Adam Rex grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, the middle of three children. He was neither the smart one (older brother) or the cute one (younger sister), but he was the one who could draw. He took a lot of art classes as a kid, trying to learn to draw better, and started painting when he was 11. Later he got a BFA from the University of Arizona, and met his physicist wife Marie (who is both the smart and cute one).
Adam and Marie live in Tucson, where Adam draws, paints, writes, spends too much time on the internet, and listens to public radio. Adam is nearsighted, bad at all sports, learning to play the theremin, and usually in need of a shave. He can carry a tune, if you don’t mind the tune getting dropped and stepped on occasionally. He never remembers anyone’s name until he’s heard it at least three times. He likes animals, spacemen, Mexican food, Ethiopian food, monsters, puppets, comic books, 19th century art, skeletons, bugs, and robots.
His first picture book, THE DIRTY COWBOY by Amy Timberlake, was published by FSG in 2003. His picture book FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH, a collection of stories about monsters and their problems, was a New York Times Bestseller. 2007 saw the release of his first novel, THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. His second, a book for teens and adults called FAT VAMPIRE, was published in July 2010. For more info, visit his site.
Let the conversation begin!
Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?
I think the first thing I needed to get through my head before really devoting myself to writing–and I learned this from Anne Lamott–was that it was perfectly acceptable that I had no idea what I was doing. What I was doing, or where anything was going, or whether or not it was any good. That I had to give myself permission to write badly, because I was going to write badly, but to nonetheless write and write often.
Even after being published, do you still have times where you feel you don’t know what you’re doing?
Oh, all the time. I’m not sure that ever goes away. In fact, I’m not even sure if you want it to. Being an artist, in any discipline and at any level, is about always attempting to reach just beyond yourself, to push your own limits.
That said, I’m constantly anxious about getting exposed as a charlatan or something with regards to writing. Maybe because I started as an illustrator, and have in some way been training to be one my whole life.
What do you do to curb self-doubt and temporary writer’s block?
I fish for compliments. I’m like a competitive-level compliment fisherman. I could have a show on the Discovery Channel.
Speaking of fishing, what are your hobbies? How do you recharge your creative batteries?
I don’t think I really have any hobbies. As a kid my primary hobby was drawing and painting, and now those are just two of the activities for which I now get paid. If I felt I had more free time I’d probably draw and paint strictly for myself.
I read a lot, of course. I watch TV with my wife. I think that’s about it.
What was the last book that made you angry?
I suppose the last book to make me angry was the last book I read: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I’m still working through my feelings about it. I was bowled over by the writing, ideas, the blistering intelligence of it. I fell in love with a couple of the characters. And after a thousand pages I narrowed in on the end and realized there was no way he could answer all the questions he’d raised and tie off all the loose ends before it was all over. And indeed, he didn’t resolve anything.
People complain about the ending to my novel Fat Vampire, but it wrapped up like an eighties sitcom compared to Infinite Jest.
What was the last book that knocked your socks off? Was it the characters? The plot? The setting? The message?
Same book. And I think it was the ideas. The thoughtfulness. The wisdom and insight and nakedly human ideas of it.
If you could have dinner with David Foster Wallace, what would you ask him?
Assuming there was some time travel involved, I suppose I’d ask him not to hang himself. But I’m guessing he had a lot of good people in his life asking him the same thing.
Tell us the book you’re working on.
I’m working on two books at the moment.
One is Unlucky Charms, the sequel toCold Cereal. My heroes are on the run from the villainous breakfast cereal company from book one, and on a mission to prove to the world that the Queen of England has been abducted and replaced by two goblins in a queen suit. The new book is written, but I have some 40 pages of illustrations to complete before it can be published early next year.
I’m also illustrating a picture book of my own called Moonday. It’s a project I’ve been working at off and on for something like twelve years.
Was it easier to write before or after you were published?
Hmm, that’s a good question. I suppose I’d say it was easier before I was published, because frankly I only did it when I really felt like doing it. My first novel (The True Meaning of Smekday), for example, was started more as something fun to do when I was avoiding all my real work. It was procrastination. But now it’s my job and funny cat videos are my procrastination.
But I write a LOT more now, because I accept that it’s something I have to do when I have to do it. And frequently that kind of adorably insignificant suffering actually leads to some of my best stuff.