Saturday, October 01, 2005

Author Interview: Arthur Slade on Monsterology

Monsterology: Fabulous Lives of the Creepy, the Revolting, and the Undead by Arthur Slade, illustrated by Derek Mah (Tundra, 2005). From the catalog copy: "Governor General’s Award-winner Arthur Slade has gathered together fifteen scary critters, ranging from Dracula to Golem, from Frankenstein to Baba Yaga and even a zombie. He provides facts, real history, imagined history, and lots of jokes to make these creatures come to life. Slade’s hilarious text presents delicious imagined gossip, favorite blood types, favorite movies, and even favorite haunts (you should pardon the expression) with character descriptions and thoroughly researched background information. "

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Actually, Kathy Lowinger [scroll for bio], the editor at Tundra Books (in Canada) was the inspiration; she dreamed up the whole idea. She got the crazy notion to publish a book about monsters, done as if it was a tongue-in-cheek Teen People magazine. Interviews, gossip all that stuff that makes those mags sparkle. How did I get the job? Well, I'd met Kathy at Canadian Book Expo and we'd had a brief talk where she made fun of Canada's west (where I come from) and I made jokes about Canada's east (specifically Toronto) where she is based. Somehow she got the idea that I was funny and decided to pitch the book to (or was it at?) me (this was a few months later). It's the only time networking has ever worked for me.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

From the moment I accepted the book, it was about a year and a half of hard, slogging, tough work. Oh, wait, it wasn't really work at all. I wrote up a section about Dracula and then we cast about for illustrators. Since I knew several illustrators from my comic book days, I asked them to apply and that's how Derek Mah became the artist. Working with a good friend has made the project that much more enjoyable. Plus his illustrations are pure dynamite.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life (so to speak)?

This has been the most "laughable" book, I've ever worked on. Sometimes I couldn't believe I was getting paid to do it. I have always enjoyed watching the classic monster movies and reading the books, so to write interviews and bio's about them was like meeting a bunch of friends for drinks (friends who drink blood, that is). I really did have a soft spot in my heart for all the monsters who had scared me since I was a kid. I guess you could say there were part of my family. Not that my family is scary, but I just felt close to them.

The real challenge, though, was to be funny. Humor is so hard to pull off on the page. Sometimes my novels have funny bits in them, but this HAD to be funny from beginning to end. And yet, I didn't want it to be one joke after another, I also wanted to impart information about where the monsters came from--Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, old legends, etc. So it was a goodly amount of rewriting to work information in with the humour. Though the research led to some real comic treasure troves. Since humor plays on people's expectations and knowledge, I found the hardest characters to write about were the lesser know ones. Not many people know about the history of the Golem. So those monsters were harder to write about.

What are MonsterAudio interviews? What inspired the monsters to speak out?

I worked in radio for several years as a copywriter, so I guess I have the radio bug. All of the technology needed to do the interviews is right there on my computer, so I decided to use it and explore the Monsterology material in a more "live" setting. Plus it was just pure fun to sit down and ham it up with these characters. I mean really, how often do we writers get to use our "voices?"

You've been doing podcasts of late on subject topics as "How To Be Hilarious," "How To Write The Next Harry Potter," and "The Epic?" What is a podcast, if those of us who don't know? Why did you decide to do them? What can listeners expect?

A podcast is a geeky way of saying "I just put an audio recording on my website, now please listen to it." That's all it is, except now with the help of iTunes and other podcast services thousands of people are able to easily download them onto MP3 players (like iPod) and play them when they go walking, jogging, or whatever. I had read about podcasts and thought they'd be an interesting way to get my material "out there"-- though no one has really defined what "out there" really is. It means, though, that I can record a few minutes of writing tips that can be played to an individual or a classroom. It is another way of reaching an audience, of adding content to your site, and communicating with readers. And when you do a podcast you feel famous for about five seconds. It's a great feeling. Ooops...it's gone.

Cynsational News & Links

On Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori M. Carlson (Harper, 2005), Kirkus says, "Carlson has brought together selections that stand apart as wonderful stories, and together as an introduction to contemporary American-Indian literature and experience." [I wrote one of the short stories in the collection, which is mentioned in the review for its humor.]

"Contests for Children's Writers: Another Path to Publication" by Erika Dreifus, in the Publishing Paths section of Writer's Support (How to contest your way into print) from the Institute of Children's Literature.

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