True talent: an interview with David Lubar.
DG: Tell us about True Talents and how it ties into your earlier novel Hidden Talents. How is the process of writing a sequel different from writing the first novel?
DL: This is a hard question to answer because I realize it is important for me to describe the book in such a way that your readers will feel inspired to immediately order multiple copies. I will give it a shot. The book has the power to cause seventh graders to sit quietly for up to 10 minutes at a spell. It is especially appealing to teachers and teacherlibrarians. Hmmm, that sounded a bit too self-serving. Let me try again.
True Talents begins a bit more than a year after Hidden Talents ends. It has a different narrator (Eddie rather than Martin) but brings back all six of the main characters. When the story opens, Eddie "Trash" Thalmayer has just awakened from a drugged stupor. He discovers that he is a captive in some sort of lab. He escapes using his telekinetic powers, and the game is on. To put it glibly, think in terms of The Bourne Identity meets Carrie. But it can actually be read at many levels. In some ways, it is my most political book. It is definitely my darkest novel, though there is still plenty of humor in it.
Writing a sequel is harder in some ways but easier in others. The hard part is that I could not change any of the facts I established in the first book, such as where a character lived or how many siblings he had. But I did not have to create my characters from scratch, and that is a nice gift for any writer. I already had these wonderful kids available to populate my book. I suspect that is why there has been such a high demand for a sequel. The guys are fun, especially when they get together. Martin is charmingly caustic. Torchie is touchingly naive. All of them were a joy to revisit. I almost felt bad about what I put them through. If Hidden Talents dropped the guys in a rock tumbler, True Talents jams them through a meat grinder. If I had to sum it up with a eatchphrase, I would say that I wrote the first book with ink and the second with testosterone.
DG: Your Weenie books have delighted thousands with short attention spans-as well as their children. How did you come up with the idea of the vignettes, and why do think they have proved to be so popular?
DL: I am sorry. What was the question? Something about attention spans? I love short stories. I got the idea by spending my formative years glued to magazines that published tons of short fiction. While I have been writing short stories for ages and getting them published since the 1970s, I made a real breakthrough in the mid- 1990s when I wrote "Fairy in a Jar." I consider it the story where I really found my voice as a writer of short fiction. I was inspired enough by that to go into a frenzy of story writing, even though I had no idea whether there was a market for this sort of story. To my delight and amazement, Tar Books shared my enthusiasm. The third collection, The Curse of the Campfire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales, comes out in September. I should point out to anyone unfamiliar with these books that, despite the brilliantly bizarre cover art and goofy title, each collection has a wide range of stories, ranging from off-the-wall humor to moody psychological horror, fantasy, ghost stories, science fiction, real life gone wrong, transcendental silliness, and even a pinch of magical unrealism. Some of my best work lies between these covers. I am especially fond of "Shaping the Fog," in Road Weenies, which is probably my most mystical story, and "Tied Up," in the new book, which is about a baseball game that never ends.
DG: You have written both novels and short stories, so you are obviously comfortable with both forms of fiction. For you, what is the difference in the approach to writing a story as opposed to a novel, other than how long it takes to type?
DL: Honestly, I think the process is the same in most ways. The one major difference for me is that a novel needs to be woven. There are threads of different lengths running through it, with enough overlap that the reader is never left with a threadbare section. A thread can be brief, like the ringing of a phone. The reader finds out who is calling right away. Or a thread can be long. How will the main character get out of the mess he got himself into? A reader will finish a story just because he started it and because he knows the end is not far. There tends to be just one thread-or no thread, in the case of most literary fiction. The novel needs to give the reader more incentive to turn the page. The other difference is that I can be fearless when I start a short story. No matter what happens, I know I will not be spending a year working on it. So I can try anything. The cost of failure is low.
DG: Rodney Dangerfield "didn't get no respect." The same could be said about humor writers in the YA field, yet Sir Donald Wolfit supposedly stated with his last words "Dying is easy, comedy is hard." Why is humor so difficult to write? Why do you think it is underappreciated as an art form?
