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10 August 2011 @ 04:35 pm
Chatting with Jonathan Auxier, Author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes  
During my one day at BEA this year, I really tried not to go crazy with the ARCs. I just cleaned out my room, and there are still piles on the floor, and you could build a formidable fort with my TBR books, so anything I brought home had to be something I really couldn't bear not to take. I was, however, very excited to snag a copy of Jonathan Auxier's new Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes



For one thing, how do you pass up that cover?

For another, it's a tale about a blind thief who steals a box containing three pairs of miraculous eyes, and very quickly finds himself pledged to rescue a Vanished Kingdom, following which adventure and wonder and hilarity ensue. And if miraculous eyes didn't seal the deal for you, there's the creature who becomes Peter's sidekick: Sir Tode, who is part knight, part horse, and part cat, and small enough to occasionally ride in Peter's thief sack. There are also monstrous apes, monstrous crows, monstrous uncles, and a traveling haberdasher who is much more than a simple peddler (I particularly liked that bit, too).

I also enjoyed the heck out of the author's website, TheScop.com, which (apart from having a very fun little widget where you can cause Jonathan's headshot to be fancied up so that he looks like Cyrano de Bergerac, Sherlock Holmes, Wolverine, Captain Billy Bones, A Total Dork, or, enticingly, All of the Above) focuses on finding links between children's literature old and new. 

So...




Today I'm very, very happy to welcome to the Enchanted Inkpot the author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Jonathan Auxier! Jonathan, welcome to the Inkpot! This is your debut. Want to let us know how it came about? How did this story come to be, and how was your trip to publication? 

 
My trip to publication was a combination of smooth and rocky.  I had been working for a few years as a screenwriter, which made getting an agent a bit easier because I had a lot of referrals.  (No query letters!) The rocky part in this book’s process came during revisions. Peter Nimble was the first real piece of fiction I had ever written, and even though I had a story/voice/characters that worked, it took a lot of drafts to hone my actual prose.  I had to learn the difference between a grammatically correct sentence and a good sentence.  That’s something a book or class can’t teach you -- it can only be learned by doing and doing and doing.  Much credit goes to my agent Joe Regal and editor Tamar Brazis for being patient with me as I sorted that stuff out.
 
This is a very visual story peppered with all manner of bizarre characters and set pieces, but your protagonist is blind. You found some really great ways of approaching description and action and letting us see both what the sighted characters see and what Peter "sees." Would you talk a little bit about how you managed that?
 
I tend to be a pretty visual writer, and it was pretty difficult to find ways to create pictures in a reader’s mind without actually describing what things looked like.  A lot of the editing process I mentioned above involved going through (again and again!) to find places where I had accidentally failed to use Peter’s other senses to describe a scene.  That said, I’m a sucker for a challenge!  I figured out a long time ago that the writing projects I love -- the ones I stick with -- all contain some kind of ridiculous formal handicap: a technical challenge that holds my interest long after the characters and plot have grown stale.  In the case of Peter Nimble, the technical challenge was describing the story without resorting to visual cues.   My wife calls it “writing with one arm tied behind your back,” which seems like a pretty accurate description.   
 
Yes, it does, actually! One of the things that helped, too, was occasionally being allowed to see from another character's point of view. Lots of writers are warned away from using multiple points of view, but in this story you move effortlessly and often between a number of different viewpoints. Did you encounter any resistance to this style? Did you have any particular strategy for how you approached shifting POVs? 
 
While I do occasionally shift to viewpoints other than Peter’s, they are always heavily filtered through the narrator, who is really one of the main characters in the book.  A strong narrative voice is a really helpful tool for a writer because it creates a direct and constant connection with the reader -- one that lets readers know they’re being taken care of as they move through the story.
 
The narrator is a fantastic character--it manages to be present and to possess its own, very distinct voice without being intrusive at all. I loved that. 

Now, moving on to the darker stuff. This story is so charming that it's sort of easy to miss how creepy and even occasionally violent it is. Now, I love creepiness and I adore a story where I know the stakes are high and the danger is real, but let's pretend for just a minute that I need convincing. Answer for yourself and your sneaky, creepy violence, sir! 

 
That blend between charming and violent has always been a part of children’s literature.  Consider Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen shouting “Off with her head!” or even better, the first time we meet JM Barrie’s Captain Hook:
 
“Let us now kill a pirate, to show Hook's method. Skylights will do. As they pass, Skylights lurches clumsily against him, ruffling his lace collar; the hook shoots forth, there is a tearing sound and one screech, then the body is kicked aside, and the pirates pass on. He has not even taken the cigars from his mouth.”
 
Hook’s very first act is to murder a shipmate in cold blood!  And Barrie doesn’t just limit his violence to the bad guys; if you recall, he kills off Tinkerbell … twice!  I think the key with dark or creepy material in children’s literature lies in treating it like parenting at Disney Land:  feel free to take your kid on “Splash Mountain,” but when it becomes too intense, put your arm around them and cover their eyes.  Books can only feel like adventures if actual danger is being skirted.
 
Agreed. Now, while I was reading, I had the distinct impression that there might be references hidden in the text to works that had inspired you, if a reader knows where to look. Am I crazy? 
 
This is a great question!  It’s also a dangerous one because once a writer is invited to share his little in-jokes, he might never shut up!  Here are a few that come to mind:
 
“Fantastic eyes”  - “Fantastic” is a descriptor I cribbed from Roald Dahl’s wonderful short story “The Hitchhiker,” which is about a traveling pickpocket who describes himself as having “fantastic fingers.”  It’s a wonderful story, and thinking about it now, I wonder whether it might actually be the tale that sparked my early interest in thievery.
 
