Marc Zabludoff has wandered through several careers, with artist, teacher, and cook being among the more interesting. For more than a decade he was the top editor at Discover, a publication dedicated to communicating science to a mass audience of self-defined adults. (It was there that he recognized the peculiar talents of Mark Wheeler and assigned him the role of chief humor writer.) For a similar but more discerning audience of children, he has written a small pile of allegedly educational books, many of them focused on creatures with tusks, fangs, or way too many legs. (Goodreads.com)
For this unique and entertaining interview both authors will be answering the questions. I feel honored to have M.M. Wheezee as a guest on my site.
MW: Once it was clear, somewhere around the age of 11, that rock star/professional athlete was out, I became open to a lot of other, easier possibilities I hadn't really considered before—Formula One race car driver, astronaut, and brain surgeon among them. Then, my sophomore year in high school, I was influenced by a teacher who told me I was a good writer. That gave me the goal to publish my first novel before I graduated high school. I fell a little short on that one.
MZ: I thought I would be a writer as soon as I learned to write—until fifth grade, when I discovered that another kid in my class could write funnier poems than I could using all the words in a vocabulary list. So I gave up on writing and went for other, more lucrative professions, like art. That lasted until I was close to thirty and poor. Not many people choose writing as the path to wealth, but not many people have the benefit of being an unsuccessful artist first. It's all relative. Anyway, even then, I preferred editing other people's words to writing my own. I'm not sure I was ever "inspired" to write. I think it was more an act of desperation.
MW: From my son Jon. Watching him grow up, and realizing all the things he needed my wife and I to do for him, and all that we so desperately wanted to do, got me thinking about all these kids who have no access to that kind of parental involvement--kids who are orphaned or who languish in foster care, and so many who never have a true mother or father. Somewhere along the line I got to thinking about what if a 12-year-old boy lived all alone; how might that work without giving him a super power ("Pizza. Extra cheese." Poof!)? That led to conversations with Marc, his introduction of our two girl characters, Bella (Blunt), and Tien (T), and lots of back and forths between us about the plot.
MZ: Hmmm. That might have been how it happened. Definitely, it was Mark's idea first. What I remember is an email saying, "Suppose a kid, who lives all alone, suddenly falls through his floor into a cellar that he never even knew existed. I don't know what happens next, but wouldn't that be cool?" Well, it was cool, and the challenge of figuring out what indeed happens next occupied us for some time. But the characters came right away. For my models, I just looked around and picked a few kids I knew well, and a bunch of assorted parents who were even worse at parenting than I was. Mark picked a couple of his favorite dogs.
MW: Indeed I did. Mikey is a composite of my current dog (big; very big), and my former dog, aka Mikey, who I swear used his ability to issue gas at will to get attention. It worked.
BBB: Tell us about your character, Harold Stryker?
MW: Please. He doesn't care for the name Harold. Stryker works just fine. Sweet, innocent, shy, wary of strangers, a gifted athlete but doesn’t care, whip smart, a little lonely sometimes, and a bit of a doofus, so most every kid and most adults can relate to him!
MZ: And he has a great fondness for power tools, which was an addition that was important to me. First of all, while I don't know much about being sweet or a gifted athlete, I do know something about tools, so I felt I'd have something to contribute. Second, you've got to ask yourself, what kind of a parent would let their eight- or nine-year-old kid anywhere near a radial-arm saw? It gives Stryker's strange, isolated situation some context. And it lends him an air of maturity. In many ways, Stryker is obviously just a kid, but he is also remarkably self-reliant and brave. In this, he--and TNT too, for the record--is very much like kids we've both known and admired.
BBB: What do you think readers will like most about your book?
MW: The interplay between the three main characters. Stryker, Blunt, and T all have their own issues, they all come from different backgrounds, and they overcome lots of challenges—internal and external—to become the fastest of friends. We like to think there are lots of funny moments, and some touching ones as well.
MZ: I think that's about right. Some readers--usually the adult ones--tend to mention Stryker's dog, Mikey, and his truly heroic gas production, and others focus on Blunt's take-no-prisoners attitude toward other people, kids and adults alike. But I think most will remember the negotiating that goes on among the kids, how they gradually figure out how to support one another in what for them is something of a hostile world.
MW: I have to second Marc’s point about Blunt. I love Blunt. Deep down, she’s what I think every adult secretly yearns to be. Straight shooter, no-holds-barred, says exactly what she feels and calls it exactly as she see’s it. Liberating, no? Sigh. . .
MW: We are. The trio have become like an extended family to us, and we can’t let them go. No title yet, but we think it might involve this guy: http://youtu.be/Xl6a_qph2yQ.(Courtesy of “Parliament of Owls”)
MZ: That's a clip of a mountain lion in the hills around Los Angeles for those who don't want to follow the link. (But you do now, don't you?) The important thing is that we both very much want to keep following the lives of Stryker, TNT, and Blunt and see what happens to their new friendship, and so we're thinking of the book as a sequel. Between us, we just call it S2, but Blunt keeps insisting the book should be named for her. We'll see. We'll also see if we're going to keep the mountain lion. She's not so easy to play with. But we're pretty set on introducing more animals into the mix, for Mikey's sake. At the moment there's another large dog, named Betsy, a wolf, and a bear arguing very hard for inclusion.
You can find out more about M.M. Wheezee and Stryker by visiting www.mmwheezee.com.