Friday, June 19, 2009

Brian Anderson - An Interview - The Secret of My Success

Back in January 2007, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of conducting an interview with children's writer, Brian Anderson. Here, for your reading pleasure, is a repeat of that wonderful interview. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed preparing it.

The Secret of My Success - An Interview With Brian Anderson

Two years ago I attended Highlights Children’s Writers’ workshop in upstate New York. While there I had the honor to meet a budding author, Brian Anderson and was captivated by his talent and of course striking good looks. (Sorry, no photo at this time, he’s that new!)

Recently I caught up with Brian Anderson to ask him a few questions, and this is what he had to say:

What is the Secret of your success?

It’s not a secret – it’s persistence. I had been writing and rewriting screenplays for over ten years before moving into children’s writing. I learned the craft of writing through screenwriting, and that has affected the kinds of stories I write and the way I write them. I tend to write visually, but I don’t mean I describe every detail – in fact it’s quite the opposite. I try to keep my descriptions as light as possible because I don’t want to try and force the reader to see the exact same images I saw when I wrote the story, I want them to see the images that they imagine themselves. Conveying the necessary visual aspects without describing things in detail requires careful word choices. This style of writing is essential in screenwriting because it helps keep the story moving forward, and this is also important when writing for kids. It was the visual writing style (along with the comedy) of Zack Proton that caught my editor’s eye when she was slogging through the slush pile.

Can you describe a typical writing day? Do you have one?

I have so many distractions that any day I get to write anything at all is a good one. I have ideas circling in my head like 747’s over O’Hare, just waiting for a chance to land on my keyboard and get put to paper. The most frustrating part of being a writer for me is trying to find the time to write with a clear head. So no, there’s no such thing as a typical day for me.

What is your most difficult challenge in writing? Do you have one? Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you manage it?

The most difficult challenge in writing for me is getting it into my day. I’m involved in too many things, and I’m not as good at managing my time as I wish I were. Once I’m there, the challenge is to keep writing and not try to polish every single sentence and idea before moving on. It’s hard for me to write material that I know is bad and then just go ahead and build on it. I have to keep reminding myself that reading is a sequential process – you start at the beginning and read through to the end – but writing is not. Writers start, move forward, go back and revise, and basically hop all over the place until they’re satisfied with the whole thing. It doesn’t have to be right the first time, and doesn’t even have to be good, because no matter what you write, you’re probably going to change it anyway before you’re done.

Writer’s block is a very real thing for me. There’s physical exhaustion and there’s creative exhaustion, and I call that creative exhaustion writer’s block. But the only way out is to write your way out of it. I always have more than one project going on at the same time. Right now I’m partway through a MG fantasy novel, a collection of MG horror stories, and the chapter book series Zack Proton. They’re all very different in size, audience, and tone, so if I feel less like writing one type of story, I can turn to another. Often I choose not to write any of those, and work on some other small project instead. You just have to write something to get the creative juices going. Some of my most productive writing sessions have been when I thought I had nothing in the tank, but once I got going it really started to flow.

Do you have a family? Live with pets? Are they supportive? Do they have names?

I’ve been married for 22 years to my wonderful and supportive wife Linda, and have two daughters who are currently in middle school, Amy and Kerry. We have three cats and two snakes. My kids are very supportive of my writing, but they’re also the main distraction from it, bless their souls. The cats are also a pesky distraction because my writing computer is in my kitchen next to their food bowls, and in their little kitty brains, the only reason I’m sitting there is to keep feeding them treats. My lap and my desk are also the main highway from the floor to the windowsill and back down again, and that road sees a lot of traffic any time I sit down to write.

What or who inspires you?

Song lyrics inspire me. When I’m thinking about a story, every song I hear is about the story in one way or another, and provides me with new ideas for character and story moments. Music is a fantastic tool for conveying emotions, so my challenge then is to convey the same emotions in the song that inspired me, but in words alone and without the benefit of music. I’m also inspired by seeing other writers’ books coming into print. Writing really feels like a monumental and almost impossible task when I’m at it, but it still looks like it should be so easy when I see completed books out there.

How has living where you live influenced your writing? Where do your ideas for your stories come from?

Living in Texas hasn’t really affected my writing in any way that I can tell, since I draw more from my own childhood, which was in the Chicago suburbs. My ideas come from the unique mix of experiences, preferences, hopes, hates, loves, and fears that make me me. One thing I tell kids is that because they are each a unique mix experiences different from anyone else’s, they each have a perspective nobody else does, so they will shape their characters and stories in a way that nobody else would. I loved the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series, which was littered throughout with inside jokes and references that not everyone in the audience would catch. You see the same thing in Mystery Science Theater 3000, Firesign Theater, and Back to the Future, among others. I do the same thing in the Zack Proton books because it allows me to express my own quirks and also sneak in little jokes for the parents and grandparents who might be reading it to their kids and grandkids.

At what age did you first begin writing? Can you expand on that?

I was 22 years old when I started writing fiction with an eye toward eventually getting published, but it wasn’t until years later that I got serious about it. In high school and college I designed Dungeons and Dragons adventures for my friends, which is a different kind of writing. I guess that was really more world creation and story development, since the written aspect of it was fairly minor, but it was the entry into fiction writing for me. After a brief bout of really horrible science fiction and fantasy in my early 20’s, I turned to screenwriting, and that’s where I finally began to understand things like story structure, pacing, tone, characterization, and so on.

Please tell us about your new book. When will it be out? What is the name? The name of the publisher? Where can we buy it? Can you give us a taste of what your book is all about?

Right now I have an outer space comedy chapter book series with Simon & Schuster called The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton. The illustrator is Australian comic book artist Doug Holgate. The first two books came out in 2006, and book three, Zack Proton and the Wrong Planet, is due out April 24, 2007. The series follows the outer space misadventures of a bumbling 10-year-old starship captain and his friends Omega Chimp (the last test monkey sent into space, and then left there) and FE-203, a defective robot droid.

Do you have a favorite writing tip you care to share with other writers?

Lots of them. If I had to pick one, I would say it’s all about character. Early reader books tend to be more plot-driven, but by the time kids are really reading on their own, they will only stay with a book if they connect with the characters. The characters should be flawed in some way – some writers will use the word “broken” to describe their characters – and these weaknesses are what draw us to the character. I especially like putting characters into dilemmas – but that means the readers have to understand the character well enough to feel the same conflict of emotions themselves.

Feel free to contact Brian Anderson at

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for reading

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