Friday, May 22, 2009

Interview with Tony Abbott, Edgar Award Winner

I recently had the chance to interview Tony Abbott, Edgar Award Winner for Best Juvenile Novel, The Postcard, The picture shows Abbott, on the left, accepting his Edgar Award from author Chris Grabenstein. I hope you enjoy the opportunity to "meet" Tony Abbott.

Lesa: Thank you, Tony, for taking time to answer questions on Lesa's Book Critiques. And, congratulations on winning the Edgar Award for The Postcard. How did you find out your book had been nominated for an Edgar for Best Juvenile Book of 2008?

Tony: Thank you. It's a thrill, certainly, one of the major moments in my professional life. I happened to be visiting several schools in Scottsdale in the middle of January. On the afternoon of my last day there, I logged into my email at the hotel, and there was a message from Alvina Ling, my editor at Little, Brown with the news. I was ecstatic, told my wife and one of my daughters who were with me, and we went out and celebrated. It was a lovely and exciting moment.

Lesa: I'm afraid, unless they have children or grandchildren of the appropriate age, many of my readers may not have heard of you.? Would you tell us about yourself?

Tony: Ah, yes. The publishing industry often favors authors with word-of-mouth marketing. I have been publishing for about fifteen years (in fact, my first book, Danger Guys, appeared in May 1994), and have made a little name for myself in the writing of series fiction for the elementary grades. My most popular series is a fantasy called The Secrets of Droon (also celebrating an anniversary this month -- of ten years of continuous publication). It's from Scholastic and on my desk right now is my 42nd book in that series. They appear three times a year. I've written other series over the years, including a new one, a ghost series, called The Haunting of Derek Stone, also with Scholastic. Among my hardcover novels are Kringle (Scholastic, 2005), and Firegirl (Little, Brown 2006).

Lesa: What made you decide to be a writer, and why did you choose to write children's books?

Tony: I was not the best reader, but was inspired by some favorite books to try my hand at putting words together. I liked it, and continued. In high school I wrote short stories. In college I wrote poetry almost exclusively. After that, some non-fiction things, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, and so on. I was re-introduced to children's books when my first daughter was born. After many many failures, I hit on the short, elementary-age novel, and wrote Danger Guys.

Lesa: As a former Florida resident, I'm intrigued by The Postcard. Would you tell us about it?

Tony: The Postcard combines many inspirations. I guess I can start with the postcard itself. I do collect the old linen color lithographed ones from Curt Teich and others. I started collecting the hot states because I loved the wild artificial colors. As it happens, my grandparents moved to St. Petersburg, FL, to retire in the late 1950s. I visited them several times over the years, both from Cleveland where I was born and Connecticut where I live now, and was very fond of the place, and the atmosphere and roadside kitsch of old Florida, or "Old Florida", I guess I should say. There was a day when I was looking at my cards and wondered how interesting it would be if someone had included an almost invisible clue on an otherwise blank postcard that remained more or less undiscovered for seventy years. If someone found it now, what would they do? I began to imagine the boy who finds the card, and realized that the mystery had to be personal, about his family. Jason came to me as a boy in a family that was breaking apart. Also as a Northerner coming down to Florida in the summer, with all the heat that implies. Another element was the old pulp magazine covers, and I thought at first that the seventy-year-old mystery would involve an artist of those kinds of covers, but I soon realized that it would be a pulp writer instead, and then the remaining pieces fell into place: I would have to write the chapters of the old crime story that the postcards lead Jason to.

Lesa: The Secrets of Droon has been a very popular series. Which do you prefer, writing a series like that, or a standalone like The Postcard, and why?

Tony: I love Droon, I love the characters and the fun plots. Writing a book like The Postcard satisfies me on a much deeper and more "important" level. The creation of scenes between people, the comedy, the storylines possible in novels like these are my true love. Nothing thrills me quite as much as getting a conversation between two people exactly right. I am trying to evolve into writing one or two novels a year, but Droon and my other series is what I am known for.

Lesa: Tony, who would you say influenced your writing? Who do you like to read now?

Tony: Since writing The Postcard, I've been on a streak of reading Southern writers: Faulkner, of course, who is perhaps my favorite; Flannery O'Connor, Styron, Capote (early), Ellison, Wright. I love them and find worlds enough in them to last me quite a while. Dickens, of course, for character and the weaving of storylines. Toni Morrison. Richard Yates. John Cheever.

Lesa: Can you tell us about the book you're working on now?

Tony: I can't tell you much. It's been passed over by a couple of publishers and I am finishing a draft for a third. It is a historical novel, I suppose, though I think ultimately not so much, and something of a combination of fiction and memoir. If that makes sense. We'll see.

Lesa: Tony, on your website, you talk about your dog, Comet, as the model for the Droon character Batamogi, king of the Oobja people. So many of my readers are animal lovers. Would you tell us about Comet?

Tony: Comet is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He is the best family dog, loves people, is very mild, and loves to play. He is an old puppy now, 14, but still a puppy. After a day of sleeping most of the time, he will all of a sudden challenge my wife and I to a game of chase. I chase him around the coffee table before breakfast and dinner, and he seems to like it. He sleeps in my room most of the day when I'm writing.

Lesa: And, my last question, Tony, is one I always ask. As a children's author, I would guess you have an answer. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

Tony: I grew up in Cleveland Heights, which as I recall, was a bit far from the library, so my main memories of very early on are of the Cleveland Bookmobile. I loved that bus! It would stop at the corner in front of my house (I'm not sure how often, once a month, maybe?), and my brother and I would go with my mother and search the shelves and get books. My parents were teachers, so there were always books in the house. I'm sure I would have been awed by a really big library when I was that young, but the bookmobile was so approachable, friendly, and alive. I should also point out that I worked in a library for several years. It was a college library and I was in charge, at the end, of the books put on reserve for the students. I was . . . "reserves clerk." I met my wife at that library, but I like to think it was more my native charm and not because of my exalted clerk status.

Lesa: Ah, another person who met their spouse while working at the library, as I did. Tony, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions. Good luck with all of your books.

Tony Abbott's website is

The Postcard by Tony Abbott. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ©2008. ISBN 9780316011723 (hardcover), 368p.


Liyana said...

Congrats! You have something here.

Lesa said...

Thank you for the award, Liyana. I appeciate it!