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Surfing for readers: an interview with Todd Strasser. (Author Portrait).

Todd Strasser is a name well known to many readers. With titles such as Girl gives birth to own prom date or Help! I'm trapped in my teacher's body, it is no wonder. Some of Strasser's novels are humorous examinations of the angst of being a teen. Other novels, though, tackle more than simply the trials and tribulations of peers and parents. His ground-breaking Give a boy a gun is a must read for all of us, students and teachers, who are concerned about violence in the schools. The wave remains a favorite of teachers for its chilling account of how one classroom experiment goes awfully wrong.

Todd's career in writing began, innocuously enough, with fortune cookies. Fortunately, Todd branched out and produced dozens of wonderful novels for teens and children. For more information about Todd Strasser and his books, visit his web site: You can also read more about Todd Strasser in an interview by Don Gallo at: http://www.authors4teens. com. Recently, Todd and I "talked" via e-mail about his books and his work.


If you were asked to select one scene or chapter to appear in an anthology of YA literature for students to use in school, which might you select and why?


This is a tough question because my chapters tend to be short. I could probably find a scene in Give a boy a gun, or How I changed my life, or even Angel dust blues that would suffice, but I think that for an anthology I would actually suggest On the bridge, a short story I wrote more than 20 years ago that appeared in a book called Visions [Note: Visions is a story collection edited by Donald R. Gallo).


What/who do you like to read? Whose writing inspires you as a reader and as a writer?


I read a lot of nonfiction and particularly enjoy articles and books about the ocean. Having recently taken up surfing I'm reading a lot about that, too. Kurt Vonnegut, Tom McGuane, Tom Wolfe, John Gregory Dunne, Nora Ephron, Neal Stephenson and Nick Hornby. What they all share is a quirky and somewhat dark sense of irony.


Someone once compared writing to the way an oyster creates a pearl. It begins with a tiny piece of sand, an irritant that the oyster strives to cover over with layer after layer. What is the sand in the oyster for you? What starts the story working? Is your work character-driven or theme-driven? Is there some other genesis?


Depends on the age I'm writing for. If it's a book for preteens, especially a humorous book for preteens, the situation generally drives the story. I try to make the more serious books for that age group more character-driven. For YA novels, I've written both character- and theme-driven stories, but lately they've been more theme- (issue-) driven.


People always want to know what you are doing next. What are you working on now? Do you have more than "one iron in the tire"?


I'm finishing up two "young" YA novels, Thief of dreams and Confidence, both told in the second person. I'm also working on a YA novel about homeless kids, and fooling around with a couple of adult mysteries.


What is a typical writing day like for you? What is your "routine"?


When I'm not on the road I generally intend to write every day, weekends included. This doesn't mean I succeed, but it is what I try to do. I try to stay at the computer from 9 till 2 and then, if I've got nothing better to do, I might work a few more hours. But each day, especially in the summer, I try to have an activity that starts by 4 or 5 in the afternoon and gets me out of the apartment.


What wisdom/advice can you offer teachers who want to connect kids, especially boys, to books and reading?


I wish I could suggest something new and wonderful, but I still believe it's finding something they're interested in and matching a book to it. I also think it's important to keep in mind that while it is sometimes difficult to get boys to develop of a love of literature and fiction, this doesn't mean that they don't read. I didn't read a lot of fiction until I was in my twenties and thirties. Almost all the reading I do these days is nonfiction from newspapers, magazines and online. My son is 15 and doesn't read many books, but he's on the Internet every night for an hour reading e-mails and web sites, etc. Sure, it pains me to think of that kid who's never read a book. But it also pains me that there are many more kids who've never stepped inside an art museum, or experienced a live symphony, or, for that matter, surfed down the face of a wave. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I truly applaud the efforts of all teachers who teach kids to read and I think it is a tremendous accomplishment that they impart this skill, and I don't think they should beat themselves up too badly if some kids don't practice this skill as much as others.


If you were asked to coalesce your work into one sentence, what might that be?


Books for teens and preteens that the Christian right would like to burn.

Books by Todd Strasser

Angel dust blues. Dell, 1984. 044090952X

Close call. Putnam, 1999. 039923134X

Con-fidence. Holiday House, 2002. 0823413942

Don't get caught driving the school bus. Turtleback, 2000. 0606195564

Girl gives birth to own prom date. Simon & Schuster, 1996. 0689804822

Give a boy a gun. Simon & Schuster, 2000. 0689811128

Help! I'm trapped in a supermodel's body. Apple, 2001. 0439210356

Help! I'm trapped in my teacher's body. Apple, 1994. 0590477374

How I changed my life. Pocket, 1996. 068980895X

How I spent my last night on earth. Simon & Schuster, 1998. 0689811136

Kidnap kids. Putnam, 1998. 0399231110

The wave. Laurel Leaf, 1981. 0440993717

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Title Annotation:young adult and children's author
Author:Lesesne, Teri S.
Publication:Teacher Librarian
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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