The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Adam Gidwitz

The part I love the most about being a Mafia member is connecting with other writers. When my son showed me TALE DARK & GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz, I knew I had to get him on the blog. Adam’s books are not for the faint of heart. He brings you all the great gruesomeness from the original Grimm’s tales and mixes it up with humor and an amazing story. Now, here’s Adam!

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Middle Grade Mafia: What was your path to becoming a published author?

Adam Gidwitz: I never intended to become an author. After college, I began teaching second grade at a school in Brooklyn. My only discernible skills as a teacher were 1) having the same sense of humor as the children and 2) telling stories. So I told them stories every chance I got, and ultimately, I started writing some of the stories down. In my third year, I taught a girl whose mother worked in publishing. I was informed that she was an editor of adult fiction at Knopf. So, at a parent-teacher event near the end of the year, I approached her and said, “Look, I know you’re not an agent, and I know you don’t work with children’s books, but I’ve written something for kids and I wanted to get your advice on what I should do with it.” She said, “Actually, I am an agent and I do represent children’s books, so why don’t you just give it to me?” So I did. Unfortunately, she rejected it. Fortunately, she said it showed enough promise that she wanted to see anything else I was working on. So a year later I brought her a story I’d written inspired by a dark, bloody Grimm fairy tales. That became the first chapter of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM.

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MGM: How do you approach a new project?

AG: First, I research. Whether it’s fairy tales, or Star Wars, or the medieval book I’m currently working on, I spend months reading and traveling and imagining as many scenarios for stories and scenes as I can. I take notes, mostly in my phone. Then, I collect the notes into a single document, read through it, and from there I start to piece together an outline. The actual writing process, which begins after the outline is completed, depends very much on the book I’m writing. The Grimm books I told aloud to myself, and transcribed onto a computer what I was saying. The Star Wars and medieval books I wrote out in longhand in composition notebooks, to get the story down and the basics out of the way, before typing them up and beginning the process of crafting, shaping, and editing.

MGM: Your bio mentions a few books you enjoyed when you were younger (BFG, Canyon, Maniac Magee). Are there any recent MG books that have caught your eye?

AG: Of course! Recently, I loved El Deafo, by Cece Bell; The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier; Greenglass House, by Kate Milford; The Tapper Twins Go To War, by Geoff Rodkey; and a wonderful new book called If You Find This, by Matthew Baker. These are just a few recent releases that I’ve dug. There are many, many more.

MGM: On your website, you do a great job addressing the violence that takes place in your books. Do you feel that the perception of violence in books is different than the TV and movies targeted for same MG audience?

AG: Certainly. The wonderful thing about a book is that it is very easy to close. It also requires complicity–a kid has to WANT to imagine what’s on the page, and want to keep reading it. That’s very different from a TV program or movie that comes at you fast and doesn’t stop coming. I believe that kids know what they need (I’ve written about this here), and are very good at regulating their reading habits. This is much less true of TV and movies, which are so alluring, addictive, and, often, out of the child’s control.

MGM: With your background as a teacher and connecting with kids, school visits seems like something that would be in your wheelhouse. What nuggets of wisdom would you give to an author just starting out or looking to make their visits better?

AG: I do a lot of school visits. I have a LOT of advice, but I’ll keep it to one “nugget” here: Don’t read from a novel. Or if you do, don’t read for very long. Like, no more than one page. As soon as you look down at that page, you’ve lost half the audience, and the longer you read, the more of them you’ve lost. Keep them engaged by telling them stories, making them laugh, getting them to do crazy activities… Also, don’t present in cafeterias. Ever. They’re loud, they’re dirty, and they smell. Okay, that was two nuggets. But I couldn’t help myself.

MGM: You, and a couple other authors, were given the opportunity to retell the original Star Wars Trilogy. First, how cool is that? Secondly, how did you develop your own perspective on Empire Strikes Back?

AG: Very, very, very cool. For me, the key in retelling any of the original Star Wars movies is Luke. Luke is a weenie. He has no personality. Why? Well, I talk about this in the prologue of the book, but, as a preview: People sometimes complain that Luke Skywalker is not much of a character. He does not brim with personality, as Han Solo and Princess Leia do. He is a little bland. A little empty. Which is just as it should be. Many modern heroes are created in that mold. Huckleberry Finn isn’t—you’d know him if you met him, even if he didn’t tell you his name. But Harry Potter is. What do we know about Harry? That he’s brave? That he cares for his friends? He doesn’t have a sharply drawn personality, the way Ron and Hermione have.  Harry and Luke are not full characters. They are empty. Intentionally so. They are avatars for the reader. They are empty so we can inhabit them, so we can do their deeds, live their lives, and learn their lessons. So, in my retelling of Empire, I take this empty idea a step further. You are Luke. In all the scenes with Luke, I am speaking to you. You gaze out over the snow of Hoth. You train with Yoda on Dagoba. Maybe it sounds a little cheesy out of context. But I think you’ll like it

MGM: Which Star Wars character do you: most admire, feel is most like you, think is most misunderstood?

AG: Most admire: Yoda. Feel is most like you: Han Solo, obviously. Think is most misunderstood: Vader. He just misses his son, after all.

I wanted to thank Adam for being on the Writer’s Block. We enjoyed having him on and I am excited to dig into his Star Wars retelling. To keep up with Adam, visit his website and follow him on Twitter.


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