Q: What one person – living or dead – would you most like to have over for dinner? Why?
A: I’m such a nerd, but the person I would most like to have to dinner is John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. I just finished a book by author James Traub about Adams’ life called John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit.
Adams is considered by historians to be one of the greatest diplomats and secretaries of state in American history; yet he is an often-over-looked president. He enjoyed public service so much that, after he lost his bid for a second term as president in 1828 (to Andrew Jackson), Adams went back to serve in Congress as a member of the House of Representative – he’s the only president to do that. While he was in the House, he waged a 10-year battle to repeal the “gag rule” which prevented the House from debating petitions to abolish slavery. I find this supremely awesome.
I admire Adams even though I have no doubt he was a big, cantankerous dude. Dinner with him would probably be stiff at best, downright miserable at worst—but it would certainly be interesting.
Q: What one book do you want the child or children in your life to read?
A: This is difficult because there are so many great kids’ books. I’m gonna cheat and give you two books. The first is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It’s about a journey into grief and I think it would prepare my kids for the tough things, for the tragedies, that are inevitable and will certainly come their way in life. This is my favorite middle grade book of all time, one that has taken on a life of its own in the grief journeys’ of my students and friends.
The second is Swear to Howdy by Wendy Van Draanen. It’s about two kids growing up in the rural backwoods, hunting and catching frogs and snakes down by the creek. It’s a bit removed from the pseudo-suburban reality of my own kids and my students, but it reminds me of my own childhood, growing up on ten-acres of dense Pennsylvania woods. My wife actually turned me on to the book—a constant theme in our marriage. She’s the supreme champion of finding books that I love.
Q: What book will you give as a holiday gift this year?
A: This year my friends are getting the book Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides. It’s about the hunt for James Earl Ray after he killed Martin Luther King, Jr.
My dad actually read this book and turned me on to it. It’s incredibly well researched and written—non-fiction but reads like a novel.
I teach eighth grade social studies which, in Pennsylvania, is basically early American History and so, while I love history, I didn’t know a lot about the civil rights movement, J. Edgar Hoover, and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. This really filled in the gaps.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I’m reading Cracking the Bell about a football player that gets a concussion. It’s written by my buddy, Geoff Herbach, who lives in Wisconsin and teaches collegial creative writing. We trade our work. I think this book might actually come out this week or next.
Geoff and I met through the Twitter universe because we were publishing books at the same time. I don’t read a lot of YA fiction but I loved his voice. He’s downright hysterical. Sometimes you find kindred writer friends that say some of the same things you might. Geoff is one of those people for me. His humor and his style is like reading a parallel universe version of my own brain. There are so many authors out there working – it’s nice when you can connect with a couple and find people who speak your language. I keep the circle small by design. I avoid heavy interaction in FB groups like the plague.
In truth, my reading habit is all over the place. I read thrillers, fiction, then I’ll read non-fiction. It’s pretty random and eclectic. The school where I teach is doing a One School, One Book project this semester and I’m also reading the book assigned for that project now. It’s John David Anderson’s Posted – about bullying. I’m pumped to finish this and chat with kids about it. He’s actually coming to our school in October!
Q: Was there a time you almost gave up on your dream(s)? Why?
A: Yup. I almost pulled the cord on my writing career in about 2014. I’d been getting agent rejections for four or five years, before one finally liked my draft—but she wanted me to get it professionally edited. I did odd jobs to save—mostly making book trailers for other authors, like Doylestown’s own Tiffany Schmidt. When the edits were done, I showed it to this agent and…she didn’t want the book. I was devastated. I told my wife I wanted to just self-publish it because I couldn’t stand it not being out in the world. She said “no.” Best advice ever.
See, we were about to have a baby, and I had no time to market, cover design, etc. Also, the book was better but still needed work. She told me to just hit the agent query track again, which I did. And something amazing happened: within three months, I had three agents interested. The day before Thanksgiving, I signed with my current agent, Lauren Galit, who is incredible.
Q: Other than the written word, what’s another great way to tell a story? Why?
A: I’m an audio book freak. My number one favorite way of telling a story is when someone reads it to me. I especially like it if the author reads his/her own book to me. Best narrator in the world is: Mark Bramhall. Second is Dick Hill.
Q: If you were unable to do you’re doing now – what would you do?
A: If I couldn’t be a writer and a teacher, I think I’d want to be an electrician. I love the trades and have a lot of respect for these guys. It requires a high level of skill and it’s something I think I could do well and provide for my family... and I think I would like to serve other people in that way, do a job well and make somebody’s house or space better.
Q: If Martians landed and you were asked to represent all of humanity by giving them one book, what book would that be?
A: If I were giving a book to Martians, it would be a 2017 novel by M.T. Anderson called Landscape With Invisible Hand. I think Anderson is a genius. Literal genius.
The book is about people from space invading the Earth but all they are here to do is spread kindness and help cure illness. Basically, they act more like bosses than invaders and give us all this cool stuff and leave us alone.
I think that’s the book we ought to give invading aliens. I mean, how funny to give them a book that would encourage them to treat us well, right?