It was the perfect plan. Convince M.T. Anderson to do an interview with Boys Don’t Read, then use his career to catapult ourselves from relative obscurity into peripheral fame. But we needed an edge: something to ensure we got the quotes no one else got. After fruitless attempts at research, focus groups, and other methods of uncharacteristic integrity, we settled on the tried and true technique of discovering and exploiting a physical weakness. In his case: hypoglycemia. Armed with the knowledge that low blood sugar commonly causes confusion, anger, and memorable quotations, we scheduled our interview between meal times, then offered him sweets and waited for low blood sugar to work its magic. Here’s how it went:
BDR: Would you like a cupcake?
MTA: Oh, sure. Do they have nuts in them? I have an allergy.
BDR: We don’t know. You should probably err on the side of caution and –
MTA: *eats entire cupcake*
BDR: Please don’t die.
MTA: I seem to be fine.
BDR: So – why don’t we start? You’ve gone from books about nerdy fast food employees to futuristic social commentary, to epic tomes written in period-specific language. Are you ever going to write, say, a book with a brooding hunk and a love triangle?
MTA: Actually, I think most brooding hunks are already in a love triangle with themselves.
BDR: Right. Me, my good looks, and my angst.
MTA: Exactly. So no, I don’t think I’m headed in that direction. Though the topic does interest me as kind of a perennial discussion within teen literature. I think the thing that’s often a problem with a certain kind of YA book is that there’s already a built-in solution to the romantic dilemma. Usually the problem is one of the people is rich and snobby or something similar, and then it turns out the poor humble guy was actually the right choice.
BDR: Do you think these stories can affect how teenagers look at relationships and love?
MTA: If you look at popular literature and plays, at least as far back as the 19th century, you see this kind of story: about the one lover who is good and the one who is bad and I think the problem is that it fosters an overly simplistic view of our emotional lives. And yes, some people are swayed by that simplicity. It creates a sense that their lives should be sweeping them away somehow, as opposed to experiencing the sorts of ruinous and complex emotions that happen in any actual relationship. I mean, I’m an ex-geek. Or, more accurately, an ex-teenage geek. I don’t know if, uh, you guys –
(With a glance, M.T. Anderson asks Boys to show him their Geek Cards.)
BDR: Really, you have to ask?
MTA: I just didn’t want to make any assumptions.
BDR: C’mon. This room could be a nerdy glasses expo.
MTA: Okay, so you know what it’s like to be a nerdy boy and you’re every girl’s best friend, and you know the classic line: You are so funny, what’s your friend’s name? It’s knowing that you have some emotional importance to a particular girl or boy but for some reason or another it’s never going to be the emotional importance you want. That’s what really happens in relationships. So to tie everything up in a story – so neatly like that, with the obvious good and the bad – it’s kind of like a “fuck you” to eccentrics.
BDR: In at least three of your books, you write with a dialect or an invented slang. In 300 years, will people be writing books set in the early 2000s using things like “LOL” and “OMFG”?
MTA: Absolutely. If they write historical novels, they’ll have to use that. But if they’re anything like the historical inaccuracies in novels we write now, the characters could easily be using these words while dressed in 1950s clothing. Picture a woman in a poodle skirt saying: “LMAO! WTF?” (exclamations delivered in-character, to great effect.)
BDR: You write using the initials M.T. Does anyone ever call you “Mount Anderson” by accident?
MTA: No, but people have called me “Empty.” My editor joked that my first book was THIRSTY by Empty. But there is actually a “Mount Anderson” reference in my second PALS IN PERIL book.
BDR: Damn — so you already made that joke? We thought we were being really clever.
MTA: Yeah, well. Sorry guys.
BDR: You seem very comfortable with alternate storytelling styles, be it digital, non-linear, or web-based, and you recently used the term “post-book world.” Will you mourn the death of the novel?
MTA: I would. Absolutely. I should clarify what I meant – I feel like the novel as a unidirectional, long form of storytelling is not going away, although we may be reading it on different devices. We live in a complicated word and we need forms of storytelling that plunge us in-depth into that kind of world. Sometimes you have to wade through a thing to understand it in its entirety. That’s important, and I think there’s tremendous danger to something that simplifies beyond a certain level.
BDR: Do you ever go into book stores and sneak your novels from the YA shelves over into Literature — because Hello??! National Book Award, people.
