A2A: Please describe your book in 140 characters or less.
Andrew: It’s the classic story of boy meets girl, and boy falls in love, except with Superman, pregnancy tests, Morse code, tentacle beasts, terminal illness, and rubber shorts. Was that 140 characters? Was it even close?
(A2A: I think you might have been a little over, but that's okay. We're not as harsh as twitter about that kind of thing).
A2A: There are about a million and one YA books on the shelves these days. You have 30 seconds to convince someone to buy YOURS. What do you say?
Andrew: Ah ha! But how are you going to time me in a written interview, I ask you? (Sorry, I couldn’t help but wonder.)
Nothing is more fun than taking familiar stories and experiences and twisting them into new shapes. And I don’t mean taking Bleak House and adding robots or unicorns. That’s just stupid. Freak Magnet seems familiar on the surface, like a story you’ve read before, but it’s not. One of the overarching themes of the novel is appearances, and how easy it is for us as guarded human beings to mistake first impressions for the genuine article. Freak Magnet is like that. It’s a romantic comedy with a lot of tragedy. It’s a predictable formula with unpredictable twists. What you see is not what you get—not at all—not with the characters, their friends, or their complicated world.
Think When Harry Met Sally as directed by Wes Anderson, or something.
How’d I do?
(A2A: Really well! Just last night on twitter, Editor Alvina Ling said editors are always looking for "books that balance the unique and the familiar)
A2A: This is not your first book. Congratulations on continuing to write books that get published! What has been the biggest surprise about the publishing business?
Andrew: Thanks! Every day I count my blessings. It never ceases to amaze me how fortunate I’ve been when it comes to my writing career. I’m very lucky.
My experience in publishing has been less about a single shock than a series of minor tremors. It is a learning process in which reality gradually replaces the fantasy you always had in the back of your mind. Luckily, I tend to harbor very low expectations, of pretty much everything, including myself, so I am rarely disappointed by how things turn out.
Of course, there were the common wake-up calls, such as having to act as your book’s lone publicist, or working on a manuscript that goes on to be rejected repeatedly until it withers and dies; but those are challenges you’ve faced before, so continuing to deal with them isn’t too difficult. However, I think many people expect those troubles to go away just because you’ve got a spine with your name on it. Not so. It can be a letdown. After all of that work writing, revising, submitting, and then revising again, you’ve suddenly got more work than ever before. And now there are others involved who have invested in your book and its future. There are pressures there you never anticipate. It’s suddenly a massive group effort when it started out as a solo mission.
To actually answer your question, the biggest surprise about publishing was the author-editor relationship. Before having worked with an editor, I was ignorant as to what one really did. Most people have no clue. I constantly get questions from unpublished writers about the role of an editor in the revision process, and I am truthful with them. I say that an editor is the interpreter who explains to you your own intentions. He or she is the person who sees the rough block of stone for the statue it will one day become. Again, my luck has been extraordinary, as I’ve worked with three amazing editors who have pushed me in so many new directions I hardly recognize where I am anymore. All I know is that it’s a better place than where I started.
Oh, and they listen to me when I whine.
A2A: So, on your web site, it says you are also a video game developer. Is that your day job? And if so, can you get my almost 15-YO son a job when he graduates from college? (Just kidding. Kind of) I'm always fascinated to hear how people manage to write around the real life stuff - any tips or secrets you want to share with our readers on how you get everything done?
Yes, my day job is as a video game designer, which I consider another blessing I probably don’t deserve. As a kid, I had two very specific dreams for my future: to publish books and to work in video games. At that time, becoming an author seemed as probable as going on to become a famous movie director and then, to top it all off, legally changing my name to Steven Spielberg. Of course, I was naïve and pretty clueless. (I also considered being an archeologist just because I saw The Goonies. And let me tell you, my brother-in-law is an archeologist, and it’s nothing like The Goonies—no counterfeiters, no pirate ships, and no Sloth.)
As for video games, I was never very skilled with technology, so my chances of breaking into that industry seemed bleak at best. There was no definable career path for someone without the necessary computer skills. Today, however, there are academic courses and trade schools for young people who want to develop games. Not just programmers either. Talented and creative kids can get into the business early and go on to become artists, designers, or producers. When I was sitting on my couch in Umbro shorts and a Hypercolor thermochromatic T-shirt playing Phantasy Star, there was no hope for me, a kid who lurched through Algebra with a D+. I won the lottery.
Regarding your son, I’ll see what I can do.
