Tuesdays with Morzant:
Getting to Know an Author
MORZANT: Zulko, humans. Please join me in welcoming Andrew Auseon. Andy is the author of three young adult novels and of a middle grade novel, ALIENATED, on which he collaborated with David O. Russell. Zulko, Andy. It’s nice to finally meet the person Bigfoot names as the author most likely to write a book while brushing his teeth.
ANDREW AUSEON: It’s wonderful to be here, Morzant, and I am honored that Bigfoot holds me in such high esteem. He is one of the few.
MORZANT: I’m certain many others do as well. I, for one, am exceedingly impressed with you and I only met you seven seconds ago. Not long ago, I met another of your appreciators. When I interviewed Kelly Bingham, author of SHARK GIRL (Candlewick, 2007), she credited you with the idea to write her novel in verse. That demonstration of braininess caused me to suspect you might be Zeentonian. Now that I’ve met you, I see that’s not the case. While I’d been looking forward to chatting with somebody from my home planet, I’m confident you’ll enlighten and entertain the BIGFOOT READS audience today.
I’d like to begin with ALIENATED. In it, two boys, Gene and Vince, report in their own newspaper about the extraterrestrial life forms they discover living secretly in their town. The main protagonist is Gene who supposes that revealing the existence of aliens will gain him acceptance among his peers. Quite the opposite happens, however, and he becomes an even greater object of ridicule. Have you ever suffered similar disappointment with respect to your aspirations?
AA: Not really. Gene is always on the lookout for ways to elevate his social standing. He spends most of his time dissecting those potential opportunities, which is pretty unhealthy. Like most kids, I wanted my classmates to like me, but there was never an “aha” moment when a single act could have changed my reputation. There was never a silver bullet for cool. Plus, I don’t have that kind of obsessive focus, except when it comes to breakfast cereal.
MORZANT: I can understand your preoccupation with breakfast cereal. Followers of this blog are familiar with my experiments regarding the tensile properties of Rice Krispies Treats.
Much as in real life, the general human population in Gene’s reality does not believe in extraterrestrials. On December 2, 2010, you Tweeted about an unusual bacteria discovered by NASA. You speculated that the bacteria might be alien. Your tone of wonderment at that possibility led me to believe that you’re typically doubtful of the presence of extraterrestrial life on Earth. Am I the first being from another planet you’ve met?
AA: Give me a break, Morzant. It’s 2011. Everybody’s from another planet. The security guard at my office building is first-generation Ventrovian.
MORZANT: Forgive me. Most Earthlings I meet are rather incredulous when I tell them where I’m from. It’s refreshing to meet somebody already familiar with the concept of visitors from other planets.
A particularly interesting aspect of ALIENATED is that the aliens each have a power, almost as if they’re superheroes. The only unique ability I have is that I can swim the 200-meter freestyle in less than a minute, which isn’t all that extraordinary when you take into account that my feet are essentially flippers. Not that I’m a frog, mind you. Because I’m not. Do you have any unique abilities?
AA: I am very good at Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Is that a super power? By the way, are you sure you’re not a frog? You look very amphibious. There’s no shame in it.
MORZANT: Amphibians transform from beings who live, and therefore breathe, underwater to creatures who can move about on dry land. In the case of frogs, tadpoles lose their swimming tails and grow appendages. Some go on to host variety shows starring comedic bears and volatile pigs. I assure you that I was born as you see me now, albeit much smaller and without pants. No, I’m not a frog, nor have I ever been a tadpole. Admittedly, breathing underwater would be a desirable super power.
Superheroes are mentioned frequently in your books. In fact, FREAK MAGNET’s main character wears a Superman costume every day under his clothing. Are you a comic book fan?
AA: I am, or was. I guess you could say I’m a lapsed comic book reader and occasional graphic novel enthusiast. Comic books are a commitment, and they’re really expensive now. Since budgets are tight and free time is rare, I tend not to read monthly titles. It’s too easy to get sucked into that world again. Comics can be addictive, like spandex cigarettes.
I recently received the reprint of the Marvel Comics Encyclopedia as a gift, and the more I paged through it the more I realized that I was completely out of touch. Over the last twenty years most of my favorite characters have died, disappeared into some other reality, become villains, or gotten divorced. It’s depressing, like a class reunion gone wrong. I’ve become an old person who remembers the good old days.
MORZANT: Perhaps you’d be less depressed writing your own comics rather than reading current incarnations of old favorites. Have you ever considered writing a graphic novel?
AA: Yes. I’ve got a hundred pages or so of one book that I really like, and a rough start of another. A perk of my day job is getting to work with many talented artists, and I’ve talked to a few of them about working on a book. But collaborations are very difficult to coordinate, and they get even more complicated when both parties have other jobs and busy lives. Maybe I should make a commitment to finish one of them. Or maybe I could have another bowl of cereal instead.
MORZANT: You could merge the two notions and create a character whose powers are derived from sugar-coated, processed grain.
