Interview: Michael Northrop, YA Author

mnorthrop1Michael Northrop is the author of three YA novels: Gentlemen (2009), an ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults; Trapped (2011), an Indie Next List pick and an ALA/YALSA Readers’ Choice List selection; and his latest, Rotten (2013). His middle-grade novel, Plunked, was named to the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012. He is originally from Salisbury, Connecticut, and was a senior editor at Sports Illustrated Kids from 2000 to 2008. His articles and stories have been published widely.

ROTTEN, published by Scholastic in April, is about a troubled teen named JD and a rescued Rottweiler named Johnny Rotten.

Now let’s see how Michael answers the Proust Questionnaire!

Rotten-fcOn what occasion do you lie?
Really just online interviews.

What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is hard for me to define because it touches on so many other things, and the borders are pretty porous. For example, I smile a lot. It’s kind of my default setting. But is that happiness? Optimism? Psychosis? There are moments when I think: Things are good, life is good, etc. But I suspect that might be more satisfaction than happiness. On the other hand, I share the general human tendencies to adjust to adjust to what I have, and to covet what I don’t. To me, happiness is something you search for, and hopefully catch sight of from time to time, like a Questing Beast.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Foresight, or the ability to throw a really good knuckleball.

What is your favorite song?
I’ve had different favorites at different times in my life, so it’s hard to pick one all-time favorite, especially now that music is less central to my life than it was in, say, junior high. Then again, in junior high my favorite song was probably Take On Me, so perhaps it’s best to move on. I’ll say All Night Long by Peter Murphy, which no one’s heard of anyway.

I first heard it in high school. The Smiths’ had just broken up, but my friends and I were still in a big-time mope rock phase. Murphy had been the lead singer of Bauhaus, which was before my time, but I had a bootleg cassette(!) of Bela Lugosi’s Dead that I treasured, so I was primed for All Night Long when it came out. It’s a great song, too: a goth-flavored mix of pop music and art rock.

What’s the last dream you remember?
Last night I dreamt that Cujo, the rabid St. Bernard from the Stephen King book/movie, was in jail. Convinced he was just misunderstood, I let him out. But nope, he was still rabid and proceeded to chase me around.

Who or what is your first love?
I’d say my hometown. Not everyone loves theirs (au contraire), but I loved mine from the start. Even though I left there more than half my life ago, most of my books are still set in some fictionalized version of it.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I would just need to die suddenly in the middle of a good day, possibly while writing.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Bigwig from Watership Down. I think he’s one of the great, underrated heroes of literature. His society valued the exact sort of raw physical power that he exemplified, but he understood that those values were out of whack and gave it all up to help those weaker than him. Plus, it would be funny to see a rabbit drinking coffee.

What is your favorite time of day?
I’m a morning person. Not like 5 am, but more like 11. I’m a mid-morning person. It’s when I do my writing. I also like happy hour, but I feel like I’m just responding to a societal construct in that case.

What is your favorite journey?
Don’t Stop Believin’

 Caspar David Friedrich, 1817-19

Caspar David Friedrich, 1817-19

Your favorite painting?
Cloister Graveyard in the Snow by Caspar David Friedrich, though I wouldn’t necessarily want it in my living room.

What words or phrases do you most overuse?
Just, kind of, sort of, in a way, maybe . . . I’m a qualifier. It’s very adolescent of me, but given my profession, I’m not overly incentivized to change.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
I value different things in different friends. I like to let people play to their strengths. I’m the same way with books.

What is your motto?
Never question the enterprise. It’s not an everyday motto, but I dust it off when the going gets rough. It’s not a Star Trek thing; it’s a reminder that it doesn’t help to get bogged down in the big existential questions: What is the meaning of life? What does it matter anyway? Why bother? I’m here now, and that’s that. Might as well make the best of it.

What is your present state of mind?
Caffeinated.

What’s your madeleine?
There’s a certain kind of jelly doughnut (big, doughy, and caked with sugar) that reminds me very powerfully of childhood trips to Cape Cod.

What is life?
Opportunity.

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