I had the brilliant idea a few weeks ago that it might be a nice year-end change-up to my regular interview posts to have my various nieces and nephews (both the ones related to me by blood and the ones who are kids of friends) quiz me about my writing, interviewing and reading habits. While I didn’t hear back from everyone (*cough*AlexDevinMaxA*cough*), I got a lot of good questions with only a few repetitions. Today’s post is the older batch of kids, ages 13 to 20.
Anyone who has read THE FIRFLAKE has seen the dedication (“For Mom and Dad, who taught me how to believe, and for Buddy and Squirmy Worm, who reminded me when I forgot.”) Buddy and Squirmy Worm are our family nicknames for my nephew Vinny and niece Renee. Vinny’s questions start off today’s post, and Renee gets the lead-off tomorrow when the younger kids have their say.
VINNY (age 14): What inspired you to write?
ANTHONY: Comic books. That’s the short answer, anyway. The first stories I remember writing were all with Marvel and DC superheroes. I can remember a summer visit to the Cornelia cousins on Long Island, and using their house as the secret base in a story featuring a group of Marvel’s third-string characters (Marvel Man (now Quasar), Blue Streak, The Vamp, and someone else). I had to be in 5th or 6th grade then. I also remember being in the lunch-room at Mahopac Junior High and writing a story about Bat-Girl (the Barbara Gordon version), and trying to draw the logo they used for her in Batman Family at the time. Those stories are all long-since lost; they were all hand-written in loose-leaf binders and spiral-bound notebooks and who knows where they ended up.
VINNY: Will you ever venture into the horror genre?
That depends on what type of horror you mean. Will I ever write a slasher-flick like the Jason movies? Probably not. But the short story “Canopus” right here on the website is suspenseful-horror, and my mystery novel AMBERGRIN HALL has at least a few horrific moments (and a hint of the supernatural). And as you may remember, I’m still supposed to be co-writing a zombie novel with Aunt Nina if I ever get off my buttocks and work on it. (By the way, Vin, kudos for using the word “venture.” Haha)
LAURA (age 20): When you get a creative idea, what sparks in your mind and says “THATS IT! There needs to be a book about this!”
ANTHONY: Ah, the famous “AHA!” moment. I’m not sure I actually get those. I hear other writers talk about them, but my epiphanies are smaller. I get an idea and it’s not “OH MY GOD THIS HAS TO BE A BOOK” so much as “oh, there’s a neat idea, let’s see where it goes.” The moment a story “clicks” for me is usually well after I’ve started it, and then I get that “Oh, yeah, this works!” spark.
LAURA: Out of all of the places you have traveled to, which place gave you the most inspiration when it comes to writing?
ANTHONY: Inspiration always seems to be stronger in the places that feel like home. The scenery change can be subtle (the slightly different small towns elsewhere in northwest NJ / southern NY) or dramatic (an apartment in a city somewhere in the country), but when I’m closer to family I’m more inspired to write. Outside of NY/NJ, the places I get the most writing done are, in no particular order: Palmdale CA, Chicago IL, Portland OR, and Kenosha WI.
DANNY (age 19): How do you avoid repetition in your writing?
ANTHONY: Hire a good editor.
DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?
ANTHONY: Wow, déjà vu. You want a more serious answer? Being in a local writers’ group (“The Write Direction,” and thank you Marie Collinson, Rosemary Foley and Jessie Peck-Martin!) and having a few “beta-readers” via email — folks who are looking not just at story as a whole but for clarity of language and awkward repetitive moments.
DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?
ANTHONY: Yes, folks, Danny is the one who seems to have inherited my sense of humor. Or he’s bucking for a job as my editor. Alright, Dan, any OTHER questions?
DANNY: Yes. How do you stay confident with your own writing?
ANTHONY: Oh, good one. The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure any writer ever does. It’s sort of like stage fright for an actor. Helen Hayes, near the end of her long and varied career, said “I get sick with stage fright. Noel Coward threw up before every show, he got so sick. God made stage fright.” Carol Channing followed that up with “She was right about that. God made stage fright. I’ve noticed over a lifetime those that do not have stage fright, are not that good on stage.” It’s the same for me. Doesn’t matter that I’ve got had non-fiction, short fiction, and a short novel published. Every time I write something, there’s always that “oh my god, does this suck bat-guano” question lingering in the back of my head. And even after it’s been published, it’s the same. Just this month, knowing Marianne Burnham and her talented family had a copy of THE FIRFLAKE, I was constantly thinking “what if these wonderful new friends of mine, who were so excited to buy the book, end up hating it?” They didn’t hate it, but that’s beside the point.
JAKE (age 20): Are you working on a follow up to THE FIRFLAKE and/or are you going to try to go in a different direction with your writing?
