Hello! Today I am interviewing fellow Druid Aaron Starmer. No, we aren't magical Celtics (or Boston Celtics), we went to Drew University! Together! At the same time! In the late '90s. But we didn't know each other back then even though Drew is a really small school. There is a whole article about this -- "We Meet at Last"
in the Drew Magazine. (Sing it with me
So even though we didn't know each other then, we have become friends now, both ending up writing for similar audiences at the same publisher. And as it turns out I really love his books. DWEEB
is a very funny and very fun and very exciting book about "five awesome nerds figuring out how to save the world." (That's me quoting me!)
His new book, THE ONLY ONES
, just published this week, is somewhat darker. There are some truly hilarious quips, but it's an intense story about a kid named Martin Maple who lives on an island cut off from all civilization because of his nutty father. Or IS he nutty?! Perhaps he is wise, because something very strange is about to happen to civilization... One afternoon (The Day) everyone on earth seems to disappear, except for Martin and a group of kids he finds living adult-free in a village called Xibalba.
From there is gets magical and wonderful and I truly love it. The ending is making me weepy. STARMER!!!! *shakes fist*
AS: Awww...thanks. I really do appreciate it. So few people have read the book that I still don't know how it will be received.
JB: It will be received awesomely because it is awesome. Timeless yet totally now, you know? I think it will be loved for years and years and years. NOW ON WITH THE Qs. Let's start with the back of the book. You acknowledge a Jamie Wyeth painting as inspiration for The Only Ones. Care to share which painting and the story behind that? Is it this one
? That would be weird. Is being inspired by a painting something that happens often for you?
AS: Well I'm a weird guy, Mr. Berk, and that Pumpkinhead is actually one of my favorites and it's part of the series that inspired the book. Every summer, I go to a family cabin in Maine, which is on a tiny island just offshore. Andrew Wyeth (Jamie's father) had a house on the mainland that we can see from our porch and we used to look out and wonder if he or Jamie was sitting there, looking back at us and painting our house. In 2009, I was looking at that house and thumbing through a book of Wyeth art and I came across Jamie's series of paintings of Orca Bates
. I hadn't looked at them in a long time, but I remembered how much they haunted me as a kid.
I think Orca lives in Brooklyn now, but he was a guy who grew up on Monhegan Island in Maine, a famous colony of artists and lobstermen. Jamie painted Orca as if he were a wild child who never journeyed away from the island. I used that notion as a jumping off point for my book. The one painting that really struck me was The Mainland
, which shows Orca standing on the coast, looking to the sea. That's sort of how The Only Ones begins.
Of course, inspiration comes from any number of places. Actually, just right now I'm inspired to write a story about an interviewer named Jon Bork, who's intimidatingly handsome, but who has a deep dark secret. Any ideas where that story should go?JB: Oh, I have ideas alright.
JB: Lots of writers are distance runners (myself included!). Any correlation you can identify between the two, besides the obvious connection that both activities sometimes make your nipples bleed?
AS: First off, a bit of advice. Body Glide (http://www.bodyglide.com/
): There Won't Be Blood (don't even try to steal that, I'm copyrighting it). But to answer your question, I definitely think there's a correlation. Running is obviously a great release after sitting at a computer all day. But I think distance running appeals to novelists because it's about setting small goals to achieve big things. I take that approach when I start a book. I don't sit down and say, "how do I get to the last page of the story?" I think about how to get to the end of the chapter, or to a moment, or a bit of dialogue on the first page. If I run ten miles, it's nearly impossible to do in a straight line to the finish. To make it bearable and enjoyable, I have to look forward to twists and turns and landmarks along the way.
Haruki Murakami wrote an interesting book that covers writing and running called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
. Running writers—and writing runners and people who enjoy Raymond Carver puns—should check it out. JB: I'm totally all those things! And I've read that book. It rules.
JB: Some craft-type Qs: Your books are very well-plotted and finely crafted. If I had to guess, I'd say you are a careful pre-writer. The twists are well-thought out, the plotting and pacing are airtight. Do you do tons of pre-writing? Big outliner, are you? Notecards and giant diagrams? Scrivener or some other software you recommend? Or do things take shape as you write? Don't tell me you don't plot any of this stuff out in advance because then I will throw something at you.
AS: I appreciate you thinking that, but warm up your pitching arm, because I'm not much of a pre-writer. I usually know the beginning, the end, and some scenes and characters that I'd like to include, but not much more than that. And all that stuff is always in my head. No notes. No diagrams. No outlines. No fancy programs (is MS Word 2004 fancy?).
When I start writing, what I definitely don't do is write a lot at a time. I write little bits, and then revise. I'm always going back to the beginning and tweaking what I've already written. Dozens of times. When I'm halfway done with the book, I might do a synopsis of where it's going, but those details have already been worked out in my head, usually while jogging or lying in bed. If I don't know it backwards and forwards in my head, then it's not going make much sense to the reader.
When I finally finish the entire thing, it's hard to call it a first draft. I do go back and do a couple big revisions, but maybe not as many as others. Form is very important to me. It's always at the front of my mind.JB *throws a stapler* *Agrees that MS Word 2004 is the fanciest!*
JB: Do you have a favorite character in each of your books? I totally have a favorite from each, but I won't tell you who they are. OK, fine, I'll tell you, but you have to guess first.
AS: No, Mr. Berk, you first. I got nowhere to be. Can do this all day
*After 15 hours of staring at each other*
AS: Fine! You win! I'll tell you my favorite character from The Only Ones! It's Darla. Are you happy? Of course you aren't. You want to know why, don't you? You'll keep staring at me with those steely eyes until I tell you everything. *whimpers* It's because she can be awful and endearing in the exact same moment. Sort of like you, Berk...sort of like you... *buries face in hands*Darla's my fav too!
JB: I have a theory that every YA author had an unhappy adolescence while every children's author had a happy childhood. I'm not sure why this is, but maybe those of us who write about high school do so because our high school years were in some way difficult and we need to work through the baggage. Whereas those who write for younger children are sad that childhood ended and want to relive it in some way. Is this true and did you have a happy childhood? (No pressure. Feel free to mess up my theory. Your books are sort of on the MG/YA cusp so maybe you had a "complicated" childhood. Also feel free to pass answering on the grounds of this question being "too Freudian" or simply "not making any sense-ish.")
AS: How dare you ask such a question to Jungian! Actually, I think it's an interesting idea, but I'll call myself an exception to the rule. You can read some writing I did as a teen here
and read about my teenage fumblings here
, but honestly, high school was a bit of a blur to me. Not because I lived it Rock and Roll High School-style, but because I was so tied up in sports and academics and just trying to be a nice guy that I didn't have much time to do much hell-raising or brooding.
Middle school was a different story. I have many vivid memories from that time of pain and adventure and confusion and discovery and mistakes. And I guess that's why my characters tend to skew towards the 11-13 age. I remember the first R-rated movie I saw in the movie theater was Stand by Me. I was probably 10 years old and I was amazed that someone finally got things right. This was how my friends talked! This was how the older kids acted! It's a foul-mouthed tale, but it's also a lot more weepy and self-conscious than almost all boy-approved fare out there. I'm a "suburban romanticist" (copyright pending) and I guess I want to capture those raw and exciting and weepy moments that arise when kids are let out into the grassy world without parental supervision. The Only Ones is that taken to the extreme.Thanks, A-Starms! Until we meet again!
Go read the book everyone. DO IT
. I had to turn off commenting b/c of stupid LiveJournal spam so if you're reading this on LJ and want to leave a comment, I do not think you can, but I appreciate your kindness.