UK: Uma Krishnaswami
PH: Pete Hautman
UK: Godless seems particularly relevant in our time, when Americans go to church in record numbers. Without going the generic "where do ideas come from....?" route, can you tell me what sparked Jason's story for you in the first place?
PH: As a teenager, I was obsessed with questions such as: Why are there so many religions? Is only one religion the right religion? If so, which one? And if one religion is the right one, does that make the rest of them wrong? I was probably about 15 when I arrived at two conclusions: First, most people seem to need or want a religion. Second, which religion a person chooses, or is born into, seems to have absolutely nothing to do with how honorable, happy, honest, or productive that person becomes. I then thought, using 15-year-old logic, if it doesn't matter what religion I am, why not just make up my own? Why not worship, say, the local water tower? And so I did. One summer, with the help of a few friends, I created a watertower-based faith that was a mixture of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, paganism, and sheer idiocy. I think it lasted about two months. Thirty-five years later, I decided to write about it.
UK: How does Jason's story depart from your experience?
PH: In my life it was a few weeks of teenage distraction. In the novel, I took it further. What if it had been a better story than the one I experienced? So much of fiction is what might have happened, an opportunity to explore a period of your life all over again.
UK: Can you comment on your choice of first person?
PH: My teen books are always in first person, where almost none of my adult books are. YA works for me in first person, because it really helps to imagine myself as part of the story. It helps to establish a good, convincing voice. I mean, it's been some years since I was a teenager, so I have to work at it, and first person helps that process. In my adult books, I can be more of a fly on the wall.
UK: The books of yours I've read all seem to walk the line between reality and the supernatural--vampires, time travel, mysticism, and now the nature of faith. Care to comment on this apparent trend?
PH: I guess it goes back to my own experience of being a teenager, when religion-which is to say, the Unknowable-was a big issue for me. Where does the natural meet the supernatural? I think it happens between the ears. You know the old joke: What keeps the dyslexic agnostic insomniac up at night? He wants to know, "Is there really a dog?" That's where the action is. Is there really a dog? Arf, I would love to know! For teenagers, too, this is so often a matter of daily concern--I grew up Catholic and now in my beliefs, I'm as godless as they come. But there comes a point in most kids' lives when they see that people are perceiving unseen reality in contradictory ways. I don't usually start out thinking about it in those terms but somehow all my teen novels do tend to go there. Even in Stone Cold, the kid becomes obsessed with a world that is formed from the contrivances of the poker table. In some ways, Godless was an adult enumeration of beliefs I held and came to as a teenager.
UK: Talk about your writing process.
PH: I start with an image, usually. In Godless, it was an image of lying on my back staring up at the belly of a water tower. Eight million pounds of water hanging over my head. I went from there. Hole In The Sky started with the relationship between Ceej and Tim, and of course with the photograph of the Sipapuni. I carried those notes, those characters sketches with me when I was in the Grand Canyon on that trip. I wrote them way before I knew this was going to end up being a novel. Mr. Was started with an image late in the book, of a girl standing alone on a road looking at a car where she couldn't see through the windows. Also the initial scene with the grandfather--a lot of it kind of came into being through the writing process.
UK: Are you a systematic writer, approaching your stories in an orderly way, or do you dive in and get lost?
PH: I dive in, I get lost, I struggle, revise, throw out weeks or months of labor, flog myself for my lack of foresight, I promise to outline my next book until I know the story front to back...then I get a new idea, get excited, and dive in prematurely all over again.
UK: Did you have to do a timeline for Mr. Was? There's a lot of hopping back and forth, seems to run counter to your more intuitive writing process.
PH: Yes, that was a real task--lots of post-it notes and arrows pointing out the sequence, to myself that is. But the planning didn't take place until 40 pages into the book, and then I had to go back and rewrite parts that suddenly didn't fit.
UK: How do you approach revision--with joy or trepidation?
PH: I revise constantly. It's such an integral part of the mix that I don't think of it as separate from the rest of the writing process.
UK: How about the role of despair and self-doubt?
PH: I don't have much of that. I'm basically a cynical optimist. No room for that despair or self-doubt stuff. I prefer depression, horror, disgust, anger, and general anxiety. I don't give a lot of conscious thought to process. I put most of my energy into thinking about the story I want to tell. I keep asking myself, If I was reading this, what would I want to know? What would surprise me? What would keep me reading? Bottom line is, I try to keep myself entertained.