ANTHONY: Yes. Don’t you love when people answer “either/or” questions that way? Seriously, THE FIRFLAKE is pretty complete unto itself. As much as I love Papa Knecht, Mama Alvarie, Engleberta and the rest, I’m pretty sure (at least right now) that their story is complete. However, I do have another, longer, Christmas novel nearing completion. Where THE FIRFLAKE is a book meant to be read by parents to children, CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is aimed straight at the middle-grade / young-adult market. It’s about sixth grader Colum McCann, who is still hurting about the unexpected death of the older brother he worshipped, and how he discovers a secret about Christmas Eve that could give him the chance to say goodbye. Beyond that, I’d say my writing is constantly headed in other directions. AMBERGRIN HALL is a college-set mystery-thriller. I just sold a science-fiction short story. I’m working on a sequence of connected fantasy and sf stories. I never know what genre I’ll be writing in next. The authors I most idolize (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Orson Card, Lawrence Block) all have the ability to write in more than one genre, and to write in more than one style.
JAKE: Is there a specific artist or genre of music that you like to listen to when you write?
ANTHONY: Generally speaking, no. In the past, I’ve gone from working in complete silence to working with only instrumental music in the background. IF I’m going the instrumental route, I tend to rotate between classical stuff like the Carmina Burana and Dvorak’s New World Symphony (both of which I’ve loved since high school, thank you Terry Wynne and Darrell Long respectively) and movie or tv soundtracks. For horror-story-moodiness, nothing beats Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack for the Francis Ford Coppola version of DRACULA. Michael Giacchino’s LOST soundtracks to seasons one through three are frequently playing as well. When I write my annual holiday poem, there’s always seasonal music playing. In a broader sense, I draw inspiration from the music I love, whether I’m writing at that moment or not. Right now, that ranges from all-time favorites like Rosanne Cash, Jennifer Holliday, Styx and Supertramp to friends like The Dalliance, Casey Stratton, Burnham and Matt Johnson.
JAKE: How would you describe your relationship with Orson Scott Card? I remember my mom telling me he posted on your Facebook wall a while ago which I thought was awesome.
ANTHONY: Over the past few years, I’ve had a chance to interact with Orson a couple of times. Some of his books would easily make any Top 25 list I might put together (particularly Ender’s Game, Lost Boys, and the whole Alvin Maker series). I’ve learned a lot about craft reading his books, and he’s graciously answered my fan-boy questions about his work and even about the Mormon religion. He’s never been anything but polite and friendly towards me, and I appreciate that from any well-known person (meeting Neil Gaiman was equally as gratifying, for instance. And Jennifer Holliday and John Glover and Ellen Datlow, as well.). Orson has made some pretty controversial statements in the recent past about homosexuality and “hating the sin but not the sinner,” (that’s not a direct quote, it should be noted) that I obviously don’t agree with – but that doesn’t detract from my love of his books and how I feel about the times we have interacted. (In fact, I think the Facebook post your mom was referencing was my quote “Gravity doesn’t care who you fall for,” which Orson liked.)
JAKE: How have your past experiences working with children influenced your writing?
ANTHONY: Immensely. You’ve been in the audience when I’ve told campfire stories. There’s no denying that some of my current style is a direct development from that experience. I also think the child and teen characters I write are more realistic because of all the actual kids and teens I am proud to call my nieces and nephews. Whether you were aware of it or not, you and your brother and the rest were the testing ground for the voice I use in a lot of my short stories. And speaking of your brother…
GABE P. (age 16): As you know, I am a high school student, and often times I find myself, along with other high school students, frustrated with teachings about writing in English class. How much of what you learned in school applies to your current writing career, and since then what has affected your writing habits and style?
ANTHONY: I had some really great English teachers in high school: Chris and Eugenia DelCampo (no relation) and PJ Burgh specifically. I learned a lot about literary analysis from them. My love of Mark Twain is all Mrs. DelCampo’s fault. My love of the theater and Shakespeare comes from the other two. I know the basics of writing an essay that I learned in high school served me well when I was writing non-fiction articles for various company newsletters and for Camping magazine. But if I’m being honest: I don’t remember actually studying creative writing in high school, at least not in any of our regular classes. Jerry Hahn and I co-wrote an adaptation of Snow White our senior year of high school that was produced as the fall play, but that’s about the only school-assignment type creative writing I remember doing. All the super-hero stuff I wrote in high school was on my own. The first creative writing classes I took were at Elmira College: Creative Writing with Professor Kerry Driscoll, a Playwriting Directed Study with Professor Jerry Whalen, a Science Fiction class with Doctor Bruce Barton in which we built our own worlds from scratch. Also, being a member of the Super-Team Amateur Press Alliance (STAPA) since 1982, and being in various writers’ groups over the years.
GABE P: Many writers I have seen in the past have conveyed a bit of their personalities in their writing such as Christopher Moore with his wittiness, or Oscar Wilde with his pompous disposition. If there is a characteristic of your personality that you would want your readers to take away from your writing, what would it be?
