Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Tim Beiser

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Ten Questions with Tim Beiser

Tundra author Tim Beiser has written his very first children’s book. Bradley McGogg is a wonderful story about a frog and his quest for a most delicious meal! A book launch and art show for Bradley McGogg is on Saturday, March 7 at Ingram Gallery in Toronto. See Open Book's events page for details. Visit Tim Beiser’s website at http://www.veryfinefrog.com.

OBT:

Tell us about your book, Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog.

TB:

A couple of years ago, I went to Colorado to see my sister who was a grade one teacher’s aide. She invited me to come to her school, and during my visit one of the teachers came up to me and said, “You must be the guy who wrote that story. The kids just love it!” I’m a magazine journalist, so I assumed she was talking about an article of mine my sister must have brought to class – but which one? I’ve mostly done heavily-researched pieces on serious social issues. I couldn’t think of a single thing I’d written that would appeal to a first grader. When I later asked my sister what the teacher was referring to, she said, “That story you wrote for Katie about the frog.” I had no idea what she was talking about.

My sister told me that ten years earlier, when my niece Katie was 7 years old, Katie asked me to write her a story about a frog. In school they were learning that frogs eat bugs, so she wanted to put together a little book with my words and her illustrations. “You wrote her a poem,” said my sister, “and she took it to school, and ever since then they’ve been using it as part of the curriculum. I don’t know what happened to Katie’s drawings, but the teachers have been reading that poem out loud for years and the kids love it. They want to hear it over and over again. Everyone wishes it was published as a book.”

I had no memory of writing a poem about a frog, but my sister found a copy and once I saw it, I knew that I was the only one who could have written it. It reeked of me. It was a funny little tale about a hungry frog written in a kind of intricate rhyme scheme Stephen Sondheim might produce in a fit of Dr. Seuss delirium.

Upon my return to Canada, I sent a copy of the poem to Rachel Berman, a painter whose work I adored, and asked if she would be interested in illustrating a children’s book with me. Rachel had never met me, but she fell in love with my poem and sent me back a half dozen pen sketches that perfectly captured the heart and soul of my little frog. Under Kathy Lowinger’s expert guidance at Tundra Books (and about a hundred hours of rewriting a poem that I didn’t even remember writing), Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog was born.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

TB:

Even though I was told that I had originally written the poem for a 7 year old girl, there’s no question in my mind that I was my own intended audience. I can’t seem to write to please other people. I can only write to please myself because I only write things that I would want to read. As far as Bradley McGogg is concerned, it’s a good thing that at heart I’m still in grade one.

OBT:

Which books made a great impression on you when you were a child?

TB:

I was addicted to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Henry Huggins series of books by Beverly Cleary and Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories. Yet above all those, my absolute number one favourite book of childhood was a biography entitled Liliuokalani, Last Queen of Hawaii. I must have checked that book out of the school library 25 times. I was a very odd little boy.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

TB:

I need noise in order to get words to travel from my brain to my fingers. Nothing is more unsettling to me than absolute quiet. Secluded artist colonies have been the most unproductive places I’ve ever tried to work in! I feel most comfortable taking a journal or a laptop computer to Starbucks, a food court, or Whole Foods where I lose myself in the buzz of human activity. I’m a shameless eavesdropper. I make notes about the funny things I hear people say and observe their mannerisms and speech patterns. More often than not, these observations creep into my work. To tell stories about people, you need to be around people, not hidden away in a garret somewhere.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

TB:

My first published story was a science fiction tale about a love affair between a young astronaut and an alien plant life. It was printed in an anthology called Lovers and Other Monsters, which also included stories by Isaac Asimov, Anne Rice and Mary Higgens Clark, so I was in good company. I made $50.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

TB:

I’ve been reading a lot of French history books lately, specifically ones about the reign of Louis XIV, so as a well-deserved break, I’ve been working my way through the entire series of Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlene Harris (the books that are the basis for the TV series True Blood). After too much Versailles, I needed some vampires.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

TB:

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

Whenever I feel like I have writer’s block, I hear Natalie Goldberg’s voice saying: “Shut up and write.” I mean, who can argue with that?

OBT:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

TB:

A woman in France told me that she stayed up all night reading my 350-page book The Politics of Bones because once she started it she couldn’t put it down. She looked so bedraggled that I had to believe her.

OBT:

What is your next project?

TB:

For children, I’m working on a series of comic novels about a cut-throat social war between two twelve-year-old girls. For adults, I’m writing a book on the true-life mystery of the missing skull of 17th century French literary icon Madame de Sévigné.

Unfortunately, none of these books are told in rhyme.



For more information about Tim Beiser’s Bradley McGogg, the Very Fine Frog, visit the Tundra Books website at http://www.tundrabooks.com.

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