Thursday, September 11, 2014

Craig Staufenberg on Nassim Nicholas Taleb & #MG Books @YouMakeArtDumb #AmReading

What are you most proud of in your personal life?
I’ve done a good job creating a life that lets me create without giving everything else up for it. I wouldn’t say I’m “proud” of that, but I am happy I’ve made that a priority and made it happen. I know a lot of people totally off the deep end in one direction or the other.

What books did you love growing up?
The BFG by Roald Dahl. That was my all-time favorite. I re-read that book so many times growing up, and named my main character in The Girl Who Came Back to Life after the main character in The BFG. Roald Dahl is the best children’s writer ever. He may be tied with Bill Watterson of Calvin & Hobbes. Those guys got it.

I also read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Hobbit many times. (I could never get into The Fellowship of the Ring no matter how many times I tried.) Wizard’s Hall by Jane Yolen was a favorite. As were Bruce Coville’s books. I best remember Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, Goblins in the Castle, and the magic shop book with the ring that turned the boy into monsters around Halloween.

I would also be lying if I omitted the Quest for Glory adventure games by Lori & Cory Cole. Those games—their characters, narratives, and worlds—have the same quality as a cherished childhood book, and returning to them as an adult they still contain that magic.

Who is your favorite author?
I don’t read much fiction anymore. At the moment my favorite author is Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan and Antifragile have impacted my thinking and my life more than anything else in recent memory. One of his stated purposes is figuring out how to live happily in an uncertain world—I think “living in an uncertain world” is the perfect way to describe the creative life. So even though he draws from his experience as a trader, everything he writes is enormously applicative to any sort of risk-taker who wants to live a good life.

What book genre of books do you adore?
I adore a good Middle Grade book. Because I exist outside of the publishing world I was unaware of this genre classification until last winter. I was trying to find a good genre classification for the book I was writing, so I walked into McNally Jackson on Prince St. in NYC and just started investigating the shelves. Suddenly I stumbled on all the books I loved, whose character I was hoping to evoke in the book I was writing. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, A Wrinkle in Time, Peter Pan, the Harry Potter books, the His Dark Materials series, and so many more—all the best books. And they were all sitting under a sign that said Middle Grade.

What book should everybody read at least once?
That depends a lot on the person. We all have different personalities, interests, and themes in our lives. But a great, universally applicable book is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It’s Aurelius’ private journal. He wrote it to himself while he was ruling the Roman Empire. In the book he talks to himself about how to live a good life, how to act with principle, and how to live well while having to make difficult decisions. I’m not the ruler of any empire, and I’ll assume you aren’t either, but any thought process that helped Aurelius rule the known world can certainly help you deal with the challenges of work, relationships, and following your inner compass.

I think about two passages from it the most. In the first, he talks himself out of staying in bed all day. He says to himself, paraphrased: “The bed is comfortable, but were you really born to lounge about in comfort all the time, or were you born to do something bigger?”

In the second passage—he talks about forgiving himself for not having a very productive day. He basically says “Oh, you didn’t get anything you wanted to get done today? Congratulations—you’re human. Everyone has those days.” These are good examples that even though he was ruler of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius was dealing with, and finding solutions for, the most basic human problems we all run into.

Are there any books you really don’t enjoy?
Why would I read a book I don’t enjoy? And if I didn’t read it, then I have nothing to say about it.

What do you hope your obituary will say about you?
I’ll be gone by the time it’s printed so it isn’t of huge concern to me what it says. Obituaries, like funerals and weddings, are for everyone but the subject.

Location and life experiences can really influence writing, tell us where you grew up and where you now live?
I grew up in upstate NY, and have lived a few places. Mostly stayed in the Northeast, though have done some exploring elsewhere. Right now I live in New York City.

How did you develop your writing?
By writing. By thinking. And by learning to not control everything I put on the page. I’ve been daydreaming stories, characters and worlds since I was five, and I think daydreaming is the most important part of the writing process. That and taking long walks—something else I’ve done since my youth.

As far as the technical side of writing—I developed that by writing a lot. I stumbled into a career as a freelance writer, and my assignments forced me to write a lot every day. Ten to twenty thousand words a day at first. Then down to about ten thousand words a day. Then a few thousands of words a day. I’m not saying those words were great, but they paid the bills and the process of putting down a large amount of print every single day was more helpful than any textbook or instructor. It also forced me to write without self-censoring. To not fear the blank page, and to not be afraid of my words once they were on the page. (Which is even more challenging and frightening than facing the blank page.)

Where do you get your inspiration from?
I have no clue where it comes from. (And I don’t care to know.)

The Girl Who Came Back to Life

When you die, your spirit wakes in the north, in the City of the Dead. There, you wander the cold until one of your living loved ones finds you, says "Goodbye," and Sends you to the next world. 

After her parents die, 12-year-old Sophie refuses to release their spirits. Instead, she resolves to travel to the City of the Dead to bring her mother and father’s spirits back home with her. 

Taking the long pilgrimage north with her gruff & distant grandmother—by train, by foot, by boat; over ruined mountains and plains and oceans—Sophie struggles to return what death stole from her. Yet the journey offers her many hard, unexpected lessons—what to hold on to, when to let go, and who she must truly bring back to life.

Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Middle Grade
Rating – PG-13
More details about the author
Connect with Craig Staufenberg through Facebook and Twitter


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