ANTHONY: Well, I hope my punny, somewhat dorky, sense of humor shines through in most of my work. But I don’t think I intentionally put a characteristic of myself out there as part of the planning for a story. Another Elmira professor of mine, Malcolm Marsden, told me that he enjoyed reading every paper I wrote because I always revealed a bit about myself and my own search for identity as I was analyzing the book or author in question. I think that’s still true. In THE FIRFLAKE, it might be Engleberta’s insecurity about being the best Watcher she can be; in AMBERGRIN HALL, there’s a bit of my quest for identity and love of folk music and the theater in Garrett and in Ezra; in “Canopus,” well… there’s a lot of me in the narrator of that story. I’m still constantly questioning who I am and where I am, and I think that comes out in my fiction.
GABE P: Do you ever find yourself unintentionally emulating an element from another writer’s work, or are you always aware of where you are drawing your influence from at a given moment?
ANTHONY: Unintentionally, all the time. I’ll reread something I wrote and think “wow, that’s a bit of Stoker / Butcher / whoever right there, isn’t it?” Sometimes, of course, that means rewriting because I don’t really want to sound like anybody else … and sometimes it gets left in because that little homage is exactly what I want. Then there are the times when yes, I am intentionally emulating a style. AMBERGRIN HALL has some intentionally Gothic moments in it that recall Stoker, Conan Doyle, Bronte. THE FIRFLAKE is one massive homage to the classic Rankin-Bass claymation Christmas specials. CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is intentionally Dickensian, and “Canopus” has a bit of Lovecraft in there.
GABE P.: I can imagine that when you read, you read pieces from genres all over the map. Is there one genre that you are particularly drawn to?
ANTHONY: I do try to be as widely-read as possible. That being said, in 2011 I’d say at least half of what I read was firmly in the science fiction and fantasy realms. Part of that is because I started writing book reviews for ICARUS: the magazine of gay speculative fiction this year, and that’s two books every quarter that need to be science fiction/fantasy/horror. But it’s also because those are the genres I’ve always loved. Take a look at my home library one of these days and most of it is genre fiction, including mysteries and pulp-adventure.
And now, let’s hear from the 13 and 14 year olds…
GABE O. (age 13): When did you start writing?
ANTHONY: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Definitely by the time I was your age, but surely younger.
GABE O.: How do you beat writer’s block?
ANTHONY: With a rather large canoe paddle.
AIDAN (age 14): No, seriously, how do you cure writer’s block?
ANTHONY: It’s an ancient family recipe: salt and other spices rubbed in, and then you let the writer’s block sit and dry for a while, and then…
DANNY (age 19): I think what they mean is, what is your most helpful routine to do when you find yourself with writer’s block?
ANTHONY: Obviously, it’s to make jokes about it. Writer’s block is not so scary when you realize that everyone goes through it occasionally and the best thing to do sometimes is walk away from the project you’re blocked on and just do something else. Go for a walk. Work on a different project. Spend several hours playing Scrabble on Facebook, chatting on Twitter, etc. Or just read. At one point when I was blocked on a short story, I walked away and sat down with a book in a completely different genre and read for a little while, and that seemed to “cleanse the palette” so to speak.
EDDY (age 14): What gives you your inspiration to write?
ANTHONY: I talked early about what inspired me to become a writer. What continues to inspire me? Part of it is that I can’t imagine NOT writing something every day. Some days that urge is fulfilled by my day job (writing for the company newsletter, etc) and some days it’s fulfilled by conducting an interview with a writer, artist, singer, actor or other creative type I respect. And then some days, I’m inspired because I know you all enjoy reading what I write. Encouragement from family and friends helps me continue to enjoy writing, even if I never get published.
AIDAN: So where do you find and how do you come up with ideas for your next story/book?
ANTHONY: Everything, honestly, is capable of giving me inspiration. Sometimes it’s a physical thing: AMBERGRIN HALL has its roots in an old unused building on the Elmira College campus and “Canopus” is based in part on an island in the middle of Lake Mahopac. Sometimes it’s a person: “That Happy Kid” was based on a teenager I used to pass every day commuting home from work. Sometimes it’s a news article: my one-act play “Sneakers in the Sand” and my story “Invisible Me” were based on things I read in the newspaper. So there’s no one thing, really.
EDDY: How many books have you written/published?
ANTHONY: Perfect question to end today’s post on, Eddy! I have one book out there, THE FIRFLAKE: A Christmas Story, and folks can find it if they go up to this site’s navigation bar and click on the tab with the book’s title on it. I also have a short story coming out in the SPACE BATTLES anthology sometime in 2012, and sometime early in the year you should be able to see a music video I scripted for The Dalliance on Youtube. Hopefully, next year will see more of my fiction out there.
That was a much longer post than I expected! Tomorrow (Monday), I’ll post what the younger kids asked me.