Guess what guys? I got to do an author interview! With an awesome author! (Would I have done it otherwise?)
Gregory Funaro is the author of a middle-grade, Dickens-esque series set in a fantastical steam-punk London starring a orphan chimney sweep named Grubb. Yep, we're talking about the Odditorium books.
It just so happens that TODAY is the publishing date for book 2: The Odd Aquaticum! Happy book birthday! You can click here to order on Amazon or here to find it at your library.
To help celebrate, Greg was nice enough to answer some of my questions about life as an author and how the Odditorium came to be (spoiler alert: he's not actually sure how it happened. Ha!).
E: Hi Greg! Thanks for doing this interview. So I'll start right off. Inspiration. You've said in other interviews that your initial inspiration for the books came with the birth of your daughter, but what led you to develop the story the way you did? What prompted you to do fantasy? Set in a steam-punk London?
G: Even though I knew I wanted to write for kids after my daughter was born, I didn't envision Odditorium as a children’s book at first. My original idea had Nigel (Mr. Grim’s right hand man) as the focus of a story about Frankenstein’s monster being reunited with his long lost daughter. That idea percolated in my brain for a while, and then the following summer, when I started Odditorium, it had somehow become a children's book, the monster’s daughter had somehow become Grubb, and the focus of the story was suddenly about his journey with Alistair Grim. I'm not sure, quite frankly, how it all happened. Nigel and his daughter’s story still exists in the book, but it’s one of the subplots. I've always been a huge fan of Charles Dickens and Lloyd Alexander, so really the Odditorium series is just a mash-up of the two, and instead of steam, it's magic that powers all the technology. Does that make the book magic-punk?
Yes, I would totally dub it magic-punk. So have you been to England?
Yes, I have been to England twice and I love it.
Where's your dream vacation?
My dream vacation is Scotland. I don't know why, but it has always struck me as very romantic. Maybe because I saw Brigadoon when I was a kid.
Definitely more romantic than Braveheart, ha! And what has your daughter's reaction been to your books? Or to having an author dad?
She is only 6 and doesn't really care. She hates when I try to read my stories to her because she doesn't like me using the character voices. She also says my books are boring because they don't have any princesses and need more pictures. As for having an author dad, she tells her friends that I am famous because I was in the newspaper once. I don't argue with her about any of it.
Your bio lists a lot of schooling/experience with drama and acting. How'd you decide you wanted to write a novel? How does your education/career impact your writing style?
I actually started writing thrillers during my spare time about eight years ago just for fun. I had a couple published and then moved over to children's literature after the birth of my daughter. In my early work, you can definitely see the academic in me, as a lot of the writing, especially the dialogue, is wooden and very "text-booky." But as with anything else, you get better with practice. I think being in the theatre has really helped me as writer in that I have good instincts when it comes to creating dramatic tension. It also helps me get into the minds of my characters, and I now talk out loud when I am writing their dialogue.
Which leads me to my favorite question: if you could be an actor in your books' movies, which character of yours would you play?
I love playing villains, probably because I am such a wuss in real life, so I would say either Mr. Smears or Prince Nightshade. Actually, I hate seeing myself on film, so it would definitely be Prince Nightshade, since he gets to wear a mask. Does that make me a bad person?
Hardly! As for me, Grubb just might be my favorite. I love that the story is told through his perspective. How did Grubb come to be your star and narrator?
Given the Dickensian milieu, Grubb is basically a mash-up of Oliver Twist and Pip from Great Expectations. I wanted readers to see this fantastical world through those kinds of eyes.
Writing can be hard, especially when you're still working as a professor! What motivates you to write? Do you have any unique tools or necessities when writing? To keep you going?
I don't know what motivates me, really, and quite honestly, have never thought about it. I guess it's just something I want to do, and when I stop wanting to do it, I won't anymore. As far as tools and necessities, I've read about other writers who need a special typewriter or little writing nook, etc., but that's not me. I take an energy drink in the mornings before I write, but that's about it. Fortunately, out of necessity more than anything else, I've learned to write anywhere as long as it's quiet.
How about a favorite author? Anybody that provides particular inspiration?
Well of course I've had a huge author crush on J. K. Rowling for years now. But as far as favorite authors, other than Dickens, I was weaned as a kid on Stephen King, so he also permeates a lot of my work. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Steinbeck, Richard Adams, Phillip Pullman, Cormac McCarthy are a few more off the top of my head.
Any advice or lessons learned about the process of getting a book published? Do you have other books/series in the works?
Make sure your book has gone through many drafts, has had many readers, and is really polished before you even think about querying an agent. Also, spend a lot of time crafting your query letter. As for what I'm working on, I just finished the first book in a new middle grade series, so hopefully that will go on submission soon. I also just started a new young adult book that I'm excited about. I can't tell if it's any good yet, though, so I'm trying not to get too excited.
Well I'll try not to get too excited either! Any fun interactions with readers? Or something embarrassing that has happened since becoming a middle-grade author?
I got an email once from someone who told me Odditorium didn't suck as much as my thrillers, but it still sucked. I also spoke at a school once where the kids were more interested in me showing them karate moves than talking about my books.
Maybe I should have asked to see your karate moves? Ha, how about some random must-knows in a lightning-round style: Favorite food? Favorite way to spend your time? Favorite book?
Tie for pizza, sushi, and lobster. Doing anything with my daughter, but if she's not around, I like being alone in nature or reading a book on the beach. And speaking of books, my favorite is Watership Down.
Awesome. Thanks so much for your time, Greg!
(Click on either cover to see my original reviews for the first two books in the series.)