UK: You say on your web site that you never intended Mr. Was to be a YA novel. Do you see yourself as a YA writer, or don't you pay attention to audience when you're working on a book?
PH: Mr. Was was a special case. By the time I was into the final drafts, I knew I was writing for teens, but the early versions of the book were more adultish. I think about characters more than audience. They aren't all that different. When I have a teenage protagonist, I take it as a matter of faith that teens will be interested in his or her story. People mostly like to read about people they can imagine themselves being.
UK: What writers do you see as influencing your work? What writers do you particularly admire and why?
PH: That would be two very different lists. I admire writers like James M. Cain, Kazuo Ishiguro, and John Steinbeck, who are able to tell a story with a big heart in relatively few words. Larry McMurtry's earliest novels are astonishing. Writers who have influenced me would include P. G. Wodehouse, Samuel Delany, Gene Wolfe, and Elmore Leonard. Each of them taught me something about how words work together to create images. I was also strongly influenced by comic books--I often imagine my stories as a series of panels. Each panel is a frozen moment, each moment connected by a string of words.
UK: What's the best piece of writingadvice you've ever received?
PH: When someone is critiquing your work, Shut Up And Listen.
UK: Many writers say only a small percentage of what they write gets published. Is that true of you, and what have you learned from working on stories of yours, if any, that remain unpublished?
PH: Most of what I've written has been, or soon will be published. As for the few thousand of pages that have been filed away or burned...hey, I wouldn't want to re-read them. Why inflict them on others? I have learned one thing: when a story isn't going well it's often best to set it aside for a while and work on something else. That's why I always have several novels underway. I get stuck on one, I jump to another.
UK: What's the greatest compliment a young reader could pay your work?
PH: Just tell me it doesn't reek. Oh, and buy an extra copy for your little sister. And send me money. Ten dollars would be nice. Fifty would be better.
UK: Any writing superstitions or habits?
PH: I've been trying for years to come up with some good superstitions. Haven't had much luck. Maybe I should pray to the local water tower every morning before I fire up the computer. I usually show my work in progress to my partner Mary Logue. Now if I were to write a piece that I never showed anyone and it became a huge success....
UK: Are you inventing a superstition right now?
PH: Could be.
UK: (Actually) would you talk about your pet writing peeves? That's a wonderful page you have there: http://www.petehautman.com/rants.html and scroll down to "Words Gone Bad."
PH: Thank you. My latest peeve is the common spelling of the word "Geez." I spell it "Jeez." I don't care what anybody says, "jeez" is correct. After all, the word is a contraction of the name "Jesus,", and it is pronounced like "Jesus," so where the heck did that "G" come from? Spelled with a "G" one would think it would be pronounced like "geek" or "geese." Writers and editors of America, unite! JEEZ, please, not GEEZ! I guess I must have too much time on my hands...
UK: What are you working on now?
PH: Jeez, I was hoping you wouldn't ask that! I've got an embarrassing number of pots on the fire. I'm working on a novel about a professional poker player, a time travel novel, and a futuristic novel concerning football, polar bears, pizza, and an artificial intelligence named Bork. My next novel, Invisible, is about a kid who spends WAY too much time inside his own head. He has no friends, and he's obsessed with his inner world. He has a model railroad in his basement, and it gets to the point where that becomes more real to him than reality. That'll be published in 2005. I'm also co-authoring a middle grade mystery series with Mary Logue.
UK: Tell me about the mystery series.
PH: It features a 16 year old girl and a 13 year old boy who have very different personalities. The girl is communicative, solves problems by talking, fancies herself a reporter. The boy is a science nerd who's always getting in trouble because he experiments with things that aren't always, you know, considered safe! They meet at the point that both of them are about to be suspended, and then get involved in solving a local mystery. Troubles seem to bring them together. They have a tempestuous relationship. Other than that, it's a pretty standard mystery scenario--a few of them, carrying through a few books. At least that's the plan.
UK: Speaking of carrying through a few books, here's something I picked up that I want to ask you about. You have the Boggses in Mr. Was, and then you have this historian character in Hole In The Sky -- any relative?
PH: Yes, I have this idea of this character Boggs. He's sort of an allegorical god figure, a Wizard of Oz type, stays behind the scenes turning cranks and pushing buttons. He's a time traveler from the future who has been driven insane by going back and forth through time. He's going to figure as a more central character in a future book. You're the first person to comment to me on that connection.
UK: Anything else?
PH: That ain't enough?
UK: Thanks, Pete. All best to you. I look forward to seeing your next book, and the middle grade mysteries!