Given the typical complications with coordinating busy schedules, might I suggest a project you could complete on your own? How about a work of non-fiction? Along with discovering the cause of Bigfoot’s photography impediment, one of my objectives is to encourage the publication of more gastropod books. Despite several fine fictional books that were recently brought to my attention by Kathi Appelt, and another mentioned in a comment posted on BIGFOOT READS, gastropods seem grossly underrepresented in Earth literature. Are you interested in filling that vacuum? You could title your book FASTER THAN A SPEEDING GASTROPOD. It has an appealing superhero sound to it, don’t you agree? Norman suggested GASTROPODS ARE A GAS, GAS, GAS, and Penny likes THE POKY LITTLE GASTROPOD. But I think my title has more flair, don’t you?
AA: If I had to choose, I would probably go with, I, GASTROPOD, but definitely not GASTROPODS: THEY’RE WHAT’S FOR DINNER.
MORZANT: Oh, dear. I agree that second option would be an unfortunate title. As to the other, I like the idea of a ghostwritten gastropod autobiography. I look forward to reading it.
I understand that ALIENATED is being made into a major motion picture. I love cinema, but as you can imagine it can be a problem for my friends and me to go to the theater. Like you and your artist friends, we have difficulty coordinating our busy schedules with the limited showtimes offered at theaters. When ALIENATED comes out, could you arrange for a private screening for us? And possibly popcorn? And gummy worms?
AA: I don’t believe in cruelty to gummy animals, so I won’t be able to deliver on that, but popcorn should be fine, unless Zeenton is still under the popcorn embargo.
You know. I’m not sure if ALIENATED is still going to end up on the big screen or not. As you’ve probably heard, my co-author David O. Russell (who was recently nominated for an Academy Award—a prestigious Earth accolade), has a pretty busy schedule. I know the project is floating around in the sweet-smelling mists of Hollywood, but as Briar knows, mystical forces (and motion pictures) can be tricky things.
Trust me. If ALIENATED ever makes it out to your neck of the universe (meaning the Holo-Cinema 250 that orbits Io) I will most definitely get you free passes. And gummy worms.
MORZANT: You’re very generous, but the Holo-Cinema 250 usually only plays ancient quantum physics seminars. I’m just beginning my studies of Earth literature and I intend to be on Earth a good while longer. Assuming I’m still here when the movie is released, I’d be honored to accompany you.
In addition to writing novels, you also work as a video game designer. It must be thrilling to see the stories you’ve written transformed into other mediums such as cinema and video games. Can you envision any of your novels as a puppet show?
AA: ALIENATED would be a fantastic puppet show. There are so many tentacles. Hip Hop Sasquatch would be played by Frank Oz.
MORZANT: I want to thank you for acknowledging me in your dedication for ALIENATED which reads: “For everyone who’s ever felt like an alien, on Earth or elsewhere.” As a visitor from another planet, I often experience a sense of alienation. That’s likely why I noticed that the main character in each of your novels is an outsider. Is there a reason you have a special interest in those who are estranged from society?
AA: You’re very welcome, Morzant. (I expect you to remember this next time I’m near the Zeenton Asteroid Belt and need a favor.)
I think a lot of books claim to be about outsiders, but few really are. These days even the outsiders are cool. Their awesomeness is just misunderstood. They’re actually cooler than the cool kids, only no one has figured it out yet. To me, that kind of defeats the purpose of any outsider story. Besides, I don’t buy those characters because they’re not like anyone I knew as a kid, or that I know now. The “outsider” characters in most YA books would probably make fun of the characters in mine.
I want to write about normal people who aren’t that hip, or smart, or handsome, or clever, but who are just trying to scrape by. These are the characters that would lurk in the background, behind the protagonists in a John Green novel. It’s probably not the best career decision, but hey when have I ever cared about that? (This is when I start crying.)
MORZANT: I’ve recently learned about rhetorical questions and I think you meant that as one. However, it seems to me that your decisions pertaining your characters’ personalities have been worthwhile. I applaud your efforts to present readers like me with relatable characters.
I’d like to discuss another of your characters. Arty Moore from FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY feels alienated from the study body because of his diminutive size. Ostensibly because he isn’t close to his classmates, he mentally assigns them nicknames based on superficial attributes. His name for a flatulent fellow is Mustard. A boy who always wears a Spiderman shirt is Arachnid. A girl who is constantly greasy from working on car engines is Oil Change. What nickname would Arty assign to me?
AA: Close Encounters, or maybe Alf. For the record, I don’t consider either of those negative.
MORZANT: Thank you from refraining from a frog-related moniker.
I also noticed that each of your books includes musical groups with offbeat names. ALIENATED’s Gene has two names for the band that exists only in his imagination: Galactic Hammer and the Gene Brennick University of Funk. In FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY a rock band called Atomic Suppository performs at the quarry, a name I assume is of your own invention. Indeed, an inventive rock band name, The Fiendish Lot, is used in a novel’s title. As I’ve recently become preoccupied with hypothetical questions, I thought it might be fun to ask what you’d name your own rock band were you to be in one. Mine would either be Experimental Mishap or Bunsen Burning.
