Today I have an interview with one of the March 2013 Anticipated YA Debut Authors! Today’s featured author is Evan Roskos—and his first novel, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, comes out tomorrow, March 5, from Houghton Mifflin! Read on to see how Evan answered my Q&A…
…And scroll down to see who won the giveaway!
Nova: I’ll start with the dreaded question you may be hearing already from strangers on elevators, long-lost family members, and your doctor while you’re sitting on the examination table in the paper gown during your next checkup: “So what’s your book about?” Surely you don’t carry around a copy so you can recite the description off the flaps, so how do you answer this question when asked?
Evan: DR. BIRD’S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS is an upbeat book about mental illness. James manages his depression and panic attacks by reciting Walt Whitman poems and hugging trees. When he finds out a troubling secret about his sister Jorie, who’s been kicked out of the house by their abusive parents, he needs to find the strength to help her and, ultimately, himself. But can anyone rely on a kid that talks to a therapist that’s an imaginary pigeon named Dr. Bird?
NRS: In my experience, novels transform themselves, sometimes unrecognizably, during the course of being written. Were there any shocking transformations that occurred between rough draft and final bound book?
ER: Actually, the biggest transformation is too much of a spoiler to explain specifically, but there was a scene towards the end where James learns something and it kept causing major logistical issues. I finally figured out a year after I finished the first draft that the problem stemmed from who in the scene was right about something and who was wrong. Once I switched that around, the run-up to the climax gained an amazing power.
NRS: So you’re here with me gossiping about your main characters behind their backs. What’s something they wouldn’t want anyone to know that might make them blush?
ER: “Did you see that James kid hugging a tree across the street from school the other day? It was a serious hug. Doesn’t he know being a tree hugger is, like, a metaphor?”
NRS: Tell us about the place—as in the physical location: a messy office, a comfy couch, a certain corner table at the café—where you spent most of your time writing this book. Now imagine the writing spot of your fantasies where you wish you’d been able to write this book… tell us all about it.
ER: I wrote DR BIRD’S ADVICE at my local coffee shop. My preferred seat was near a window that gets blasted with afternoon sun, which made it particularly uncomfortable at times in the summer. There’s a large black radiator next to the table, much appreciated in the winter but also great year round for the extra surface area since the tables are somewhat small. I’m in a corner, allowing me to look out into the street and not have anyone peek over my shoulder and judge me.
I’m not sure I have a fantasy spot, though maybe a more comfortable chair that keeps my lower back from aching after weeks of typing would be nice. I need to write somewhere other than my house because naps are my weakness and it gets very sleepy at home, especially thanks to the rhythmic snoring of my dog.
NRS: To go along with the theme of this blog (and my life), what is the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
ER: My biggest distraction is a lifelong love of napping. Writing out at a coffee shop helps, but then conversations and the internet intrude a bit. Still, I wrote the first draft of this book rather quickly (3 months) and wrote another book there in just two months. Perhaps I’m not as distractable as I feel!
NRS: Imagine you’re on the subway, or bus, or sitting in a park somewhere minding your own business… and you look up and see the most perfect person you could imagine devouring your book. This is your ideal reader. Set the scene and describe this person to us.
ER: My ideal reader would likely be sitting in the park, alone. I can’t say what he or she would look like because my ideal reader’s physical appearance matters little; their internal appearance would likely involve a brain that blasts out radiation of self-doubt, depression, buzzing anxieties, and a grim view of life after high school. Ideally I’d see them smile, perhaps hear them laugh, as they read.
I would not linger because my ideal reader needs to be left alone; but I’d hope they’d finish the book and go find someone they can talk to about James and Dr. Bird and, most importantly, themselves.
NRS: If you could go back in time to whisper a few words of advice into your own ear before you leaped into this writing career, what would you tell your young, impressionable self?
ER: Skip the PhD. Also: short stories are fun to write and teach you tons of stuff about control, focus, efficiency, and plot. But the path to publication requires a novel, not a short story collection, so get busy.
NRS: Dream question: If you could go on book tour anywhere in the world, with any two authors (living or dead), and serve any item of food at your book signing… where would you go, who with, and what delicious treat would you serve your fans?
ER: Walt Whitman will happily join me. I let him walk at his own pace and have no problems listening, which will give him plenty of opportunity to recite his poems and wow the crowds. I’ll ask F. Scott Fitzgerald, but he’ll only go if I can promise there will be women to flirt with and lots of good alcohol. Toni Morrison turns me down because I refuse to invite William Faulkner along. Finally, Flannery O’Connor agrees to come with us and tell hilariously grim stories about people from her community who all deserved to be smited.
Our tour will make stops across America starting in Camden, NJ, (where I raise Whitman from his grave). Then we head out through to Cleveland to visit the Rock n Roll hall of fame. Whitman falls in love with David Bowie, while O’Connor buys a CD by The Talking Heads after hearing “Take Me to the River.” In Chicago, we serve our fans NY Style Pizza and take turns reading aloud from one another’s work, which causes a rift between Whitman and O’Connor thanks to their incongruous views of sexuality and god.
In Arizona, we tell people the three of us are married, just to get a rise out of people, then flee to San Francisco, where Whitman gets some tattoos, makes a ton of friends, and finally leaves us (much to O’Connor’s simultaneous pleasure and moral objection). We stop in to meet with John Steinbeck, who helps us give out fresh fruit to our readers. Steinbeck and O’Connor discuss the power of literature, agreeing that killing characters is an effective and acceptable way to end stories in order to emphasize the need to be compassionate.
O’Connor leaves us, claiming she misses her peacocks. Steinbeck and I quarrel about who gets to pay for dinner at a local diner. I return home, finally, to find a tipsy Fitzgerald waiting on my doorstep with two suitcases full of alcohol and a pile of short stories he hopes to sell to my readers. “When do we leave, old chap?” He asks. “I’m calling Zelda,” I’d say, much to his dismay.
NRS: How do you plan to celebrate your book’s birthday tomorrow?
ER: I hope to avoid the internet and maybe eat some delicious cupcakes. I suspect one of those things will not happen.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is on sale tomorrow, March 5, from Houghton Mifflin. Read on for a chance to win a copy of the book!
Evan Roskos lives in New Jersey, a state often maligned for its air and politics but rightly praised for its produce. One of Narrative’s Best New Writers, Roskos’s short fiction has appeared in Granta’s New Voices online feature, as well as in journals such as Story Quarterly, The Hummingbird Review, and BestFiction.org. His debut novel Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) releases March 5, 2013.
Visit him at evanroskos.com to find out more.