MTA: No, I don’t. But Candlewick has put out a new edition of OCTAVIAN NOTHING that’s being made for the adult market. It has a different cover and different words in the title are accentuated.
BDR: So you are kind of doing that, just with an air of legitimacy.
MTA: I’d say that’s right.
BDR: Editors and agents always say “write what you know” – but what if what you know turns out to be completely uninteresting?
MTA: I don’t agree with writing what you know. If you’re writing a fantasy novel, you’re obviously not writing what you know. If I were just to write what I know it would be about eating Cheerios in the morning and watching police procedurals at night. You can’t just write about what you know, but you have to know the emotional reality. It’s clear when people write about something they don’t emotionally know, but I disagree with the notion that people should just write about their own lives.
BDR: You once said intelligence is the final taboo in young adult literature. How queasy does the explicit use of intelligence make the YA publishing industry?
MTA: It depends entirely. I do occasionally run across a child literacy specialist who says my work is way too hard for kids to read, and I always feel kind of angry about that. As someone who was a teen geek, I was awkward and ugly and unprepossessing and my curiosity and love of reading were really all I had going for me. So when I see adults taking those things away from kids it really upsets me – and it’s always done with a sense of shame about it. This happens to kids everywhere. People in their family, in their school, or in their group do this, so kids often have to hide their interests. As if somehow it’s embarrassing to be interested in things and know things. All this repression happening at different levels can create a really contorted sense of who you are.
Do you ever meet these kids who suddenly, for example, want to tell you everything they know about torpedoes and then once you’re listening they tell you everything in this really brittle way? You can feel it in their clattering delivery – the pressure that has been put on them NOT to know things, to hold things back, and so it comes blasting out all at once.
When I hear adults shying away from the intelligence of kids, it’s like – fuck you. And for these kids, if they’re anything like me or my friends in school, they’re thinking: “Don’t take that away from me. That’s all I am. Otherwise I’m just a romantically unsuccessful geek with nothing going for me.”
BDR: I see the cupcake is working.
MTA: Pardon me?
BDR: Nothing. In our last interview, Jonathan L. Auxier told us he was thus named because his father wanted his initials to match the Justice League of America. Can you top that?
MTA: Wow. That’s good. Well – a couple things come to mind. There’s always something about the Mass Transit Authority that strikes me as close to home. And every time I see the letters from an ATM reflected in glass, it’s kind of like they’re calling to me. Also, I go by Tobin and there’s a Tobin Bridge where I tell my friends I was conceived, because there’s always a lot of traffic on that bridge.
BDR: You wrote THIRSTY before TWILIGHT, and FEED before everyone else got on about post-apocalyptic worlds. Are you: 1) smarter than everyone else, 2) getting inside information, or 3) a time traveler?
MTA: Yes. Well, you see, I scrupulously avoid being part of the trend to avoid any massive amount of dollars I could make from a spike in sales.
BDR: That’s very altruistic of you. But could you please answer the question with the number 1, 2, or 3?
MTA: You know, MIT held a conference on time travel, and they devoted one session to “Visitors from the Future.” They just blocked off this chunk of time at the conference so if anywhere at all down the line time travel was developed, there would be a slot of available time for them to come in and say “I’m here from the future” and address the audience. The thinking was, no matter when time travel was developed, they’d always be able to get back to this particular session. So, of course, no one showed up. We were talking about it afterward and someone perked up and said, “Well, hey. Maybe next year.”
BDR: That’s a great story. Could you please answer our question?
BDR: *licks finger, dabs cupcake crumbs from plate*
MTA: *checks watch*
BDR: Okay. Who would win in a fight: Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter?
MTA: Probably Harry Potter, but I’d be rooting for Luke Skywalker.
BDR: Who would you rather fight: Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter?
MTA: Harry Potter because I think Luke Skywalker, with his light saber, is more likely to leave me dismembered.
BDR: You are a skilled wordsmith and grammarian. Since there are two of us asking questions, can we still call this interview “exclusive?”
MTA: Hmm. I guess this room is otherwise sealed from outsiders, so yes.
BDR: *high five one another*
MTA: So I’m assuming we’re done here.
M.T. Anderson went on to get dinner. The Boys, for their part, high fived well into the evening.