“Says I, says you” - This is a phrase uttered often by Ben Gunn from Treasure Island. My father read that book to me more than once when I was young, and he took a real shine to Mr. Gunn.  He would wander around the house doing an impression of the man, ending each phrase with “says I, says you!” I used the phrase a few times while writing the character of Poor Old Scabbs -- a lunatic prisoner who is inspired by Ben Gunn (as well as Gurgi from Lloyd Alexander’sThe Black Cauldron and Gollum from The Hobbit).
 
“Wide World” - This is a phrase I first noticed in The Wind in the Willows.  In the context of that book, it refers to all the frightening places beyond the comforts of home.  I used it similarly in Peter Nimble to describe those parts of the world that have been mapped and documented by cartographers and merchants.  To those living beyond the borders of the map, the “wide world” is a frightening place!
 
Incarnadine’s introduction - The first time we meet the villain of the story, King Incarnadine, he walks into a room where people are fervently applauding him.  They cheer until their hands are red and their throats are raw.  Why? Because the king has a custom of killing the first person who stops clapping.  I wish I could say I made up such an awful thing, but it’s actually a historical anecdote attributed to Stalin.  Oh yeah, and the word “Incarnadine” actually means to make bloody -- which is a verb coined by Shakespeare in Macbeth … I could go on forever about this stuff!
 
We will expect you to return and tell us a few more in the comments. :)

I (carefully resisting the urge to capitalize and use a million exclamation points) love the world of this book. I love the geography, the characters, the cultures, the references, all of it. How did this world come together for you?

 
In the future, I would suggest you always capitalize and use exclamation points when discussing your feelings for Peter Nimble!  To answer your question about the world:  I’ve spent years researching literature in the 18th century, the height of the Enlightenment.   This was a time when new discoveries were being made every day -- ones that forced people to completely rethink what they knew about the world.  With all those discoveries comes a loss of enchantment, which is a central theme to the book.  I also was inspired by literature from that age, chiefly Samuel Johnson’s dictionary and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels … this was a time where even the most brilliant scholars were not afraid to be a bit silly.
 
Very good. From here on out I will not hold back my enthusiasm. (Commenters, you may also capitalize and exclaim as much as you like.) On behalf of myself and all the readers who will doubtless be desperate to know what's next, will there be more adventures with Peter and Sir Tode? What's next for you? 
 
I do have another book I’m working on.  While the next story isn’t specifically focused on Peter Nimble, it does inhabit the same world and brush up against the same characters.  I’ve said before that I want a next volume to be less a “further adventures of” sequel than a companion piece -- the way that The Magician’s Nephew is a companion to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe… not that I could ever compare myself to Mr. Lewis!

I completely understand that, and I'm glad to hear it. It's a great world and I can't wait to learn more about it. Thank you so much for stopping by to chat, and congratulations on a really delightful debut!

Last but not at all least, as a special treat, we have a copy of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes to give away to one lucky reader. All commenters on this post will be entered automatically; we are able to ship to addresses in the US or in Canada. Also, for those readers in the New York City area, get yourself to Books of Wonder on Thursday, August 11 from 5-7pm (YES, THAT'S TOMORROW, PEOPLE) to help celebrate at the launch party for Peter Nimble!

213P
 
 
 
A Deserving Porcupine: goofballrockinlibrarian on August 10th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
Well, I can't believe I'm the first person to comment on this today, when it's already nearly 6:30 PM and you're giving away this BOOK THAT SOUNDS AWESOME (there, have some capital letters). This also means that Jonathan hasn't come back to share more inspirational easter eggs in the comments either-- I'm looking forward to those! Have an exclamation point, too!
Kate Milfordkatemilford on August 11th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
I may need to...er...tell him that I volunteered him for that, actually. I think he may have been in transit all day yesterday on his way to NYC from LA for the launch party. Note to self...
deenamldeenaml on August 10th, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
To me, screenwriting seems harder than writing a novel. Cool to hear the different perspectives and what a great novel premise with PETER!
Kate Milfordkatemilford on August 11th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
Agreed--but I can see where knowing how to write for screen can really help a writer to think and write visually!
deenamldeenaml on August 11th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
I DO think that is one of the reasons Suzanne Collins' HG series is so cinematic!
lena_coakley on August 10th, 2011 11:16 pm (UTC)
Steals a box containing three pairs of miraculous eyes! Sounds fantastic! I really can't wait to read this. Please enter me! And good luck with your launch tomorrow, Jonathan!
R.J. Anderson: Axe Cop - Best Fairy Everrj_anderson on August 10th, 2011 11:30 pm (UTC)
I'd love to win this book! It sounds brilliant!
dawn_metcalf: Smile!dawn_metcalf on August 11th, 2011 12:07 pm (UTC)
Wow. Just...wow! The description of the character, the world, and the influences from children's literature that shaped the process are just so phenomenal. If the cover didn't already grab me, this interview did!

Great job, Kate & thank you, Jonathan!
Kate Milfordkatemilford on August 11th, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
Dawn, you will get such a kick out of this book. My guess is it's right up your alley. :)
Phillipa (Pippa) Baylisspippa_bayliss on August 11th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
You've made me a fan - thanx, Kate :D
natalieag on August 12th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)
I love Jonathan's inside tips on how he came up with aspects of his story. I'd love to win a copy. I interviewed Jonathan on my blog but without enough notice to get the ARC before it has to be given away. I really want to read this.
Kate Milfordkatemilford on September 4th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC)
And, better late than never...A WINNER!
I'm going to claim revision mania as the reason I'm so late on the uptake here, but our winner is...DEENAML! Would you be so kind as to email me your contact info and address at kate (at) clockworkfoundry (dot) com?

Thank you all for entering!