Thursday, October 13, 2016

Also An Octopus Interview

I had the pleasure of reading Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall at BEA when it was in Chicago this spring. It's such a fun book about finding and telling a story. Also An Octopus is finally out in stores and I'll be reviewing celebrating it at Nerdy Book Club later this month...but right now, Maggie is here to answer some of my questions! Hooray!

TMT: Can you start by telling us a little bit about you and your new book, Also An Octopus?

I wrote Also An Octopus while working as a children’s bookseller. At the time, I was responsible for the school programming, and I was in schools all the time for bookfairs, and author visits, and often I’d do story times. And anyone who does story times regularly probably runs the risk of reading the same books over and over again— because once you figure out one works, you go with it, right? And the year I wrote Also an Octopus, my go-to was I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Which is brilliant. And Also An Octopus is very much a tribute to that book.

TMT: Many writers keep writer's notebooks. Do you have a writer's notebook? Or do you gather your ideas in another way?

I don’t have a note book. But I do have scraps of paper, and napkins, and a cell phone with a notes app in it. I jot down ideas all the time, all over the place. Often I lose them. Actually, it’s starting to sound like a notebook may be a good idea…

TMT: What is the best writing advice you have received and what advice would you give student writers?

Put your pen to paper. You can’t write anything if you don’t write. I used to tutor a really talented kid in creative writing, and that was I think, the only real thing of value that I KNOW I told her. 

TMT: What are you reading and loving right now (or recently)? What are some ways what you have read influences your own writing?

I recently quit my job, and hit the road in a Toyota 4Runner with my husband, Adam, to go travel South America. So, for the first time in my adult life as a career book person, I’m not responsible for reading new books! Which means I’ve been going deep on the classics, particularly grown-up classics, since most of my career was as a children’s book person.

I’m usually reading two or three books at a time— one hard copy, one audio book, and one that my husband and I will read out loud to each other at night. We recently read Lonesome Dove, which was fantastic, and also wonderful for sharing. There was so much for us to discuss. While we were in Colombia, we read One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I was reminded by it how wonderfully imaginative Gabriel Garcia Marquez was. I also read a ton of trashy true crime books, which inspires little other than a constant paranoia that I’m going to be murdered. But I think, particularly as a kids’ writer, and as someone who reads a lot of kids’ books—which typically represent the best that humans can be, or aspire too— I’m fascinated by the absolute worst that humans can be as well.

The author who made me want to be a writer in the first place (in high school) was Kurt Vonnegut. The one who made me want to write for kids (in grad school) was M.T. Anderson. The one who made me want to write a picture book was Oliver Jeffers. The one who made me feel like I could was Jon Klassen. The one who really inspired me to think big and to think weird was the playwright, Edward Albee. And the one who I want to be when I grow up is Kate DiCamillo, who I think speaks “kid” more fluently than any other grown-up on the planet. 

I think it is impossible to talk about writing without talking about reading. If writing is an expression of self, reading is the road map we use to find our self in the first place. 

TMT: Teach Mentor Texts is all about promoting the love of reading and writing. How would you finish the statements: “Reading is…” and “Writing is…”

Reading is both the warm bed you sleep in, and the morning sun that wakes you up.


Writing is both a rocket ship and a scooter. It’ll take you there, but how quickly you get there is totally unpredictable. 

Don't you just want to hang out with Maggie or go on a road trip with her? I know you'll love Also An Octopus because it is a bit like going on an adventure! 

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