We are proud to present another interview, this time with English teacher, comic book fan and author Tony Varrato. Tony's two books, Fakie (which I've reviewed here) and Outrage have both been nominated for the 2009 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers.
I hope his answers are as fabulously entertaining to you as they were to me.
1. What inspired you to write this book?
I wrote Fakie because I teach English. When you take 150 kids to the library for book reports, you get a lot who go for the shortest book they can find. But Dr. Jekyll and The Old Man and the Sea don’t work for kids who hate to read.
They want a short, fast-paced story, with no dead spot in the middle. There were already short books for kids who like the typical sports: basketball, football, basketball. I looked around the classroom and figured there needed to be a book with skateboarding, paintball, and four-wheelers. Oh yeah, and guys with guns.
2. Who did you intend your audience to be?
I was going for skaters in particular, but also any boys who don’t like to read--which is a weird target audience because writing books for non-readers is like making running shoes for couch potatoes. The trick is to get the audience interested.
3. Who are a few of your favorite authors/books? Why did they stand out to you?
In order that I started reading their stories…
Alistair MacLean—He wrote about spies with pen guns… How cool is that? In the 70’s when I started reading, there weren’t many action/adventure teen books. Around age10, The Hardy Boys weren’t cutting it anymore. So I grabbed Puppet on a Chain.
Robert Ludlum --The Bourne Identity and many other assassin/spy novels with twists and turns. Fast and action-packed.
Dean Koontz --Surprising, alternating horror, supernatural, action, and even spiritual at times. Intensity and Velocity are my favorites. The pacing and surprises are amazing.
Neil Gaiman--His comics, kids books, and novels are always over-the-top imaginative.. Faeries, gods, dolls, and spiders are characters in his stories. I especially like his use of the “stranger in a strange land” character. It sucks the reader in to the main character’s situation.
James Patterson—Fast-paced, action-packed, chapters that are sometimes one page long. The Maximum Ride and Alex Cross series are addictive.
4. Do you have any more books coming out soon? If so, do you mind giving details?
I’m working on several right now. But they are in the early oatmeal-ish stages. I need to crank up the heat a little, and add some cayenne pepper (NEVER eat my cooking), and they’ll be ready. One is slated for 2009, but I haven’t figured out a title yet.
For the first one, I promise you: unfriendly friends, bad bad guys, worse good guys, things that go fast, things that go boom, tricks and lies, and maybe a pen gun. On the back burner a couple other books are simmering nicely: superpowers and angry plants.
5. Zombies or unicorns?
Zombies! I don’t anticipate a mad unicorn attack in the near future. But I have my hand- fitted chainsaw, cricket bat, and Zombie Survival Guide within reach at all times for when the virus spreads. And don’t get me started on my aluminum-foil brain-wave protector beanie that I keep in case of aliens!
6. Look out, here comes the Create-Your-Own-Question-Question.
Hmmm. By far, the hardest question you evil ladies have asked. I was just discussing this one with my kids. If you could come back to life as an animal (in non-zombie form) what would it be? I would be a squirrel (with an acorn gun) so I could play chicken with cars on the interstate, and at the last minute, dodge with cool ninja-Matrix moves.
7.. If you could bring three characters to life for a social event, who would they be and what would the event be?
Queequeg—the cannibal from Moby Dick
Marlow—from Heart of Darkness
and Frodo—does he really need an introduction?
We’d hop into the minivan (yes, a minivan) and head to Cedar Point, Ohio to catch some roller coasters!!!
Queequeg and the Hobbit are both thrill seekers so we’d have a blast--as long as Frodo leaves those stupid rings home!!! Hanging with a Hobbit and a cannibal would probably mean we wouldn’t have to wait in line. I think everyone would let us ahead of them. Marlow would be there just because he needs to lighten up already!!! Or we would laugh at him when he’s yelling “The Horror! The Horror!” after the triple loop on the Corkscrew.
8. If a fluffy, pink fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life, which book will you pick?
Tough one. I never reread a novel unless I’m teaching it. In which case, I reread it a minimum of 4 times a year.
But since defying the fluffy, pink fairy sounds dangerous, I’m going to choose 1984. It’s a story about government oppression which fascinates me, and I’m sure I can find something new each time I read it.
9. Assassins are after you. They want your “aluminum-foil brain-wave protector beanie” because the zombies are coming…
I heard the low-thwumping of the helicopter rotors a millisecond before the ski-masked assassins swung through my windows.
Instinctively, I dove behind my sofa, which I had the forethought to have upholstered in Kevlar. The bullets thudded off the couch creating a Metallica drum solo. I checked to make sure my beanie was secure and slithered toward the coffee-table escape hatch. I hit the hidden lever and the floor opened below me.
Dr. Lekejeheg had been trying to swipe my aluminum-foil brain-wave protector beanie for months now. The precise coefficients, log rhythms, cosigns, and other math techniques I mistakenly thought were useless in school were vital to create the perfectly crumpled helmet beanie that kept me safe from the mind-controlling rays of the zombie aliens that had invaded Earth. Dr. Lekejeheg teamed up with the zombie aliens in a mad quest for world domination.
Only I with my aluminum beanie could foil his plans.
I hit the bottom of the escape ramp and pushed the large red button. The hidden containers of toothpaste, styrofoam, and canned asparagus combined and the house above exploded in green, immobilizing goo.
I rolled safely out of the house and looked toward the sky. Dr. Lekejeheg shook his fist from the helicopter and flew away.
I knew I hadn’t seen the last of him.
10. Which superhero do you think you’re most like?
Oh, I’m going with my all-time favorite: Batman. –not the one accused of assaulting his mother, of course.
Aside from running around the house in spandex, I am that guy who helps random people when they need super heroic feats like lending jumper cables in the Wal-Mart parking lot or handing a person a pen from my multi-pocketed cargo shorts.. All this without any actual super powers, just determination. I AM Batman.
11. What would your part-time job be?
Extreme kayak tour guide in Costa Rica.
12. What if there were no hypothetical situations?
I would never have to wonder if I would know when to stop mowing if the sky were green.
13. What is your favourite kind of cookie?
Chocolate chip. Hot from the oven. The soft dough and dripping, melted chips slightly burning my hand.