I'm so excited about our next guest--Adam Rex! Adam is a fantastic illustrator and, let's face it, spew-milk-through-your-nose funny. I recently read his novel, The True Meaning of Smekday, and I urge you and all your family to run out and read it now. Or stay in, if you already have it. Here are 10 reasons to read it. Technically it's science fiction, but if you're not a sci-fi fan, do not let the genre dissuade you--it's highly readable. And there were many times when I laughed out loud. There are also super cool illustrations. This will captivate those reluctant readers, too. The story is about a girl named Gratuity (and I promise--boys WILL read about this girl main character) after earth is invaded by an alien race named the Boov, and her adventures with one of the Boov who goes by the name J.Lo. Are you with me?
Me: What kind of student were you in elementary/middle grade? What did you want to be when you grew up? Did any teachers influence you for good or ill?
AR: I did well inside the classroom. Outside the classroom, on the playground or in Phys. Ed., I was kind of a flaming wreck, but I always had the admiration of my classmates, such as it was, because I could draw. My teachers were reasonably indulgent of my drawing early on–if I was done with my classwork, they really couldn't complain that I was sketching on the back of the worksheet–though I ran into some resistance in high school. A couple of teachers made it known that they thought I was wasting my time. One calculus teacher went so far as to say she was disappointed in me after learning that I was planning to major in art in college rather than, I suppose, math or something. But hey, maybe she's dead now.
I don't think it's fair that you can write brilliantly and draw like a genius. So my question is...do you think it's fair that you're so freakin' talented?
Oh, and thank you.
In Smekday, do you have any favorite scenes or characters?
Well, I love J.Lo and Gratuity, of course. When I was polishing up the finished text, I had really reached a level of comfort with those characters to the extent that I was able to practically improvise a conversation between them in real time, on any topic. Even with J.Lo's language eccentricities. I think I've lost some of that now, but I'm confident I could get it back if I were to ever come back to those characters in any substantial way.
An early scene in which Gratuity is trying to parse out all the changes J.Lo has made to her car has always been a favorite of mine. It plays out cinematically as a perfect little piece of slapstick in my head, and I hope someone makes a movie out of it one day so everyone else can see what I've been seeing.
Do you have any favorite responses that you've had from fans?
I received a letter from a boy the other day who declared Smekday to be the best book he's ever read or ever will read. I hope he's wrong, but that was pretty good.
What is different about being a published author/illustrator than you might have imagined when you were young?
Well, when I was young I guess I would have assumed I'd be very rich by now. And I get a lot of "Are you rich?" or "Did you come here in a limousine?" questions when I do school visits, so I think this is a widely held view. Widely held among kids, and even among adults who maybe don't know any authors personally. The huge class of struggling, or merely comfortable, authors and musicians and actors and so forth in the world are largely invisible to the average person, I think. Have you ever told someone at a party that you're an author, and they light up like they're just certain you're going to turn out to be Danielle Steele or someone? They ask what you've written and when you tell them they get almost painfully embarrassed for you...they read books, they know titles and authors' names, so if they haven't heard of you then you must be really unsuccessful. Then you spend the rest of the party trying to convince them that, really, you're doing fine, and you probably don't have the time to illustrate their sure-fire picture book idea. But I'm rambling.
[Ha! Yes, I know that look. I've learned to go to great lengths to avoid telling people I write books.]
In the hierarchy of tragedy vs. comedy, tragedy always seems to win (in awards, in books studied in school, in perceived importance, etc.), but I would argue comedy is just as, if not even more important. If you wouldn't mind waxing philosophical for a moment, why do you think comedy is important for kids or adults? Or just any random thoughts you have on this or other related or unrelated topics.
That's true. They're even sort of closely related, if you believe the old comedy = tragedy + time axiom. And they're both very hard to do well, in their own ways. I guess comedy is important to me because I find it improves every genre. A little well-played comedy will make a tragedy seem more tragic. It can make all kinds of ideas more palatable and easier to understand. It can make even the most polarizing genres accessible...you ask someone like Joss Whedon how he got so many mainstream TV critics behind his series about a vampire-slaying cheerleader. It was good writing all around, of course, and serious themes, but I think the comedy gave a lot of people permission to like what they otherwise might have dismissed as a show for awkward comic book fans with nowhere to go on a Friday night.
I guess certain problems arise when a story gets labeled as a comedy, rather than simply a story with humor, or a comedy/drama. I've been somewhat pained by the number of (good) reviews that refer to Smekday as basically just a zany romp. The comedy is there to entertain, but it's also there so that you'll hopefully fall for the characters a little. And then you'll feel along with them in the quiet parts. But that's just me whining, I think. What a sensitive flower I am.
We are honored that you would whine to us! And if I can wax philosophical in response, I think it's a common reaction with any book that's entertaining to want to sum it up for what it is on the surface--a comedic romp, another fantasy, a comic book, a romance, etc. I think what a good writer can do is provide depth of story, so if you only want to read for the rippin' good tale, that's fine, but if you want to look closer, there's something there for you, too. Smekday certainly does that. It's a fantastic book. Thank you, Adam, for stopping by squeetus!