Monday, April 25, 2011

Author Interview & Giveaway: Gene Twaronite

Gene Twaronite

The Family That Wasn't is a humorous fable of how our families live inside us. It will appeal to both teen and adult readers. The 13-year-old narrator, John Boggle (whose real name is John Bazukas-O'Reilly-Geronimo-Giovanni-Li Choy-Echeverria), finds his family so impossibly crazy that he cannot stand living with them another moment. He invents a new perfect family so convincing that he suddenly finds himself living inside this imaginary world.
But John finds that he too has changed. He sees his too perfect image in the mirror and begins to wonder if it is all some kind of mistake. Only trouble is, now he can't remember who he is. He only knows that he must leave this family at once. His sole clue is the name, John Boggle.
To find his true family he embarks on a cross country quest. Along the way he encounters other characters who have also lost touch with their families. Together they must find a way to reconstruct the connections to bring back the family that once was. (via Goodreads)

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A former science teacher, environmental educator, landscaper, bookseller, and Instructional Specialist at the University of Arizona, I now spend my time writing and promoting my novel as well as volunteering for several local non-profit organizations.  When not gardening with native plants (especially cacti), I’m also trying to catch up on reading all the great books I was supposed to read in school but never really appreciated. 

I think at some point in life, we're all embarrassed beyond belief by our families. We can all relate to the story. Did your own childhood play a role in coming up with the idea for The Family that Wasn't?
Not really.  For the most part, my childhood was fairly normal for the times (I was born in 1948).  I grew up in a quiet corner of suburban Connecticut, where it seemed that nothing ever happened, which is probably why as an adult I am more drawn to urban life.  Though I suffered the occasional embarrassments that all children feel toward their families, I was never ashamed of my family.  As I grew older and various family members passed away, I began to appreciate how their memories still influence me and how we all carry our families inside us. 

The Family That Wasn't is humorous, in that dark, Tim Burton kind of way. Was that intentional or is it just my personal perception of the novel?
Yes, there is definitely a dark, cynical streak to my humor.  In my writing I invariably find myself veering toward the humorous.  It’s not intentional – it’s that “unintended snicker,” as E.B. White described it, that makes me see the humor in almost any situation.  I have also found that when I do try to intentionally write humor, I end up instead writing something serious or sentimental, which can be very annoying. 

There are some pretty wacky characters in your book. Were any of them based off of real life people, or were they all just your own creation?
My main inspiration was James Thurber, especially his book, My Life and Hard Times, in which he described some of the wacky members of his family.  I suspect he made up most of these characters, so I started thinking about what it would be like to grow up in a really crazy family.  While all of the characters are 99% fictional, there is at least a tiny element of real life in each of them.  Even when setting out to create a completely new character, the writer invariably brings to this creation all that he or she has known and experienced.  And so, while I did not base any of the characters directly on real life, each of them in some small way contains bits and pieces of real family members and friends.   

Which of your characters is most like you, and which of them was the most fun to write?
That would be the main character, John, who has always dreamed of being a writer and, like me, sometimes retreats from the world into the fantasies he reads and creates.  But I think there’s also quite a lot of Venus, the nerdy science wonk, in me, not to mention some of the wilder, blues loving side of Bruno.  Having held quite a variety of different jobs in my lifetime, I can also relate to John’s stepfather, Juan.  Certainly the most fun character to write was Vinnie.  How far could I take his evil?  And why did John hate him so?  And though Vinnie manages to fool everyone in his various impostor roles, in the end you see him as a miserable, wretched character who has fooled no one but himself. 

What are you hoping readers will take away from the story?
I hope they will think about their own families in new ways, and will experience some of the special magic that words have to take us to places strange and wonderful.  But mostly I hope that readers will have a good laugh.

I hear you're writing a sequel. I have to know---will we hear more about Uncle Vinnie? And is there anything else you can tell us about the sequel?
While I did not choose to make it a major theme of the book, there is a part in the story where John is sexually abused by his “Uncle” Vinnie.  I felt that I just couldn’t leave John or my readers hanging there with this unresolved issue.  Though I have never experienced such abuse, I still tried to imagine some of what John must have felt, including the rage, powerlessness, and self-hatred of abuse victims.  And I wondered how he might try to deal with it.  The result is a much longer novel, My Vacation in Hell, in which John embarks on yet another journey of the imagination through the hell he has created within himself.  And, yes, Vinnie does play a major role.  I am currently on the third draft and hope to finish it this year.  Because of its darker theme and the fact that John is now 15, this will definitely be a young adult novel. 

Can you describe The Family that Wasn't in one sentence?
I read somewhere that a writer should always have a good “elevator description” on hand when someone asks the inevitable question:  What’s your book about?  So here goes: It’s a humorous fable of how our families live inside us.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks, Amanda, for your thoughtful review and for giving me a chance to talk about my book.  And thanks to all my readers.  Your comments are always appreciated. 



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