Gregory Mone is the author of three novels and a work of nonfiction about the science of Santa Claus. Fish, his first children’s novel, was a Scholastic Book Fairs bestseller and a recipient of the Carol Otis Hurst award for the best in children’s writing by a New England author. His latest book, Dangerous Waters, is a Children’s Book of the Month Club selection, and he is also a contributing editor at Popular Science magazine. He is married, with three children, and in a former life he was a nationally-ranked competitive swimmer. Now he’s slow. Check out his blog here.
Let the conversation begin!
What is your worst scar? How did you get it? (Mentally or physically)
I’ll stick with the physical scars, since I like to reserve the mental ones for my books. The worst one is on my index finger. I crushed it in a window in a 9th grade Earth Science class, then insisted I was fine and tried to walk to the nurse on my own. Halfway down the hall I fainted.
I fainted often as a kid, in fact, which is why my protagonists are always passing out. When I thought about how I’d feel if I were working in Titanic’s boiler rooms, for example, I figured I’d faint, so that’s what happens to the main character in Dangerous Waters. Sometimes I have to stop myself from making my characters faint. It’s just so natural.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I don’t really think about genre. I think about the story and what makes the most sense for that story and its characters. The first draft of my first novel, The Wages of Genius, was probably science fiction, since it involved a massive, improbable earthquake that eliminated the middle of America and crunched the two coasts together. But as I really dug in and tried to understand the story and characters, I dropped the earthquake, and it became a literary office novel in which almost nothing happens.
I’m writing for kids now because my nieces and nephews asked me to write a treasure-hunting story. At the time, I was floundering in an effort to write a big IMPORTANT novel, and once I started in on adventure for kids, I fell in love with the genre.
How do you recharge your creative batteries?
Exercise, espresso, aimless walks. And honestly, I play with my kids. That might sound cheesy, but it works, and I’m not trying to say it makes me a good parent. In fact, I start playing, and then my mind drifts back to the story, and my kids get frustrated. “Daddy, you’re doing your stare face again!” they say.
Can you tell us about the book you’re working on? Is it coming easily or have you run into road blocks?
Road blocks? Ha. Mountains, impassable rivers, gorges, armies of invading forces standing in my way preventing me from proceeding. I have a list of upcoming projects here, but this one novel I’m working on is a great example of the ups and downs. When I’m writing and editing, I think it’s brilliant. And you have to believe that – you need that confidence in the creative phase. Tolstoy referred to this as the energy of delusion, a belief in the importance of your task, and it’s really critical. Then, as I reflect and edit, I drop that delusion and attack the work-in-progress from every angle. It’s really manic.
Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?
Plenty of people have written books set on Titanic, but I doubt very many have actually been on a sinking ship. I can’t say that my experience – I was on a 24-foot fishing boat that collided with a larger vessel and sank – directly fed into my novel Dangerous Waters, but I certainly drew some intensity from the experience.
Planner or a procrastinator? Example?
Both. I’m procrastinating right now. I should be working on a manuscript about the life cycle of soda bottles, a book due out in 2013 or so. Instead I’m enjoying answering this A very famous writer called letter writing a great form of procrastination, but I won’t cite his name, or the quote, because then I’ll come across as someone who’s always citing famous writers to try and raise himself up.
How many words have you written in one writing session?
I might have reached 5,000 at one point, but whenever I climb that high, the quality suffers. Now I can’t get past 1,200 before my wrists and thumbs start aching.
Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?
No, I’m the type who straightens the cover so the bed looks made. What does that mean? Goodness. I’m heading into a psychological tailspin now trying to understand the grander ramifications…
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Ah, two days have passed since the bed-making question, but I’m better now. Anyway, the first official-type person who read my manuscript told me I showed very little promise and that I should consider another career.
What is your very favorite part of the day?
In the morning, in the dark, in the quiet, with coffee nearby.
What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
“Jump. It’s not that far down.”
How did you celebrate your first book being published?
When I found out my first novel was going to be published, everyone I knew was at work, and it was the middle of the week, and it felt kind of strange to have a celebratory drink, so I bought a Kaliber non-alcoholic beer and slugged one of those.
Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish?
It’s still exciting, but far more nerve-wracking. When I was 27, I didn’t care if my book succeeded or failed.
If you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them?
I’d dust off my tux and take my wife. Then we’d leave at intermission, saddened by the fact that we’re not cultured enough to enjoy opera, and go find a good Guinness somewhere.
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
My latest, Dangerous Waters, just came out a few months ago. The critical reception has been great, and my dad actually liked it, which means a great deal to me.
Are there certain characters you would like to return to?
Fish! He’s the main character in my first children’s novel, the aforementioned treasure hunting story.
What has been the toughest blow to your professional career?
There are so many small ones. I’d say I’ve endured forty or fifty effective jabs rather than a single powerful uppercut.
Any advice to share with aspiring writers?
Write the book that only you could write.
Of all your books, what was your favorite chapter to write?
The very last chapter of Fish. The first draft is essentially the same as the final. Everything about it just felt right.
Do you collect anything?
If I had the capital, I’d collect surfboards. I have three, but that’s hardly a quiver.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I’m terrible at marketing. I’ve focused almost entirely on writing for the past ten years. I should be soliciting advice on this front, not giving it.
When was the last time you went bowling? Was it fun or total disaster?
One month ago. I placed last among a group of septuagenarians with terrible arthritis.
Do you come up with your book titles?
Yes, but the publishers never use them. I still think my first novel, The Wages of Genius, should be called The Generalyst.
If today was your last day to live, what would you say?