Honestly, after I read Milo for the Cybils, I knew I needed to talk to his creator. It’s just fortuitous, and a bit of procrastination, that this comes out after the Cybils shortlists come out, and Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze
was on the Middle Grade list. Much like his book, Alan was a delight to interview. Do check out his webpage or follow him on Twitter. Milo even has a Facebook page, which I find quite amusing.
MF: I’ve read a lot of books where the parent dies or has passed on, but Milo was different in that it focused on the healing afterward. What made you decide to write about death from that angle?
AS: I wrote Milo from the POV of a 13 year old learning how to finally grieve and move on from his mother’s death. It was a very personal story for me, my mom died when I was nine and it was a major event in my life that I have to admit I was still coping with when I started this book. As I wrote Milo’s story I realized how close to my own emotions it was and I really felt ready for my own healing. Milo coming to terms with his mother’s death really mirrored my own emotional catharsis. Stepping away from that answer, I also knew that I wanted to write a book that could help children and families accept and deal with whatever loss that they might be experiencing and that meant writing not only about the loss and grief – but the potential for healing too.
MF: Wow. I had no idea. That’s probably part of the reason the book resonated so deeply. Given the emotional baggage for you, why did you decide to write about death at all?
AS: When I started the book it was just going to be a silly story about Milo and his tween angst. I knew I was going to add my cartoons to tell the story but it was just going to be a fun little book. As I wrote about his junior high experience I realized I was remembering a lot of my own time back then and slowly began to let that part of me seep into the story. It was at that point I realized I wanted to let Milo’s story be close to my own experience – and that meant telling the story of what it’s like to lose a parent when you’re young.
MF: Aside from your own experiences, how did you come up with the character of Milo?
AS: Milo is a funny kid with a good sense of humor who also has a running monologue in his head about everyone and everything. In that way I guess Milo is a lot of me mixed in with some of the kids I remembered when I was that age.
MF: Is there a favorite character or scene from the book that you particularly like?
AS: I like the scenes where Milo has to be tutored in Math by his bald Math teacher, Mr. Shivnesky. Milo can’t quite figure out of Mr. Shivnesky is really bald, or if he shaves his head, which to Milo – is just not cool. I like the relationship they develop. I also really like Milo’s best friend, Marshall, who is really weird!
MF: Milo’s completely different from your first book, Pond Scum (which I will hunt down and read; it sounds delightful). What did you do differently to prepare/write this book from your first one?
AS: Pond Scum was my first book after years of writing TV for kids. The story is about Oliver, who finds a magic gem that can turn him into any animal he touches. To write the book I had to do lots of research about the different creatures that Oliver became, and that was a lot of fun to work the details into the story. Writing Milo was all about my own emotional research. It was like a form of therapy dealing with the story that so closely mirrored my own life.
MF: You’re also a cartoonist, yes? What are the differences, if there are any, between doing your cartoons and your writing? Do you feel like it’s two separate sides of yourself, or do the artist and the writer compliment each other?
AS: I really feel that the cartoonist and writer work side-by-side as I work on the book. It is like there are two of me, each one making suggestions as the story unfolds. “Ooh, I know a great cartoon that could go here!” Or, “Maybe the story needs some more depth here.”
MF: Who or what inspires you to write?
AS: I am inspired by the books I read and by the kids I meet who like good stories. I think most writers get a certain energy from knowing that an audience is out there devouring the words.
MF: What do you do when you’re not writing?
AS: There’s a time when I’m not writing? Seriously, when I’m wrapped up writing a book I find it hard to not be thinking about it even when I’m away from it. I do try and have a life though, time with my family, going to movies, taking the dog for a walk. But it’s hard to escape my brain!
MF: What’s the last book you’ve read that you really loved?
AS: I totally loved “Cosmic” by Frank Cottrell Boyce. He has such a distinct voice and the story about a 12 year old boy who is mistaken for an adult and is then put in charge of taking a bunch of kids into space was beautifully written, sharp and quite funny. (I was actually asked to contribute a cartoon to the Unshelved site and chose to do my own tribute to Cosmic.)
MF: If you don’t mind telling us, what can we expect next from you?
AS: I can’t tell you the exact premise – it’s a secret. But I can say that I am almost done with a new book about two best friends who find a way to get anything they ever wanted. It’s more like Pond Scum in that it has a certain amount of magic in it – but like Milo, it will feature text and my cartoons.
MF: Sounds interesting! Thanks for your time, Alan.