Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Author Spotlight, Gary Schwartz on his award winning book, The King of Average
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER? The easy answer is reading great books. It’s the same impulse that drew me to acting. I saw a fantastic performance and said “I want to do that…”
WAS THERE A TEACHER OR OTHER MENTOR WHO INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING?
My 12th grade English teacher, Stephen Tessler, introduced me to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I wrote an essay in Joyce’s style of stream of consciousness and he laughed at my audacity, but gave me an “A” after reading it. I also worked with Canadian children’s author Susan Hughes who mentored me with my first manuscript and helped me hone my style.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD-WINNING BOOK?
True story. I came from a violent and chaotic family burdened with mental illness. My mother often wished I was never born and called me worthless. I suffered poor self-esteem. When I was eleven, I rebelled against that idea and had a conversation with myself on the way to school one day. “I’m not so bad.” I told myself. “Okay, I’m not very good, that’s true… but I’m not as bad as my mom thinks. ‘Right!’ I said. “I’m average!” That made me feel better. Then I thought, ‘what if could be more average than anyone else in the world? - Then I’d be SPECIAL!’ That paradox made me laugh. I was reading The Phantom Tollbooth at the time and thought of my story in those terms and came up with characters like Mayor Culpa, the scapegoat and Kiljoy, the professional pessimist. It would be 52 years later before I actually wrote it out.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING BOOK AND WHY? Spoken by Monsieur Roget, the professional optimist. “…when he sees a glass of water filled halfway, a traditional optimist sees it as only ’alf full. But a professional optimist is also happy to see fresh, clear water to drink or wash with or to water plants and make things grow. Like food for instance! ’Alf-full or ’alf-empty? For amateurs!”
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE ARE MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY? I am the hero, James. His journey was my journey to be sure. The thought of being the MOST average propels him into the fantasy world called The Realm of Possibilities. There he explores the emotional landscape of Average, Above Average, Lake Inferior, Hearsay, Epiphany and Serenity, to name a few of the places he visits.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING BOOK? I truly hope that kids who feel ‘less than’ get the message that imagination and perseverance and empathy for others are the key to escaping a poor self-image. There is salvation in helping others. In doing so, you save yourself.
TELL US SOMETHINGINTERESTING ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
I was disappointed in the stage version of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and wanted to write a new version for the stage. I contacted his representatives to ask permission to adapt his book for the stage. One morning, I got a call from NORTON JUSTER! We spoke for a long time but the upshot was his agent advised against a second stage version. It was like Lewis Carrol calling you up to say ‘hi!’
IF YOU COULD BE COMPARED TO A WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR WHO WOULD YOU MOST WANT THIS TO BE AND WHY? If you thought I’d say Norton Juster, you’d be wrong. I’d like to be compared to Roald Dahl. I want to be that prolific, imaginative and enduring. A big goal.
WHAT BOOK HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
The Phantom Tollbooth, the thought of being the most exceptionally average person saved me from a very different life, I think.
HOW DID YOU GET PUBLISHED?
Once I finished the manuscript I sent to over sixty agents and publishers. I got picked up by Booktrope (Seattle), now defunct. I am currently seeking representation.
IF A CLOSE FRIEND OR LOVED ONE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK, WHAT GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
Stop talking about it and just do it! I waited over fifty years.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK? Send it to everyone you can think of. Get reviewed and don’t give up. Keep talking about your book and have some ready to give away. Read how others promote, but don’t let others do the work for you. You are your best promoter.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
This debut novel has gotten such a great reaction by being chosen as a Best of 2016 by Kirkus and IndieReader and the two gold medals from Children’s Literary Classics gives me hope, I have a future as a writer.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ASPIRATIONS? I want my book to enter the pantheon of Children’s classics alongside of The Wizard of Oz, The Phantom Tollbooth, Narnia and Alice in Wonderland. I would love my book to be a positive influence on children and adults who need this message for generations.
TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT THEY MIGHT FIND INTERESTING: I am the voice of Heavy Weapon’s Guy and the Demoman from the hit video game Team Fortress 2. I was also a children’s television actor in the 1980s as Bravo Fox on Zoobilee Zoo.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?
In the words of Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS? I am working on a
Carl Hiaasen-like adventure story for kids called The Benji Loper Caper about a boy who hires a limo to take his school crush on a date in Hollywood. He gets mixed up with a movie producer, a limo driver who is an aspiring actor and screenwriter and an international jewel theft ring on the date. It’s “Get Shorty for kids.” I am also working on the sequel to The King of Average.
I hope to attract an agent and publisher for my next book, based on the reception of my first one. I want to have it ready for publication by 2018.
LITERARY CLASSICS Book Awards & Reviews International Book Awards • Top Honors Youth Book Awards • Seal of Approval http://www.clcawards.org