Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Extravaganza: Antony John

Antony John is the author of Five Flavors of Dumb.

SUMMARY: The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig. The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits. The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf? Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb. (Published on November 11, 2010.)


How did you come up with the band name "Dumb"?

It was the first name I thought of. In fact, the full title just came to me one day, and I knew it was perfect. (So far, everyone else agrees, thank goodness!) Somehow “Dumb” seemed like the kind of name that Josh, Will and Tash would have chosen for themselves. They probably thought it was ironic or something, though it’s actually totally accurate!

It also helped that Nirvana (which features in the book) wrote a song called “Dumb.” It opens with the great lines: “I’m not like them / But I can pretend.” It’s a fair description of Piper’s attitude at the beginning of the book.

Was it difficult writing from the perspective of a deaf protagonist?

At first, yes. Getting inside the head of the main character is an enormous step for an author; probably the most important step of all. Add to that the fact that Piper is deaf, and it really complicated things. But after several months of research into deafness, I began to understand her situation much better. I knew how she felt about her family, and the band, and from then on, I’d have the say the book almost wrote itself. In particular, the scenes in which she visits the houses of dead Seattle rock stars seemed very real to me. I visited those places myself, and it felt natural to view them through her eyes and talk about them as she saw them.

What was your initial reaction when you saw the cover for your book?

Honestly, my jaw just about hit the floor. I LOVED it (and so did everyone else who saw it). People have asked me about the cover over and over. It’s clear that everyone thinks it’s brilliant. Here’s the funny thing: I didn’t have any input on the cover. I didn’t even want to have input. For one thing, I’m not an artist or designer, and I think that it’s best to leave these things to people who actually know what they’re doing. But even more than that, I just couldn’t imagine a cover that would capture the attitude of the narrator, and the madness of the band, and the grunge feel, and the general mayhem of it all. But Kristin Smith, the designer, just nailed it. As an author, this is the kind of cover you dream about. I got really lucky!

Three words to describe your view of winter?

Freezing, Interminable, Basketball (if it weren’t for college basketball, I don’t think I’d make it through winter)

Explain the most memorable winter you have experienced.

I spent the winter of 1995-96 in a little ski resort in Switzerland called Villars-sur-Ollon. I’d just finished studying music at two universities and was about to begin a Ph.D., and I decided I needed to get away from academia for a while. So that winter I worked as chauffeur for a couple of swanky hotels. (I even got to meet some famous people, like Phil Collins. Very cool.)

It was an eventful time, let me tell you. I was alone in a place where French was the main language, only I didn’t really speak French. I was driving a minibus on ice and snow, without having had any training, and I crashed twice. (Yes, seriously.) I got pretty good at skiing, made a lot of friends, learned what it’s like to be a hotel employee (please be nice to hotel workers; not everyone is), and every day I’d get up and drink strong coffee and eat fresh bread and spend a few minutes staring at the snow-capped mountains. The biggest mountain peak I could see was called Les Dents du Midi, and while I was there I read A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway, and he actually mentions Les Dents Du Midi in the book, because some of the book is set in that region of Switzerland.

It was an incredible experience. I was the same person I’d always been, but whereas my friends at home and at university saw me as an academic musician, the folks at the hotel had no particular interest in that side of me at all. Some of them had actually dropped out of high school, but it didn’t matter. We sledded together, took over clubs, and didn’t get enough sleep. I don’t think I’d have survived if I’d had to go back for a second winter!

What's the best Christmas present you've ever received? Worst?

BEST: I know this is a lame answer, but I have so many wonderful memories of Christmas Day when I was a kid, and of many terrific Christmas presents. My parents always did a great job with presents. As an adult, though, my favorite present would have to be when my wife and I bought each other wedding rings. The wedding wasn’t until the following May, but we were grad students and couldn’t afford to buy presents for each other and still have enough left for wedding rings, so we made those our gift to one another.

WORST: You know, I’ve never had a bad Christmas present, and that’s the honest truth. But the worst present I’ve personally witnessed was when my grandmother (my dad’s mom) gave my dad aftershave, in spite of the fact that he’d had a beard for over thirty years. When he opened the wrapping and showed us, we all busted out laughing, but my grandmother still didn’t catch on to why it was kind of a superfluous gift. (I’ve sometimes wondered if she just got the presents mixed up. I kind of hope so!)

Imagine being trapped outside during a blizzard. What the heck would you do first?

First, I’d panic. Pathetic, I know, but also definitely true. But a moment later I’d think of my brother: he’s a British Army officer, and in the past has run such fun-filled courses as “Arctic training,” in which troops have to survive in arctic conditions without food or shelter for a couple weeks. (You totally want to sign up, right?) Anyhow, once I calm down, I’d probably stay right where I am and attempt to dig a snow hole, in which I would shelter until the blizzard was over. (Unless my front door is 6 inches away, in which case I’d probably just go on inside and stop being such a dork.)

Have any holiday traditions you do with your family?

The day after Thanksgiving we get a Christmas tree, and decorate it. I have a feeling that my wife and I enjoy this more than the kids, but it’s definitely a tradition already. I love the smell of the tree, and turning on the lights every evening. I’ve always enjoyed that. I also like to play Christmas carols on the piano. I used to sing in a church choir when I was a kid, and so I know most of the traditional carols by heart. However, my kids have inherited my wife’s preference
for Christmas songs by Frank Sinatra and Mariah Carey, so usually they ask me to stop playing and turn on the stereo instead. It’s soul-destroying, but I’ve learned to accept it!

A tremendous thanks to you Antony, for spending the time to answer my questions and letting us know more about your book and thoughts of winter!

Thanks for having me on your blog today, Ashley. And a happy winter season to everyone!


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  1. the story of buying each other wedding rings for christams is sweet. :) i have also heard some good things about this book. thanks for posting.

  2. I did the same thing your grandmom did one year. I bought my mom a bunch of hair ties for her stocking when she had just recently cut off all of her hair. I guess sometimes our minds are just on other things!

  3. "Dumb" is a great name for a band--I'm actually surprised that it hasn't been taken already! And, the cover of this book is gorgeous. You defintely had a great creative team on your side.

  4. This was a very sweet interview. I love the part of the best and worst Christmas presents. Having Christmas memories is something everyone should hold on to. And the aftershave part was too funny.

  5. Great interview! I love the cover for five Flavors of Dumb, its by far one of my favorite covers this year. ^_^

  6. Mary D

    LOL - Antony John is spot on, I'd so panic, too!! That would be such a scary thing, although it's interesting to read about survival techniques (I also heard that you should keep moving, even the facial muscles, to prevent frostbite lol - I would probably cry, tho :P )

    LOVE that mountainside resort! Makes our flatland here look so blah ;)

  7. lovely interview--great questions and great answers. i didn't really know a lot about the author's novel. i don't i've ever read a novel where the protag is deaf. this will be an interesting read.

  8. What a great interview! I live in Idaho, and I've totally been in a blizzard before- driving, walking to class, etc. It happens so often out here, it rarely even feels like a big deal anymore. :) Although, I'm sure if I wasn't in my car, or town (where everything is within walking distance... small town.) but out in the middle of the fields or lava flows I'd feel differently! :)

  9. Thanks for the interview, Ashley. And thanks for all the great comments. Although, I must say, if blizzards are common in Idaho, I don't think I'll be moving there any time soon!

  10. Awesome interview
    I totally envy you because I never seen snow yet and i would love that memory in my Christmas memories :)


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