh air.”
“I’ll trade you,” Quenton grumbled, rolling his ruined jacket into a sticky ball. “My little brother for your pet Iguana?”
A Starr Pupil
“No, it’s totally possible!” insisted Quenton. “I saw something like it in this bad TV movie, Pink is the Color of Death. This socialite Macy London goes around murdering fashion designers, and no one ever suspects her because she’s famous!” Quenton leaned in, his eyes wide. “And she’d say these horrible things before killing people like, ‘I didn’t get an invite to your fashion show, so here’s an RSVP to hell!’ or ‘Your purse is so last season… and now so are you!’”
Anna, Rachel, Todd, and Amy just stared at Quenton blankly.
“Better take a break from the cable TV, Q,” Anna said patting Quenton’s arm and heading to her desk.
Thank you SO much MAC for this interview!
Sure thing! I want to take a second to give my sincere gratitude to everyone in the kidlitosphere. Seeing a community spring up to promote literacy fueled solely by these bloggers’ passion is very special. YOU are now the center of children’s literature- not the publishers, the authors, or the trade magazines. You gals and guys are a real inspiration.