Interview with M.T. Anderson
author of The Clue of the
The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen finds our favorite crime-solving trio—Lily Gefelty, Jasper Dash, and Katie Mulligan—jetting off in their Gyroscopic Sky Suite for a rejuvenating stay at the secluded Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort. It just so happens that a number of other children’s book heroes are unwinding at the vintage mountain retreat as well. The other guests at the lodge, quirky children’s book characters, also received the same coupons. But the trio’s plans for rest and relaxation are soon disrupted by a series of sudden disappearances: a wealthy heiress’s diamond necklace; numerous mounted animal heads; and the Hooper Quints, an adorable group of mystery-solving siblings whose books have been out of print even longer than Jasper’s. Could this be mere coincidence—or part of a nefarious plot? Lily, Katie, and Jasper must combine their stellar sleuthing skills expose the evil mastermind behind these mysterious events and solve the dastardly crimes. In this second book of his Thrilling Tales series, M. T. Anderson delivers another entertaining and hilarious mystery that is sure to amaze and confound swell youngsters everywhere.
Q: In The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, Lily, Katie, and Jasper meet a number of famous children’s book characters and detective teams who are highly competitive, slightly off-kilter, and incapable of solving crimes. What was your inspiration for these characters, Eddie Wax in particular?
A: Myself. Though I am too off-kilter to be successfully competitive, I am also incapable of solving crimes.
When I was but a young incompetent in the first bud of malcoordination, I used to bury my misery at my hapless gym-class performance by reading, reading, and reading. Often, I read about hypercompetent males who knew how to get out of a smuggler’s den using only matchsticks and spittle. Needless to say, the wide brawny-shouldered shadow these active chaps cast over me still looms large. The Manley Boys in The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen express some of the fascination (and resentment) I felt toward those tiresomely hale and hearty Hardy Boys and their dispiriting success with the smartly clad fifties girls of my dreams.
However, I would like to point out one thing that endears the Hardy Boys to me greatly, and which always made a big impression on me when I was a tyke: their commitment to the half Windsor knot, even in near-fatal circumstances. How can you not love heroes who pull off their clothes to swim into a smuggler’s cave, then tie them to their heads with their belts, swim all head bundled into the cave, and then get dressed again once they’re inside? The illustration, a few pages later, shows them in PRESSED FLANNELS, V-NECKED SWEATERS, AND TIES. This means that they actually stopped for several minutes in the lair of their enemies to tie their ties. Now that is worth admiring.
Q: The first volume in the Thrilling Tales series, Whales on Stilts, incorporates elements from classic action-adventure books to steer the story line. In The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, elements from traditional detective dramas are featured prominently. Which crime series or authors do you turn to for inspiration?
A: Well, it’s generous of you to suggest that the plot of Whales on Stilts was “steered.” The experience of writing the book was a little more like riding in a go-cart down a main street on a hill: “Whoo-hoo! Ha! Ha-ha! Whooooooooo! Yeee! Yippee-eye-oh god! Oh god! TREE! TREE! LEFT! PEDESTRIAN! Hooo. Yee-haw! THIS IS THE BEST—OW! OH! OW! OW! It’s broken, broken, I tell you. I’ll never walk again. It’s . . . phew, ah, huh. Can I go again, huh? Please, can I?”
The first book was based on things like action and sci-fi comics mixed with a dose of H. G. Wells and John Christopher, whose Tripod series I loved as a kid. The second book, which is more of a detective story, is based on my childhood reading of a fair amount of kid-detective pulp. Incidentally, my favorite children’s mystery novel is worth mentioning, though it’s not pulpy in the slightest: Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. I recently reread it and still love it.
Q: Compared to the rest of the characters in the book, Lily, Katie, and Jasper are relatively normal. But they are not exactly average kids either (for example, Jasper is an inventor of high-tech gadgets). Do you think readers identify with their resourcefulness and their ability to solve problems without guidance or aid from adults?
