Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Interview with Adam Selzer

This is the first in a series of interviews I hope to do with authors who write about Chicago.

Today's guest is Adam Selzer. I met Adam at the 2009 Young Authors Conference at Illinois State University this past spring. Adam is the author of many books, including a number of books for young people. Check out his web site for a complete list.

My purpose in interviewing Adam here is because of the book
Weird Chicago: Forgotten History, Strange Legends & Mysterious Hauntings of the Windy City. Described on the cover as "The Ultimate Book of Chicago Ghosts & Mysteries," the book was written by Adam Selzer, Troy Taylor, Ken Melvoin-Berg, and Willie Williams.

Okay! Here we go, following a traditional Q&A interview format.

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

Adam: 7 or 8, I think. I still wanted to be a baseball player at the time, too, but I found that I was pretty good at writing.

Q: Describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?

Adam: "The Great Monkey Hunt" was a picture book about lions looking for monkeys to keep as pets. I was in second grade, I think. I had this idea that I could write a book and get it published, and figured it ought to be about monkeys.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?

Adam: I can name any number of teachers who really encouraged me - especially in grade school. After that, there wasn't a lot of creative writing in class. I hardly ever got to write a story after about seventh grade.

Q: Obviously you have written a book about Chicago. What other ties to Chicago do you have?

Adam: Well, I live here! No deep-rooted ties or anything, though. I get a lot of crap from people on the tours for being born in Iowa, for some reason. I guess one of the other tours in town is making a big deal about being "native born Chicagoans," which is just ridiculous. These are the same people who criticize me for writing a children's book based on Watergate because I wasn't born when Nixon was president. Do these people bug Shakespeareans for not being old enough to have known Shakespeare? Or not being from Stratford-on-Avon?

Q: When writing Weird Chicago, did you and your co-authors each "sign up" for certain topics, or did you collaborate on topics?

Adam: That's pretty much how it worked, yeah. We made a list of topics. I'm especially proud of the "adam says..." and "Ken says..." sidebars - there are a lot of famous chicago ghost stories we sort of HAD to include, but the sidebars allowed us to mention it when we thought the story was nonsense.

Q: What was easy about writing Weird Chicago? What was difficult?

Adam: The easy part was finding the stories, and the hard part was editing it down to fit in one book! It's about the size of a phone book as it is, but I think the first draft was about twice as long.

Q: Of the stories included in Weird Chicago, what is one of your favorites?

Adam: I really like the story of Lillian Collier, the teenage flapper who ran a tea room called "The Wind Blew Inn," and was arrested for holding "petting parties" there. She and her friend insisted that "there is no snugglepupping at the Wind Blew Inn," and the judge sentenced her to read a book of fairy tales. I've been trying to find out whatever happened to her for years now!

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Weird Chicago, choose one you would like to meet and tell us why.

Adam: Jane Addams. I think spending an hour with Jane Addams would probably make me a better person. I get the impression that an hour with Jane Addams would make ANYONE a better person.

Q: You have a new book coming out in December: The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History. What would you like us to know about it right this minute?

Adam: It's uncharted territory - a young adult nonfiction book that isn't about "your changing body!" A lot of people are thinking it's going to be one of those awful books that tries to make Abe Lincoln look like a racist by taking quotes out of context, but it's not. It's not an idol-smashing book, it's just a hilarious textbook. It had to be funny, obviously, but I also wanted it to be ridiculously informative.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Adam: I have another book coming out about life as a ghost buster in Chicago: Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps. It sort of goes behind-the-scenes of the Chicago ghost tour industry -- which is one wild industry, let me tell you!

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