Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by Lane Smith, author and illustrator of a bunch of stuff, including It’s a Book; John, Paul, George & Ben; and Madam President. His titles with Jon Scieszka have included the Caldecott Honor-winner The Stinky Cheese Man; The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs; Math Curse; and Science Verse. Lane’s latest book, the paranormal werewolf story Return to Augie Hobble, is available now from Roaring Brook Press.
Join us to learn which gravelly-voiced singer is a perfect fit for Lane’s illustrated books!
Describe your favorite place to write.
I work in a one hundred year old one-room schoolhouse in the woods of Connecticut. It still has many classroom artifacts in it. There’s a chalkboard. Maps and globes of the earth and other planets surround me. A long strip of cursive type stretches across the length of the room. My shelves are filled with the books that inspire me: Big Little Books, Little Golden Books, Oz books, the books of Charles Addams and Gorey and Schulz and the Provensens and Sendak. I have a fireplace that keeps me warm. I have a little stereo that plays cowboy tunes, sea shanties, early blues and scratchy spoken word records. The windows are a little wonky and the door sticks but all in all it’s a pretty good place to write and draw.
If you could choose your own personal theme music to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?
There’s a song by Jimmy Driftwood, My Get up and Go Just Got up and Went. Others have sung it but I like Jimmy’s rendition. It’s got this stanza:
I get up each morning and dust off my wits
Open the paper and read the obits
If I’m not there, I know I’m not dead
So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
Strangely, I learned when you take research books out of the library the punishment is pretty severe.
Return to Augie Hobble has a bit of a carny/old west/supernatural vibe to it. Smells like Tom Waits to me.
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Oh crap. Too many. Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster? Possessed Ash from Evil Dead II? Dr. Phibes? The Governor from The Walking Dead? The Invisible Man?
Okay, I guess I’ll go with The Beast from Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Heartbreaking and tragic. Or maybe even Beauty/Belle from the same film. She was rather beastly to that beast.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
Like most kids, I was into comic books. (I attended the first ever San Diego Comic Con in the early 70s. I was amazed that I could walk right up to Jack Kirby, Aragones, Steranko or Neal Adams.) I was also into old time radio shows like X Minus One and The Shadow and tv shows like The Twilight Zone, Hitchcock Presents, Outer Limits, Night Gallery, One Step Beyond… They all warped my brain. But I have to say Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles made the biggest impact on my early years.
If you, as a ghost, could regularly haunt one celebrity, author, or literary figure, who would it be?
Boy, how exciting would that be? To watch some writer sitting at the keyboard, sipping diet Coke, answering email and typing hours on end.
Actually, all the celebrities or writers I would be interested in are already dead so maybe I’ll wait till I’m a ghost myself to hang out with Buster Keaton or Charles Schulz.
What is your favorite short story?
I have many favorite short stories by the likes of Poe, Bierce, Flannery O’Connor, George Saunders, Jean Shepherd, Hemingway (The Nick Adams stories), Bradbury…
But one particular story comes to mind. “Usher II” from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. My middle grade book Return to Augie Hobble is informed by my years working as a custodial host at Disneyland—I used to clean out the Haunted Mansion after closing time for instance—so, “Usher II” is right up my alley being about a Disneyland-like attraction; a replica of the House of Usher. Except this house is built on Mars. The protagonist, Stendahl, flees Earth (where fantasy books have been burned), for Mars to build his castle. So when the officious, book burning types begin populating Mars and inspecting any suspicious act of fantasy consumption, Stendahl’s Poe house becomes a death trap, much like the original house of Usher, devouring all party poopers. It’s hilarious.
If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?
Probably nobody. The books are never very good, are they? The author has tucked them away in a drawer or at the bottom of a box in the attic then some nosy son, daughter, or widow finds them and publishes them and we all buy them and they probably should have stayed in that drawer or box and we probably shouldn’t be supporting them. Still, will I buy any newly discovered Dr. Seuss, Harper Lee, Edward Gorey or J.D. Salinger? Damn right I will.
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
Not sure if this qualifies as a “fairy tale” but the animated feature Alice by Jan Svankmajer haunts my dreams. Its genius is that it stays true to the absurdity and surrealism of Carroll’s Alice yet is uniquely its own surrealist thing. One of the strangest/most beautiful stop motion films ever made.