Pete is the Minnesota Author in the Spotlight for the month of April and I finally got the chance to ask him some questions. Read on for the back story on his new book. I dare you to guess how many books he has written before you get to question 4. Also, I'm wondering if you've read the YA book he thinks is must read for everyone. I hope you get a chance to read several of Pete Hautman's books because frankly, his books are worth it.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure. I grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota with six younger siblings on the edge of a 300 acre wood. Much of my childhood was spent in those woods. In fact, it is the setting for a middle-grade novel I’m hoping to finish later this year.
When I was a kid I thought I’d grow up to be either a lawyer like my dad or an artist like my mom. Art won, because my mom seemed to enjoy making art more than my dad enjoyed lawyering.
As a teen I wanted to be a comic book artist, and I published a couple of comic books. But I liked figuring out the stories more than I liked drawing the pictures, so by the time I left college I had dispensed with the visuals and become focused on the words. Since I had no formal literary training, it took fifteen years of being a closet writer before I started showing my work to others.
I now live a few miles from where I grew up, and I still visit what remains of the woods that were once an extension of my backyard. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors hunting wild mushrooms, looking at birds, and simply being alone with nature. I love it. I can sit on a log and just watch, listen, smell, and feel. Yesterday I had conversations with a turkey, a rufous-sided towhee, and a fox squirrel. The turkey was irritable, the towhee was a showoff, the squirrel…I don’t know what he was going on about. I have two dogs. They never shut up.
2. What inspired you to write Eden West?
Several years ago I wrote a book called Godless, about a teen who questions his parents’ faith (Catholicism) and decides to invent a mock religion worshipping the local water tower. As I was writing Godless, I was thinking about what it would be like to be a teen solidly embedded in a faith, protected from the influence of the outside world. I wrote the first lines of Eden West in 2002: I know that the World is a terrible place, filled with wild animals and evil men and wicked women. Slowly, over the next dozen years, I built a world for this boy, Jacob Grace: a fenced, twelve square mile compound in Montana. I populated it with a few dozen devout believers. I imagined what it would be
3. Usually an author puts some of his own life experiences in the book. Did you do that? Do you have anything in common with your characters?
There’s a line in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun that I think of often: “That we are capable only of being what we are remains our unforgivable sin.”
One of the things that drives me as a writer is this question: Who would I be if I was not me? To some extent, all my protagonists are me. In Sweetblood, for example, Lucy Szabo is me—if I were sixteen, if I were a girl, if I’d had diabetes from age four, if I were smarter, if I were an only child, etc. When I’m writing, I am that character. But what ends up on the page is not me. In Eden West, Jacob Grace grows up firmly believing in an apocalyptic near future and knowing little of the outside world. He thinks he knows how his life will play out. That does not resemble my childhood at all, but I’m in there somewhere, pulling strings and trying to suss out his (my) situation.
4. How many books have you written? Can you tell us why you decided to become a writer?
I think I’m up to twenty-five novels, or close to it. I keep writing because it’s better than any other job I ever had. I can work in my bathrobe, take a nap when I want, and write everything from goofy, fun, middle graders to angsty, epiphanic teens. We are the sum of our memories; I choose to explore that, and embrace it.
5. What advice do you give to new writers?
I get asked this a lot. An honest and possibly helpful answer really depends on the person asking. Is financial stability important to you? Don’t quit your day job. Are you focused on a particular genre? Read other genres. Do you crave fame and fortune? I can’t help you. Do you love what you’ve just written? Revise it. Do you think that writing will save you? Then write. That’s what I do.
6. Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
I read a lot, and to some degree I’m influenced by all of it. A few writers important to my own journey were Elmore Leonard, Samuel R. Delany, P.G. Wodehouse, James M. Cain, John Steinbeck, W. Somerset Maugham, Gene Wolfe, Ian Fleming, and Patricia Highsmith.
7. What are some of the issues in Eden West that you hope your readers will interpret as integral to the story?
All of them, I hope! Love, desire, faith, coming of age, religion, our relationship with the natural world, separation from the tribe, survival… But now that the book is written, it’s in the hands of the readers, so who knows? The act of reading can be as creative as the act of writing. Often, years after I’ve written a book, readers will tell me things about it I never imagined.
8. Name one Young Adult book that you believe is a must read for everyone and tell us why?
I spent a long time trying to figure out how to answer this question. I mean, you cannot read one YA book and know anything about what YA books are about, or why they are important (they are), or why people other than teens should read them (they should). The first titles that occurred to me were standouts from the YA canon: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, Ender’s Game, Speak. All important books. I don’t consider any of them “must reads,” even though anyone with an interest in YA literature would do well to read them all. But one Young Adult book? I’m imagining someone utterly unfamiliar with YA asking this question. Just to be contrarian and irreverent, I’d probably start them off with Max Shulman’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a collection of humorous stories from a teen’s point of view, and the basis for the first true YA television series. It came out in 1951, the same year as The Catcher in the Rye, and probably sold a lot more copies.
9. In one sentence tell readers why they should read Eden West?
It’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours, and more interesting than many other things you might do.
If you are interested in winning a copy of Eden West please enter here: Eden West Giveaway