Todd Mitchell is an award-winning author, teacher, and speaker. He’s the author of the young adult novels The Secret to Lying (Candlewick Press, Colorado Book Award Winner) and Backwards (just released October 2013 from Candlewick Press), as well as the middle grade novel The Traitor King (Scholastic Press, Colorado Book Award Finalist). He’s also a writer for the graphic novel A Flight of Angels (Vertigo, YALSA Top 10 Pick for Teens). When Todd’s not writing, he enjoys jumping out of planes, surfing with sharks, kayaking rapids, and visiting elementary, middle, and high schools (among other less-advised activities). Currently, he directs the Beginning Creative Writing Teaching Program at Colorado State University. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his wife, dog, and two wily daughters. For more info, visit his website.
What dead person would you least want to be haunted by?
Edgar Allen Poe. It’s not that I think he’d be so horrific. It’s that I think if anyone has mastered the fine art of annoying others, it would be him. Either that, or Hemingway. All those short, terse sentences haunting me –no thanks.
If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?
Going online. It’s mental crack that in the end leaves me scatter-brained and dissatisfied. Nevertheless, here I am.
If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be?
I’ve got several tattoos, but I’m always game for more if folks have any suggestions.
What’s your motto in life?
“Our risk is our cure.”
What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?
I was a very criminally advanced 4th grader. I once blew up a girl’s Cabbage Patch doll with an M-80 because I hated how she was nicer to the doll than to people (I always had my moral justifications for the things I did). 4th grade was also the year my friend Dave and I got busted for covering the slides on the playground with glue right before recess (thus turning dozens of kids into sticky, sandy messes). And that was the year I was caught by David Hasselhoff urinating on the front left tire of his black Ford Bronco. (It’s a long story, but these are the words he spoke to me: “Todd, please do not urinate on my vehicle.” He wasn’t very good with kids).
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
It’s my hope that my books can help readers become more aware of the harm we do to ourselves, and how it doesn’t need to be this way. Honestly, many of the biggest problems we face are human caused. Things like social inequality, starvation, war, nuclear proliferation, climate change —these might seem like problems that are insurmountable, but it’s not like we’re being attacked by aliens here. We’re causing these problems for ourselves.
The good news is that human-caused problems have human solutions, and often, the first and most important step toward solving such problems is recognizing how we’re causing them, and how things can change. I believe we can solve most of the devastating problems we face, if only we can find the courage and vision to choose to do so.
What is your favorite accomplishment?
The last book I finished took me six years to write. It’s the story of a teenage artist who sees supernatural beings through his art, and ends up falling in love with a demon he drew. For some reason, this story wouldn’t let me go. I wrote over twelve different versions of it (and it’s long, more than 400 pages). I have a stack of double-sided drafts that’s over three feet high (no exaggeration, I have pictures to prove it). There were several drafts that got rejected, and many days when I thought writing this book was crazy and I should give up. But I didn’t give up, and now I feel proud that I finally unearthed the story that called to me all those years ago. Whether this book ever finds an editor or readers who like it as much as I do is another matter. But even if it never gets published, and ends up just being a fool’s journey, I’m proud that I stuck with it.
Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?
All the time. Happy hunting.
Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?
Rejection is part of writing, perhaps more than any other art form. It’s hard not to get discouraged by it.
I tend to think of the purpose of criticism as being to elevate a text and help others see what is good or wondrous or valuable in something. Unfortunately, a great many critics and editors approach texts looking for things to dislike. With every text, we have this choice — to focus on what’s good, or what’s not good. And with every text, you can find significant flaws. To revise, you need to be aware of those flaws. But to keep writing, you need to focus more on what’s good.
For me, it all comes down to this: even if I never published anything, and no one ever read or liked what I did, I would still keep writing. A monk doesn’t mediate to show the world that he’s the best damn meditator out there. He meditates to clarify his vision, experience truth, and transform his self. Perhaps that’s why we write, too. The more rejection you get, the less you worry about pleasing others. And maybe that’s a good thing.
What was the biggest opposing force that you encountered on your writing journey?
Doubt. I struggle a lot with doubt. Yet without doubt, there can be no faith. So I try to embrace my writing doubts, and keep on. I will be a foolish dreamer until the bitter end.
If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose?
1920’s Paris. To be part of the Lost Generation would be amazing. Then again, it didn’t turn out so well for many of them. But it sure makes for a good story now.