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Interview: June 2010

June 2010

M.T. Anderson has written numerous books for children and young adults, including FEED, THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, and the newly released THE SUBURB BEYOND THE STARS.

In this interview with’s Norah Piehl, Anderson explains why he waited six years to write the follow-up to his 2004 novel, THE GAME OF SUNKEN PLACES, and what inspired the story’s “unconventional” setting. He also reveals the similarities between himself and his main characters, and discusses why his current home in Vermont is so conducive to his writing routine. THE SUBURB BEYOND THE STARS is a sequel to your enormously successful 2004 novel, THE GAME OF SUNKEN PLACES. Why did you decide to revisit the adventures of Brian and Gregory after six years?

M.T. Anderson: I had always meant to continue the series. Back when the first book came out, I wrote a proposal for where the story would go next. I assumed I would start work on the sequel immediately. Then I got involved in another project --- my Octavian Nothing books --- which occupied me for several years. It’s great to come back to these books and finish what I originally planned.

TRC: In the novel’s opening scene, Brian is pursued through the T, Boston’s subway system, by a two-headed monster. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever encountered on the T?

MTA: When I was first working in Boston, I used to have to take the T through some pretty sketchy neighborhoods, so the trains were always being stopped due to drugs, thugs, muggings, etc.

Once, I remember, when we were sitting at a station, the train doors didn’t close. An announcer came on and said, “We apologize for the delay. The police are currently engaged in an action at this station.”

There was a long silence. Then someone a few cars down yelled, “TELL THEM TO GET THEIR DONUTS SOMEWHERE ELSE!”

TRC: You live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To write this novel, did you have to leave this urban environment to do field research in suburbia? Or did you gain firsthand knowledge of the suburbs when you were younger?

MTA: Hmm, you make it sound like I ventured forth with a pith helmet and a notebook. …If only! No, I actually spent all of my early life living in the burbs, which is why I wanted to write this particular book. I’m sick of horror novels that take place in old Victorian houses or defunct insane asylums --- all these exotic locations. To me, the scariest place is the place you know best, turned evil and dangerous. So that’s what I set out to do: to make the suburbs of my childhood the setting for menace.

TRC: Time is fluid (to put it mildly) in the novel. Was it confusing or liberating to write about a setting where time constantly shifts?

MTA: As my girlfriend will tell you, time constantly shifts for me anyway. Fifteen minutes late, a half an hour, two hours late? Who knows? The clock in my car has said it’s 5:13 for years.

TRC: Brian and Gregory are best friends, but they also have very different personalities and ways of approaching problems, and they certainly argue sometimes. Who was your best friend growing up? Was one of you like Brian and one more like Gregory?

MTA: My best friend was more like Gregory --- good looking, athletic, a wise-a** who got all the girls. I was more like Brian. A little more stolid and thoughtful. I, therefore, have great sympathy for the Brians of the world.

TRC: What is your writing routine like? Do you write at home, or do you ever find camaraderie among the other Cantabrigians scribbling away in the many coffee shops in your fair city?

MTA: I love that image, and indeed there are a few cool coffee shops in Cambridge staffed by scowling Russian poets, where you can sit around and write while guitarists play forgotten Andalusian favorites. But for the last couple of years, I’ve been living most of the time in Vermont. It’s great for writing. I can go out my door and ski or hike all morning, then work far into the night.

Okay, yeah, it’s true: I spend most of my day on the Internet, looking up celebrity gossip, epic fail vids, and chupacabra sightings.