Michael Northrop is the author of two YA novels—Gentlemen, an American Library Association/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, and Trapped, an ALA/YALSA Readers’ Choice List selection and an Indie Next List pick—and the new middle grade novel Plunked. He spent 12 years chasing stories at Sports Illustrated Kids, the last five of those as baseball editor. His articles and stories have been published widely. For more info, visit Michael’s website.
Let the conversation begin!
What initially drew you to writing? Do you still have the same passion you had when you first began?
Well, I’m dyslexic and repeated second grade, so I didn’t begin writing with passion as much as just sheer wonder that anyone would want to read what I pieced together. There was a writing contest at my school when I was a kid, and we all had to enter. I wrote a little rhyming poem about a knight and won first place in my grade (sixth, I think). I got a fancy-looking certificate for it—probably my first one ever—and it meant a lot to me. By the time the contest rolled around the next year, I’d been waiting for it for months. I think that’s when I started to think of myself as a writer. And I still have some of that same wonder about it.
When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?
I usually just waste it online. I can be so weak.
If you could do anything and get away with it, what would you do?
Who’s to say I haven’t gotten away with it already?
If you had to be a teacher of something, what would you teach?
I’d teach English. I love it. I thought about doing that anyway, before I became a magazine editor and then an author.
What did you like best about your hometown?
I still love my hometown, Salisbury, CT. I’ve lived in NYC (not such a bad place itself) for more than half my life now, but my dreams and, to a large extent, my fiction are still set in some proxy version of Salisbury. It’s a small town in northwestern CT, where the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains begin. It was a great place to grow up because it had woods all around, a lake I could bike to, and a great library I could walk to.
Something interesting you might not know about me is:
I used to be the baseball editor of Sports Illustrated Kids, and I once lit Albert Pujols’ bat on fire during a photo shoot. We coated it with rubber cement, which burns quickly and brightly, and Pujols (one of the best hitters in the history of baseball) gamely agreed to swing the burning bat for the shot.
What is your most favorite pair of shoes ever?
Disclaimer: I’m a dude and this question confuses me a little. I guess maybe an old pair of Reeboks that I wore until (and shortly after) they fell apart in high school. I had a Reebok t-shirt at the time, too. I’m not sure if that was because of the sneakers or just because it was the 80s, and we wore all kinds of ridiculous, branded things back then.
What’s your favorite sport?
This question, on the other hand, makes perfect sense to me. I’d have to say football. I love baseball, too, but I played football all through high school and almost went to college for it. And the Patriots break my heart less often than the Red Sox, so yeah: football.
Which member of your family has had the greatest influence on your current way of thinking?
My mom. My parents got divorced when I was eight or so, and my mom raised my brother and me. She was an amazing person and had a huge influence on me. She passed away when I was 28, but I still sort of consider myself a momma’s boy (and proudly, too).
What punctuation mark best describes your personality? Why?
Parentheses: I qualify everything (well, almost everything).
What is something you have that is of sentimental value?
I take some small memento from every person I kill—I mean, uh, please ignore that last part. I have a beat-up old Hartford Whalers cap. I was a big hockey fan and loved the Whalers when I was growing up, but they don’t exist anymore.
Listener or talker?
Talker, I guess. I’m definitely “highly verbal.” I think I’m a pretty good listener too, though.
Can you comfortably eat in a restaurant by yourself? Go to a movie?
Oh, yeah: can and do. I generally enjoy my own company—I have all the same interests as me—and work from home anyway. A lot of times I’ll sit at the bar in a restaurant, or go at a random time, like 3:17 on a Tuesday afternoon. I don’t go to many movies, though. Sticky floors, chatty people, and all those little things get under my skin. If there’s something I really want to see, I usually wait until it comes on cable/pay-per-view.
What was the first car you drove?
It was my aunt’s rusty old Dodge Omni. She taught me how to drive in the cemetery behind our house. It was perfect—all those roads and no traffic—but the first time we tried driving on an actual, two-lane road, I headed down the wrong lane and almost ended up back in that cemetery for good.
What is one modern convenience you cannot live without?
How modern are we talking? If you mean, like, indoor plumbing, electricity, and The Plague not really being a thing anymore, then yes: those. If you mean cell phones, Twitter, 207 TV channels, and that sort of thing, then nothing. I really feel like I’d be fine in the 1950s or 70s or any of those. Heck, I might prefer it.
If you could meet anyone from history, who would you meet and why?
This question makes me nervous. Living in NYC and working in magazines for a long time, I’ve met quite a few famous people, and they are often disappointing in person. So basically, my mind translates this question into: Which venerated historical figure would you like to be utterly disillusioned by? So I’ll play it safe and say Secretariat: the greatest racehorse of all time. A quick pat on his muzzle and I’d be happy—and there’s zero chance he’d say the wrong thing.