DL: You are the second person to tell me that quote recently. Do you know something: I do not know. I cannot address the issue of difficulty since, for me, humor is not hard. Being serious is hard. That is why I turn down all offers to be on committees, commissions, boards, or anything else that requires productive meetings. I am just too focused on leaping on straight lines.
I probably should not address the issue of respect, either. I have this sinking fear that if I speak much more on this subject, people will start thinking of me as the funny guy who is kind of bitter. So let me just settle for addressing it tangentially by stealing a couple lines from a talk I gave last year. "Tragedy is universal. Comedy is subjective. If a novelist throws a dog under the wheels of a truck, every reader will feel sad. If the truck is an Oscar Mayer Weenermobile, some people might find that funny. If the hot dog truck swerves, misses the dog, and runs over a pack of PETA members, a different group of readers might be amused." None of these scenarios will amuse everyone. As for Rodney Dangerfield, he got no respect, but he got a lot of love. He made people happy. That is what I do.
DG: Do you have any opinions on why teen males are aversive readers?
DL: Excuse me while I grab my dictionary. Okay--now I get it. I thought you meant they only liked books that rhymed. I could venture a guess or two. Most school work involves reading. Even with math and science, the first thing a kid gets is a textbook. So reading becomes equated with work. On top of that, some of the books that have survived in the curriculum for decades are pretty tough to wade through. There are plenty of wonderful classics, and the fact that a book is difficult does not mean that it is a bad book. But we need to pay more heed to the other side of this rule: The fact that a book is difficult does not make it a good book, either. But, good or bad, if we treat books like vitamins or vegetables, kids will rebel. As for the issue of guys and books, I think the image of the male book lover as sensitive and less than masculine is so rooted in our culture that it will take some work to change things.
DG: Why are video games a great parent-child bonding medium?
DL: A good game requires a large variety of skills. There are dexterity challenges, but there are also all sorts of puzzles to be solved. That is a great universe for teamwork. My daughter and I especially like two-player cooperative games, such as Baldur's Gate or Champions of Norrath, but we are also happy to kibbitz. If one of us is playing a game, the other will watch and provide suggestions. ("No, Dad! Not that switch; you already pressed it five times, and you keep getting zapped. Try the one on the right.") Sometimes, I fear it is more fun for me than for her.
DL: Why are cats better than dogs?
DL: For starters, a dirty cat smells better than a clean dog. With cats, you can leave home for more than 6 hours. The only limiting factor in how long you can stay away is the capacity of the litter box. Cats allow for the possibility of greater mysteries. They understand magic. They know when to comfort you, and they know when to sleep. Dogs are just too joyful. I do not trust any creature that likes me more than I like myself. In Italy, they have cats running around in the restaurants. In Paris, people carry their dogs to the table. Speaking of Paris, Bond villains have cats. Paris Hilton and Britney Spears have dogs. I think that says it all. Well, I guess that was as good a way as any to alienate half of my potential readers. Thanks for the question. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go clean up a hair ball my cat left on the carpet.
Interplay. (2001). Baldur's gate: Dark alliance [Video game]. Bothell, WA: Snowblind Studios.
King, S. (1990). Carrie. New York: Doubleday.
Ludlum, R. (1980). The Bourne identity. New York: Marek.
Sony Online Entertainment. (2004). Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest [Video game]. Bothell, WA: Snowblind Studios.
BOOKS BY DAVID LUBAR
The curse of the Campfire Weenies and other warped and creepy tales. Starscape (forthcoming). 978-0765318075.
True talents. Starescape, 2007. 978-0765309777.
Invasion of the Road Weenies and other warped and creepy tales. Starscape, 2006. 978-0765353253.
Flip. Starscape, 2004. 978-0765340481.
In the land of the Lawn Weenies and other misadventures. Starscape, 2003. 978-0613929301.
Hidden talents. Starscape, 1999. 978-0765342652.
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