Uma Krishnaswami's middle grade novel, Naming Maya, is published by Farrar Straus Giroux.
For more about Pete Hautman visit his website.
Jason Bock is not exactly searching for the sacred. He is coping with having been flattened by Henry Stegg, while looking under the water tower for snails for his friend Shin's evolving science project. On his back, staring up at the orb overhead, a simple truth floods Jason's brain-"Water is life." In the face of the Teen Power Outreach program his anxious father has cornered him into, Jason finds himself inventing a new religion-the Church of the Ten-Legged God. Hautman captures a convincing teenaged anti-logic that is as wacky as it is charming. Shin provides a different energy altogether, grounded in weighty calculation and a penchant for philosophical riffs on Genesis, both of which culminate in a far darker outcome than Jason could ever have predicted. As up becomes down, Henry moves from stereotypical bully to reckless collaborator, and the numbers of the faithful grow unexpectedly. All this greatly increases the complexity of Jason's social life, until his lies of expediency and their consequences threaten to bring far more than his credibility crashing down. Hautman takes his ragtag cast of characters from humor to the brink of disaster, raising some water tower-sized questions in the process. The subplot of Jason's relationship with his father is resolved in a realistic enough manner, but the real strength of this novel lies in Hautman's sympathetic rendering of the everyday anarchy of adolescence. 2004, Simon and Schuster, Ages 12 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami (Children's Literature)
Hole in the Sky
I am an absolute sucker for books that start with a map, like The Hobbit, or Piers Anthony's "Xanth" books. This latest, Hole in the Sky, begins as an apocalyptic novel. A couple of kids and their uncle have survived the end-of-the-world virus at the Grand Canyon Lodge and meet up with a couple of other lucky dudes who are eking out an existence (you visualize Road Warrior crossed with Dances with Wolves). But they find out that Glen Canyon Dam is about to blow because the evil Kinka--survivors-of-the-plague--have killed the dam caretakers, and so begins the journey to heroism. It is a novel about survival, serendipity, allegiance and destiny. Fans of Lois Lowry and C. S. Lewis will love this novel. It is like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen meets The Stand by Stephen King. The writing is spare, forthright and unembellished. The characters are cinematic, engaging and lovable/hateable. For preteen and teenage kids who love to imagine a world not infested with parents and other troublesome adults, it is a story they will eagerly plow through. Infused throughout with the majesty of the "biggest hole on earth" and the legends of the Hopi world below this one, reachable through the sipapuni (a real place on the Little Colorado), this will be the perfect book for kids who are headed to the Four Corners or The Grand Canyon. 2001, Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, $16.00, Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Gwynne Spencer (Children's Literature)
Hole in the Sky
Following the outbreak of a deadly flu, the earth is left with two kinds of peoples--survivors who live with different side effects and those who have never been infected. One of the latter, Ceej, lives in isolation near the Grand Canyon with his uncle and survivor sister, Harryette. Their lives are threatened when a band of crazed survivors kidnap Ceej's uncle and sister. In his quest to save them Ceej encounters a Hopi girl, Bella, who is searching for Sipapuni, a mysterious portal that leads to another world. A mix of science fiction, adventure, and mysticism, this fascinating book keeps the reader on edge until the very last page. 2001, Simon & Schuster, $16.00, Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Rebecca Joseph (Children's Literature)
Children's Choices, 2002; International Reading Association; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States
Outstanding Books by Wisconsin Authors and Illustrators, 2002; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature Finalist 2003 United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
Golden Sower Award, 2003-2004; Nebraska
Tayshas High School Reading List, 2002; Nominee; Texas
After Jack witnesses his mother's brutal murder by his alcoholic father, he travels through a mysterious door in his grandfather's home and ends up in an earlier time. He decides to grow up there, so that in 55 years he can prevent his mother's death, but a jealous friend and World War II stand in his way. The story is told very effectively by a series of four notebooks found in 1952 by Jack's father. Suspense and mystery will keep the reader glued to this book until the end, when all of the pieces of the puzzle eventually come together. Fans of science fiction and the theme of time travel will love this book. 1996, Simon and Schuster, $16.00. Ages 13 up. Reviewer: Tim Whitney (Children's Literature)
Best Books for Young Adults, 1997; American Library Association-YALSA; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, October 1996 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal: Best Books for Young Adults, 1996; Cahners; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
Edgar Allen Poe Awards Nominee 1997 Best Young Adult Novel United States
Thumbs Up! Award Winner 1997 United States
On the Edge: Stories at the Brink
Edited by Lois Duncan
