Our guest: Shaun David Hutchinson is a Florida-based author of books for young Adults, including The Deathday Letter (2010), The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley (2015) and the brand spanking new We Are the Ants, all published by Simon & Schuster, for whom he also edited last year’s anthology novel Violent Ends.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Probably reading A Wrinkle In Time. I’m sure there were books before that, but it’s the first memory I have of really reading a book I picked out on my own. That book has probably had more influence on my reading and writing habits than any other book I’ve read.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Anthony Monday, from the books written by John Bellairs. I related to his being a normal, bookish kid who wound up in weird situations. And I liked the idea that you didn’t have to be the football star or the chosen one to be a hero.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
Susan Cooper, because The Dark Is Rising Sequence remains my very favorite kidlit series to this day. And Edward Gorey (left) because… Well, because have you seen his work?
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Hermione Granger, Miss Eells (from the John Bellairs books), Susan Cooper, Neil Gaiman, and Mrs. Whatsit. Could you even imagine the mischief we’d get up to?
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Honesty. I think we spend a lot of time talking about how to reach kids through books, but we spend time talking about the wrong things. We talk about how books are too long or too short or how they need to be about certain things that will appeal to kids. But I think all the best books, the ones that kids most relate to and are the most timeless, are the ones that are the most honest. They talk about subjects frankly without condescending to kids. They don’t try to pretend there’s no evil in the world or that everyone always wins in the end. The best books are honest.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Weirdness, I hope. The world is weird, and I like shining a light in those weird places for everyone to see.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Merriman Lyon from The Dark is Rising Sequence.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’m not sure I’d change anything really. I don’t really believe in regrets, you know? I think every step that’s come before has made me who I am in this moment. That said, I sometimes think I was published too soon. I hadn’t really figured out who I was as a writer yet, so my first two books are pretty different from the ones I’ve written since. I wouldn’t take them back, but I don’t feel like they really represent who I’ve become. If that makes any sense.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Trust your reader. My first editor, Anica Rissi (right), told me that, and it’s something I’ve kept with me ever since. (Editor’s note: Anica Rissi, once an editor, is now the brains behind the super fun book series Anna, Banana.) Trust that you reader is smart, trust that they’re willing to take a journey with you, trust that you don’t have to spell everything out for them. Trust your reader.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Honestly, it’s kind of chaotic. I usually just dive in and write without putting a lot of thought into what I’m doing. I write about 2,000 to 5,000 words per day, every day. Sometimes I don’t have any clue what it is I’m writing about.
We Are the Ants, my latest book, started out as a haunted house story, then became a murder mystery. At one point it was a sci-fi set on a space station. I wrote full drafts each time. And it took me that long to figure out that the story was really about Henry trying to find his way after a tragedy. It often takes me a long time wandering around the words before I find the story.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. It’s a story that manages to be both vast and small in scope. It deals with huge stakes but never forgets the characters involved. It’s brutally honest about the world and the evils that inhabit it, but is never without hope. To me, it’s simply the most perfect series of children’s books ever written.
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
The most recent book I read that I think really deserves a huge audience is Tim Floreen’s Willful Machines. It’s an amazing book that merges science fiction with adolescent insecurity in a really beautiful way. If I could shove it into the hands of everyone I met, I would.