How do I fit it all in? That’s a good question. As the primary breadwinner, a dad of young girls, a (hopefully) attentive husband, and a busy novelist, there isn’t a lot of extra time in my life for leisure. My stack of unread books keeps growing, as does my collection of unopened board games. Despite the intensity of my life, I love it, and I wouldn’t change it. I don’t sleep a lot, and I get up early to write and then work through lunches, and I miss out on a lot of social events I would normally attend. But that’s who I am and what I choose to do. With me, as with so many others, writing is very much a compulsion. It has a frighteningly powerful effect on my state of being; therefore, it’s become a priority in our household. Thank goodness I have an incredible wife and family who understand what I do and why I need to do it. I only hope I’m as supportive and accommodating to them in all their respective interests as they are in mine.
Wow. Look at me getting all serious.
A2A: Plotter or pantser?
I’m definitely a pantser, if I’m deciphering your slang correctly, that is. I almost always start with characters and bash them against each other to see if I can make fire. However, in the last several years I’ve developed a great appreciation for plotting, mostly as a result of my work with filmmakers. Everything is “beats” in Hollywood—emotional beats and action beats—and all the disparate pieces have to fit together at the end. Sure, if you watch movies nowadays you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about since most movies barely seem to lurch to the ending with any semblance of coherence; but yeah, they like their stories well constructed, at least on paper.
Working with the director David O. Russell, with whom I wrote the middle grade science fiction novel Alienated in 2009, was quite an education. We outlined endlessly because he and his scriptwriting partner were working on the screenplay at the same time as I was writing the novel. So we were ceaselessly hammering on outlines and plotting. In a way, I really enjoyed it because whenever I sat down to write chapters of the book, I knew exactly what dots I needed to connect. That can be enormously helpful, especially for someone who enjoys revision more than writing, as I do. My first drafts give me incredible amounts of information about the story I’m trying to tell, but creating them is an agonizing process. I prefer having material to work from, honing what’s there, refining and enhancing. Having a solid plot ahead of time is crucial when you’re writing a certain style of story.
In fact, I enjoyed my time developing Alienated so much that I’m currently writing another middle grade adventure book, and it is heavily plot-driven. Much of the early work has been in laying the structural groundwork and defining characters. I am very interested in being able to do both in my career: to write more character-centric stories such as Freak Magnet that satisfy something deep and meaningful for me on an emotional level; but also to write more exciting, adventure stories that rely on character archetypes, plot twists and visceral action. To be able to do both would be fantastic.
A2A: I've seen readers describe your books as "quirky." How do you feel about that? How would YOU describe your books?
What an interesting question. “Quirky” works for me, because it has a positive connotation, and because it sounds funny. I prefer “quirky” to “edgy.” Over the years, readers and reviewers have gifted me some excellent adjectives. So far the adjectives for Freak Magnet are my favorite, such as “touching,” “charming,” and “pleasurable.” Those are words you want to cuddle. My previous novels have earned a different breed, such as “bizarre,” “grotesque,” and “outrageous.” Those are still good, but they don’t warm you up the same way the others do. No one wants to snuggle up with “twisted.”
I tend to deal with characters who are outsiders, people who don’t fit in, not even with the other outsiders. If there is a theme that runs through all of my work it’s probably “hope,” or “family.” Everyone wants to be part of a unit, to have an identity. One thing I am proud of in my books is that I am able to give characters who feel estranged for whatever reason a place to be accepted, where they can break free from their afflictions, most of which are self-inflicted.
Both Charlie and Gloria, the protagonists of Freak Magnet, have loving, healthy families, yet they have gone into emotional exile and drawn away from the very parents and siblings who wish to comfort them. What they need is a safe place, somewhere where the pressures of family melt away and they can be who they really wish to be without the troubles of sick mothers, dead brothers, and every other worry of the world. Surprisingly, they find this refuge in each other. That’s what the book is about. It’s a story about hope, about not giving up even when the world seems to coming apart and you’re terrified of what tomorrow might bring.
So yeah, “hopeful,” that’s a word I like. I’d make a beanbag chair out of that.
A2A: Favorite kind of cupcake?
I have a strange obsession with black bottom cupcakes. If I see one, I must have it, large or small, mostly cheese or mostly chocolate. For some reason my wife had a lot of trouble accepting the fact that there are human beings who like the taste of chocolate with certain cheeses. To prove how dedicated I was to this idea, I made a sandwich out of a slab of white cheddar and two chocolate cookies. It did not end well for anyone.
Thanks so much for hosting me on Author2Author. It’s been such a pleasure to help launch Summer Reads Week. Enjoy your summer!
A2A: Thanks for being here, and I can't wait to read your latest "charming" read!!
~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career