AA: Silver Dollar Pancake, or Footie Pajamas, maybe the Duplo Army. I could sit around and make up fake band names all day. Didn’t you ask before if I had super powers? Well, this might be one of them.
MORZANT: It would be if you could find a way to use that ability to fight the forces of evil.
I’m a scientist. It’s my job to be observant. I observed that each of your main characters has suffered a personal loss. In ALIENATED, Gene has lost his father. In FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY, Arty’s grandfather has died. In FREAK MAGNET, Gloria’s brother has died and Charlie’s mother is suffering from a debilitating disease. JO-JO AND THE FIENDISH LOT’s title character is devastated when his girlfriend is murdered. In spite of these sad events, your books are infused with humor. How do you manage to find the perfect balance between tragedy and comedy?
AA: Do I balance them well? I have no idea. I don’t worry too much about doling out equal portions of happiness and sadness. One of the things I try to do in every story is to be honest. I’ve found that life is a pretty messy affair. One second it’s insanely wonderful and you’re laughing all day until milk shoots out of your face, and then suddenly everything slides into the composter and gets picked apart by rabid raccoons. Most of the time things are normal, average, and we enjoy an uneventful everyday life; but everybody has their favorite days and their worst days ever of all time, OMG! We all have that in common.
MORZANT: As long as the rabid raccoons you’re referring to are metaphorical, I agree wholeheartedly that those variations in fortune are experienced by beings universally.
Accompanying those variations, your novels cover a wide spectrum of emotions including grief. Grief is most pervasive in JO-JO AND THE FIENDISH LOT. An unexpected act of violence sends Jo-Jo to the Afterlife where he desperately searches for his girlfriend, Violet. Your version of an afterlife is desolate and disturbing. Do you believe in a hereafter?
MORZANT: I’ve never rendered an interview subject speechless before. I’m at a loss as to how to respond to your lack of response. Let’s just move on to the next question.
I’m still learning the vagaries of your universe’s laws of physics. Until I read your novel FREAK MAGNET, none of my studies had exposed any information regarding a magnetic attraction between freaks and certain others with more socially acceptable personalities. Might I suggest pursuing publication of your theories in scientific journals? Until you do, I’m afraid Earth’s scientific community will continue to ignore your findings.
AA: I have been legally forbidden from ever again seeking publication in Scientific American or Popular Science. It is a long story, but depositions should be available through the Freedom of Information Act. Just look for the heading: “Auseon vs. Area 51.”
MORZANT: Nevertheless, your observations of the “freak magnet” phenomenon are fascinating.
As an obviously technologically sophisticated person, what’s your opinion of the newfangled digital reading devices? We don’t have paper on Zeenton, so I enjoy the novelty of reading a book with pages. Which do you prefer?
AA: I like paper books best, of course, but I am a recent convert to e-books, although I am stuck reading them on my iPod, which is the size of a Nabisco cracker. (If Bigfoot wants to “donate” an iPad to the cause, I would be very appreciative.) My current favorite format is probably audio books, since I spend a lot of my time in the car.
MORZANT: According to a post on your blog, last summer you experienced a writing breakthrough while bicycling. If a casual bicycle ride provided the impetus for connecting the disjointed elements of your story, I can’t help but wonder what a regular bicycle riding regime would do for your productivity. Participating in the Tour de France might be beneficial to your craft.
AA: I would be a disgrace to the yellow jersey.
MORZANT: I understand that you used to work as a photo researcher. Did you ever chance upon a photo of Bigfoot that wasn’t blurry?
AA: Yes. An arrangement was made. Bigfoot’s presence remains safe, and I now have a nice new Airstream trailer.
MORZANT: I’m at a lost to understand what transpired with the photo you say you discovered. Bigfoot has never tried to conceal his existence, as many have come to believe due to his inability to be photographed clearly. Furthermore, he doesn’t have, nor has he ever had, the means to purchase extravagant vehicles and offer them as payment for blackmail. Not to mention he would never make such a payment in the first place. And after getting to know you, I doubt you’re the type of being who would exploit a cryptid for his own gain, as Gene does in ALIENATED. The only possible conclusion for me to draw is that you’re teasing me. Are Earthlings jokesters in general, or is it that writers in particular are? I’ll make a note to study that further.
I’ve enjoyed our talk immensely, Andy. Before we finish, I have a final question. Our resident psychic, Briar, has had visions of several of your as yet unpublished novels. I won’t mention them since I’m not certain what you’re inclined to reveal at this time. Do you have any information you’d be willing to share with your fans who are, no doubt, eagerly awaiting your next book?
AA: I am in the thick of writing my next YA novel right now and hoping to finish this summer. I am very excited about it, which likely means it will be a miserable failure. With every project I learn a bit more about my strengths, weaknesses, and writing process, so I’m always eager to put all of that knowledge to work. Keep an eye out of for it. In fact, keep all of your eyes out for it.
MORZANT: The BIGFOOT READS audience and I will do just that. Good-bye for now, humans. If you haven’t yet read Andy’s current works, I suggest you do so. You won’t be disappointed.
(Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 2009)
FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY
JO-JO AND THE FIENDISH LOT