A: As I believe I have indicated, I myself am still unable to solve problems without guidance or aid from adults. The lamp beside my desk is unplugged at the moment because for the last four months I have never once remembered to buy an extension cord—just one example of many. Still, one can dream of a world where one remembers things and can actually change things through ingenuity and, sigh, the half Windsor knot.
I hope that these books give readers a certain kind of thrill or charge from the image of kids as problem solvers. I would also love it if they took away from these tales the same feeling of exhilaration I have when I write them—the sense that friends can do anything together.
And can friends do anything together? Well, in a sense, they can. If we lived in a culture where we believed—truly believed, en masse—in mutual respect, in variety, in celebration, in questioning, in answering, in unremitting and fair-minded address of dangerous problems, there would not be much to stop us.
Q: The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen is written for a slightly younger audience than some of your other titles, such as the young adult novels Thirsty and Feed. Does your process differ when you write for a middle grade audience as opposed to a young adult audience?
A: Well, I envision a different voice, and from that a lot of other differences in approach arise. This is one of the splendid things about writing for middle grade readers rather than the young adult audience, per se: The challenge, the thrill of it, is to try to create something that is as emotionally complex as writing for older readers while using materials that are in some ways more basic. That’s my goal, at least.
Q: You seem to be quite in tune with children’s perspectives. Are there specific skills that one should develop before writing for younger readers?
A: The skills vary from book to book, from author to author. The main thing, I would say, is shedding a sense of what has been done in the past. I know that’s a little ironic, since my books restage characters such as Tom Swift and Nancy Drew. But, in a way, my goal is to create something that is my own. Regardless of whether I can achieve that, I aim for it—and that’s the advice I’d give to other writers. When I read manuscripts for picture books and novels, the biggest pitfall I see is a clinging to convention. Convention will only get you so far.
Q: Until recently you were faculty chair of Vermont College's MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. What fundamental concepts do you teach your students, particularly those who do not have experience writing for children?
A: When preparing people to be writers for children, you do them a disservice if you don’t seriously address the practical aspects of the craft: the best ramen recipes, for example, and how to evade vehicular repossession. At Vermont, I also taught an annual seminar on brigandage. At the end of the term, everyone had to stake out a local pass and try to waylay passengers of noble birth by waving a blunderbuss. Then we’d retire to a grotto to enjoy our ill-gotten gains, loosen our half Windsors, flourish our sabers, drink grog, and hold dramatic readings of board books.
Q: What can you tell your readers about the next book in the Thrilling Tales series?
A: The next book, Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, will take place, as the title suggests, in Delaware—that most exotic of the mid-Atlantic states. Delaware, cut off from the rest of the world by prohibitively high interstate tolls, has for many decades been a land shrouded in mystery. The name conjures up images of the spires, domes, and minarets of far Dover; the bays where pterodactyls flap, croaking over warm lagoons at sunset; the majestic mountain ranges of Sussex County; the barbarian tribes of Slaughter Beach and Broadkill, with their swords, loincloths, and feathered hair. Now, finally, Harcourt Children’s Books will pierce the veil that has surrounded Delaware for generations.
Jasper Dash, Katie Mulligan, and Lily Gefelty quickly realize that there is something sinister about Delaware’s Varsity “Stare-Eyes” team, a troop of weird little bruisers who just cannot be made to blink. Through careful detection, they realize that something is very rotten in the state of Delaware—and that all the clues lead to a hidden monastery perched high in the mountains of the south, forgotten by the world. It is up to our three heroes to make their way through the jungles of Kent County, past untold dinosaurian terrors, to find this enclave of evil before it is too late. That’s the story.
So, um, I guess I should probably go get writing?
M. T. ANDERSON is seven monkeys, six typewriters, and a Speak & Spell. It took them ten years to write The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. Their previous books include Adf2yga^vvvv, Wpolw0ox.S Ppr2dgn shr Elssf, and The Riverside Edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Adf2yga^vvvv was a National Book Award finalist. The M. T. Anderson Monkey Collective is located outside Boston. Its hobbies include flash cards, hopping, and grooming for lice. It divides its time between the parallel bars and the banana trough.
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