I recently read Adam Selzer's book, How to Get Suspended and Influence People. It was such a fun read. How to Get Suspended manages to get across a great message about censorship without sounding preachy. After reading his very humorous book, I was so excited when Adam Selzer agreed to let me interview him...
I am looking forward to reading Pirates of a Retail Wasteland when it is released in April. Can you tell me a little more about the other books you have coming out (ie. I put a Spell On You and Lost and Found)?
I Put a Spell On You is about a spelling bee, but it's based on Watergate. It has four main narrators - an overscheduled girl who wants to run away and be a hippie, a girl who uncovers a major cover-up, a class clown who spends his spare time planning his own funeral, and a home-schooled kid who has been enrolled in school just to compete in the spelling bee and becomes fascinated with heavy metal. It'll probably break the record for Most Jokes About Richard Nixon Ever in a Middle Grade novel. It'll be out in September. In the sequel, the principal will try to hold onto his job by throwing around words like "pride" and "values" like so much confetti.
Lost and Found is still in progress - it's another middle grade. Sort of a cross between Skinnybones and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
There's also The Wisenheimer's Guide to U.S. History, which has been a lot of fun to write. I spent much of last week on the phone with Billy Joel's people to clear some rights to use one of his songs in the book - just talking about that makes me feel like a real big shot. Sitting around making up funny captions for pictures of dead politicians is really a lot of fun.
Some other projects include:
- Weird Chicago: The Book (that'll be out soon)
- a couple of top secret YA books
- a graphic novel based on my songs "Friday Avenue" and "Pushing Cheerleaders Down the Stairs."
And, of course, there's "Pirates of the Retail Wasteland," which is barely two months away! I've been working on versions of that story for years now, and I'm SO excited that it's finally coming out! It's a bit of a risk - if the theme of HTGSAIP was censorship, the theme of this one is bad city planning, and maybe kids don't mind bad city planning so much as they mind censorship. They should, though - they're the ones who really get screwed by it!
Were you really a contestant on Double Dare?
Nope. That's one of the fake things in my bio. Same with having seen Ethel Merman naked. Never did that.
When did you start writing How to Get Suspended and Influence People and what was the inspiration behind it?
I first started writing it in 2003 after carrying around the first line in my head for about a year. Actually, it goes further back - I had the idea to write a YA/MG book that dealt with censorship issues when I was Leon's age. In college I got the idea to do something about a movie producer who tries to make an avant garde sex ed film. Somewhere along the lines I mixed those two ideas with the first line that I was carrying around in my head, and there was the book! And I'm certainly no stranger to censorhip - I went to high school in Gwinnett County, Georgia, where they were STILL trying to ban Harry Potter a year or so ago.
Did you attempt to make the avant garde sex ed video you describe in your book? (If not, you should!)
I haven't; I keep hoping someone else will (hint hint!)
What made you decide to write for the YA audience? Do you feel you are more restricted when writing for teens?
I didn't feel that I was enough of a grown-up to have any business writing adult stuff. I don't feel a whole lot older now than I did when I was 14. And when certain songs come on the radio, I could swear I was seven again. YA isn't very restrictive; you just have to cut out some swear words and keep the sexual references vague. Other than that, you can write in a pretty natural rhythm. Middle grade is MUCH harder, because you can't just let the characters ramble on. Getting the rhythm and pacing and timing down in middle grade is a whole different animal.
Did you read a lot as a middle schooler/teen?
Sure! That was the era when everyone read Christopher Pike and/or RL Stein. My friends and I preferred Pike - he had a lot of sex, drinking and smoking in his books, which we got a real kick out of. I went to Dean Koontz from that. Then one day I found a copy of "Paingod and Other Delusions" by Harlan Ellison in a used book store - a title like that was irresistable, and the book was a knock-out. It had the famous story "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktock Man" in it. That blew me away. And by high school, I had pretty much based my life on the teachings of Daniel Pinkwater. To this day I sometimes feel like I'm living in a Pinkwater book - and not just because locations from his books sometimes show up on the tours I run!
Do you truly believe in ghosts? If so, any encounters you'd like to share?
That really depends on what counts as a ghost! I mean, when we think of ghosts, we think of a transparent version of a person, usually wearing clothes that, while also transparent, still cover up all of the ghost's hoo-hoos. I've never seen anything like that. But I've seen some pretty weird stuff - part of my job is going on ghost investigations. But I'm not sure any of those weird things were actually caused by a dead guy. The other night I recorded a podcast at a hotel that's supposed to be haunted by Theodore Roosevelt to see if he'd endorse a candidate in time for Super Tuesday, but we couldn't get him to show up. Sometimes I think that if ghosts exist, they sure as hell don't want me to know about it!
What do you do in you spare time (you know, when you aren't ghostbusting, writing novels, or planning a wedding)?
I play music - not particularly WELL, but I have a lot of fun with it. I watch more TV than I should really admit, and take long walks around the city. I could walk around the city all day and all night and never get tired of it. I cook a lot and redecorate constantly. I follow politics like most guys follow sports - went to see Barack Obama last night!
Do you have to work for your geeky hotness or does it just come naturally?
The geeky part certainly comes naturally - I've spent a fair share of nights camped out waiting for Star Wars movies, and I'm sure ANYONE who knew me in school will tell you I was a big dork. If I can claim any hotness, it's just a result of working hard to impress my fiance, who is all kinds of hot. I'm resisting the urge to quote Juno right about now :)