This affordable book packs a lot of action and suspense between its covers. The twelve stories by different writers and in different genres share a common theme. In each well-told tale, a young adult finds himself or herself physically and/or emotionally "on the edge." Ably edited by an author who is familiar with this territory, Lois Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer) explains in her foreword to the book that "the majority of the writers whose stories appear on these pages have interpreted "on the edge" in ways I didn't anticipate." Teen readers will be pleased to find the stories range from the humorous to the terrifying (and everything in between), all the while presenting them with contemporary situations and characters to which they can easily relate. The collected stories are written by a "who's who" of YA fiction--Ellen Wittlinger, Gloria Skurzynski, Alden R. Carter, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Pete Hautman, Winifred Morris, Gail Carson Levine, William Sleator, Liza Ketchum, Rich Wallace, Graham Salisbury and Terry Davis. A brief commentary by the author about the creative origin of his or her story follows each contribution to the collection. Whatever the individual author's idea of "on the edge" may be, each story will raise thought-provoking questions in the minds of teen readers. An added incentive to adding this title to your home, school or public library collection is that a portion of the money generated from the sale of the book will be donated to the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association for the development, publication and distribution of popular reading lists. 2001, Aladdin Paperbacks, $4.99, Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Dianne Ochiltree (Children's Literature
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States
As this realistic young adult novel begins, 15-year-old Denn is busy with his yard care business and girl friend and is looking forward to earning enough money to buy a used Camaro. He is not especially eager to join a poker game with some acquaintances he doesn't really like or trust. This attitude changes when Denn wins big after one great hand followed by another and soon, gambling becomes a serious addiction. Written in the first person, the reader comes to understand how this addiction gradually alienates Denn from his friends, family, job and school. The ending is especially chilling and powerful. 1998, Simon and Schuster, $16.00, Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Gisela Jernigan, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
This story (with a surprising ending) tells the tale of a sixteen-year-old poker player who allows his winnings to change his life, despite the warnings from his divorced parents, parish priest, and girlfriend. The plot covers three months in Denn Doyle's promising life. Doyle operates a successful lawn business that enables him to save money to buy a used car on his sixteenth birthday. After playing a friendly game of poker with a few dropouts, Doyle is hooked on the game because he believes he has unusual luck and skill. Doyle loses some big money, dips into his savings to recover, and is then roughed up and robbed of a large take. Doyle begins using fake identification to get into casinos, where the stakes are higher but he continues to win. A minor plot develops involving Doyle's friend Mark "Murky" Stein, who also wants to be a big gambler. Doyle promises his family he will not gamble, but he enters a game to save Murky, who is losing his savings. Doyle beats the poker "King" and wins ownership of the man's restaurant. The story ends with Doyle sitting at his desk in the restaurant office, looking back over his achievements. Although he has dropped out of school and ostracized his family and friends, he believes his life is good. This is a great book for classroom discussion--a young adult has money and power, but is he really better off than the people he left behind? And at what price? Doyle's questionable success will grab readers. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 1998, Simon & Schuster, 176p., $16.00. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Joyce Sparrow (VOYA, February 1999 (Vol. 21, No. 6))
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Fourteenth Edition, 2001;
National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000; H.W. Wilson; United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
Tayshas High School Reading List, 2000-2001;Nominee; Texas
Lucy considers herself a vampire. Not because she is a bat-changing, blood drinking demon, or because she is a vampire-pretender goth (although she does have an affinity for black clothes). Lucy has a theory that vampire legends are rooted in untreated diabetics. She herself is diabetic and spends a great deal of time in chat rooms discussing vampirism. One user claims to actually be a vampire in the traditional sense. Lucy dismisses him, but then she meets the man in person. The more time Lucy spends with the man and his teenage goth lackeys, the more trouble she has regulating her diabetes. It takes a near-death experience for Lucy to decide which world she wants to live in. This book keeps the reader guessing until the very end as to whether the vampires are real or not. Lucy is a fascinating person to follow throughout the book, and Hautman's writing style truly seems like a teenage girl of her character. 2003, Simon and Schuster, $16.95, Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Amie Rose Rotruck (Children's Literature)
Best Books for Young Adults, 2004; American Library Association-YALSA; United States
Capital Choices, 2003; The Capital Choices Committee; United States
The Children's Literature Choice List, 2004; Children's Literature; United States
Choices, 2004 ; Cooperative Children's BookCenter; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, June 2,2003; Cahners; United States
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