I first came across M.T. Anderson last year and was completely enamored with his book Feed which I read a few years back and won my Novel of the Year for 2014. He has won some amazing awards, real awards that is, for his work and is one of my new favorite writers. Anderson was nice enough to take a few moments of his time to talk to me about his career, Feed, and what ever else he wanted to say. Take it away Mr. Anderson…
Tell us a little about yourself and your background? (Where are you from, where you grew up, when did you start writing?)
From a little town called Stow, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. I always wanted to write about the things I saw there.
Feed, which is one of my favorite books, completely took me by surprise in a variety of ways. How did you come up with the idea for the story?
I was sitting on a train, back when cell phones were new (this is back in 2001), and I was listening to some guy talk on his phone, and thinking, “What would it be like to be connected all the time? To never have a minute’s peace, even inside your own skull?”
All of your stories are written for children, whether it be picture books or the young adult genre. Why did you want to write stories that cater to this demographic?
Well, I’ve also written and published stories for adults. But I love writing for kids and teens … They respond so deeply to what they read. Whether they hate something or love it, they’re passionate about it.
While reading Feed, I felt that there were some very deep, complex, and emotional themes dealing with relationships and society. Do you think that a “young adult” will be able to grasp and or comprehend all the different ideas that are put forth in the story?
Of course! They’re dealing with those things right now in their own lives! The world of teens is every bit as complex as the social world of adults – and in many ways, teens feel those complexities more deeply.
I have seen where Feed is being used in schools all across the country as a teaching instrument. How does this make you feel as a writer, that one of your stories is being used this way? Was this your intention when writing the story?
It certainly wasn’t my intention – though I’m delighted that people respond to the book, of course. It was a deeply important book to me, when I was writing it, and said many things I’d stick by, even fifteen years later.
Along those same lines, I have read other reviews of Feed where critics explain what the story means and how the writer uses certain literary devices and themes to get a point across. There are many famous novels that do this, Moby Dick and Animal Farm, are a few examples where the characters represent something other than their obvious representation. There is certainly a point behind Feed, one that you wrote into the story. How do you feel when a reader either perhaps does not get the point you were trying to make, or perhaps got something totally different out of the story? Is that frustrating as a writer?
Not necessarily. Just as a pianist has to read a piano score and make the music his or her own, each reader creates their own version of a book as they read it.
Currently, in our society there have been social changes that are driven by technology, intentional and unintentional, and I think it is safe to say that not all of them are good. In Feed, much of the plot has to do with technology, how do you think technology will change the human race going forward. In particular how do you think it will affect how we interact and our relationships with one another?
What I care most about is that right now, at the moment, the media sphere SEEMS to provide us with information, but in many ways actually conceals information. The continual flux of images naturalizes the consumer world we live in – so we tend not to think about where the things we buy come from, or who makes them, or where they go when we throw them away. We have to be informed consumers, in the same way we have to be informed voters. Our freedom and well-being depends on it.
Mr. Anderson, it is no secret that you have had some very distinguished success and you have won multiple awards for your work. What award are you most proud of and why?
The National Book Award! Because it’s the National Book Award.
Of all your stories which on are you most proud of, or which one means the most to and why?
Probably my Gothic novel pair THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION. It took me years to write, and I poured into it everything I care deeply about.
As an aspiring writer, can you offer any advice to me or anyone else out there? What do you attribute your success or perhaps failures to along your journey? What has helped you the most to become successful?
Find your voice! Don’t shy away from the parts of yourself that aren’t like other writers. Those are your particular gifts, your particular angles. Burrow towards them. Find your own voice. As Jazz legend Miles Davis once said, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
Check out the latest M.T. Anderson news and what he is working on by following him on Twitter @_MTAnderson or checking out his website, also check out all his books and certainly read Feed if you get a chance.
Thanks again Mr. Anderson!