The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust, is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing, soul-searching questions. In the hot seat today: ANTONY JOHN, MG/YA author of THE OTHER, BETTER ME (HarperCollins, 2019), MASCOT (2018), FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB (Dial, 2010), the ELEMENTAL series, and more.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Hanging out with my family, not doing anything in particular, but simply being together. As my kids get older, I’m acutely aware that time is passing and I need to savor every moment. But we’re all so busy that moments of calm togetherness feel incredibly special.
What is your greatest fear? Climate change keeps me up at night. We know it’s happening. We know it’s getting worse. Scientists aren’t sure we’ll be able undo the damage for generations even if we do act now. But we’re not acting now, and that scares me. The world my kids and their kids (and everybody else’s kids) will inherit matters deeply to me.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Procrastination. (That was easy!) Really, there’s no excuse for it, and I know it’s bad, and I do it anyway. It doesn’t help that I write on a laptop computer equipped with email, iTunes, and an internet browser that coaxes me into taking regular “research breaks.” (Note to self: A first draft is probably not the time to conduct a deep dive into the etymology of obscure words.)
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Self-discipline, because it makes me feel bad about my procrastinating. (Just kidding!) Truly, I deplore unkindness and mean-spiritedness. As a fiction writer, I’m very much aware of the line separating reality from flights of fancy. People who lie, demean, and divide make me terribly sad.
Which living person do you most admire? There are so many candidates, but I’m blown away by Greta Thunberg. Her courage in the face of adversity. Her willingness to lead, in spite of opposition. Her determination to stand up to powerful adults because she knows she’s right. Her championing of Autism Spectrum Disorder as her “superpower.” I could go on, but she’s an inspiration in every sense of the word.
What is your greatest extravagance? Good food. One of the advantages of being a student for too many years is that when you can finally afford something better than Ramen noodles, you really appreciate it!
What is your current state of mind? Hmm… Concerned for the present, but also steadfastly optimistic about the future, because the current generation of young adults inspires me.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? I Googled virtues and discovered there are seven “heavenly” virtues. This was news to me. [Spoiler alert: I’m evidently not the textbook definition of a virtuous person.] Of the seven, temperance seems overrated . . . which I guess reveals something else about me.
On what occasion do you lie? Whenever anyone asks if I was the one who finished the potato chips. But it’s okay– everyone else in our house lies about that too, so it’s cool.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Corollary. It’s a great word, but I find myself using it unusually often at the moment. And people sometimes mishear it as “coronary,” which is not the same thing at all. Perhaps I need a new word.
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I wish I had the organizational skills to cook well. I have a rotating menu of about three dishes, none of which are very tempting. Seriously, you could be starving and still take a pass on some of my cooking. It’s like my anti-superpower: take fine ingredients and make them . . . unappetizing! <M.R.: I have the same superpower, Antony. 🙂 >
What do you consider your greatest achievement? From a writing perspective, it was when I decided to really invest emotionally in the minutiae of my characters’ lives. It’s possible to produce a very polished novel simply by understanding the craft of writing, but I think it’s ultimately unfulfilling. By living each moment along with my characters, I feel a greater connection to every word. And in the process, I think I’ve learned some things about myself too.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Our dog, Pip. He leads a charmed life: 1. Eat. 2. Sleep. 3. Sit on a human’s lap. Rinse and repeat. We even bought him a bed made from memory foam because he’s getting older. Even my bed doesn’t have memory foam!
What is your most treasured possession? I have a few books that I very carefully wrapped when we recently moved to a new city. Beyond that, I’m not particularly sentimental about objects, but very sentimental about people.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Strictly from a writing perspective, I’d say it’s pretty unpleasant to be in edits while still questioning what the book is really about. Luckily, I’ve not had that experience very often! Also, the message “Your hard drive is full” is seriously miserable when you’re trying to save your final draft.
What do you most value in your friends? Kindness, generosity of spirit, willingness to listen, good sense of humor. I know, I know – I set a high bar, but I’m delighted to say that most people clear it comfortably. 🙂
Who are your favorite writers? Picking favorites is difficult when my shortlist is about 100 names long, but I will always read anything (and everything) written by Brian Katcher, Meg Rosoff, AS King, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, and Andrew Smith.
Who is your hero of fiction? Do I really have to pick one? I mean, I can’t. I just can’t! So, in order of age, I’ll go with: Clementine, Timmy Failure, and Frankie Landau-Banks.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Abe Lincoln. I’m not quite as tall, but I’m lanky, I try to be honest, and I would consider wearing a top hat if it wouldn’t utterly embarrass my children. Being born in England, I cannot run for president, however. The world should breathe a sigh of relief.
What is your motto? “Vacuuming can wait.” (I made it up, but honestly, it’s true!)
ANTONY JOHN was born in England and raised on a balanced diet of fish and chips and bizarre British comedies. To annoy his parents, he studied classical music at university. Now he writes books instead of music so he can wear sweatpants all day. He lives in St. Louis with his family who think he’s weird for not liking chocolate. They might be right. Visit him online at www.antonyjohn.net.