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 (i.e., nosy) questions. In the hot seat today: Jake Burt, author of the MG contemporary novel, GREETINGS FROM WITNESS PROTECTION! (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends, Fall 2017).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Any notion of perfect happiness for me begins with the assured well-being of those I care for. I’m not going to be happy unless my wife, daughter, parents, brothers, nieces, nephews, friends, etc. are all safe and comfortable. Once that’s squared away, then I can concentrate on what would make me perfectly happy: freedom to pursue myriad interests without significant pressure to be all that good at any particular one of them. It’d be nice if I could be good at a few of them, but just having the time and good health to explore is all I require.
What is your greatest fear? Existentially? Failure. Viscerally? Being buried alive.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Egoism. Fortunately, I’ve got a career (elementary school teacher) that keeps me grounded. Writing, at times, can also be a lovely reminder that I’m not all that.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Also egoism, particularly when it causes other people to act in ways that negatively impact others far more than the action benefits themselves.
Which living person do you most admire? Barack Obama. He strikes me as a thoughtful, deeply-committed leader who truly sees the best in people, and has done so despite the pressures of holding the highest office in the world.
What is your greatest extravagance? Technology. I don’t need any of it, but boy do I like it.
What is your current state of mind? Relaxed. I just finished the manuscript for my second novel, so I’m enjoying the days as serenely as I can.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Faith. It’s important to note that overrated doesn’t mean without worth. I just think I’ve seen too much ridiculousness done and said in the name of faith that I’m a little guarded about it.
On what occasion do you lie? I lie to protect my daughter all the time. There are truths I believe in sheltering her from until she’s developmentally ready to grasp their nuances. In order to shield her from those truths I’ll lie without compunction (like I believe most parents do), and then reveal the truth once she’s ready to process it.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I just can’t stop using the word “just.” It’s just so useful.
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I’d love to play the banjo with greater facility than I already do. I’d also enjoy having more distance on my forehand, ultimate Frisbee-wise.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? I’ll set aside life goal sorts of achievements (getting married, getting a Master’s degree, having a child, etc.) since it’s difficult to rank those objectively. Outside of those milestones, and since I haven’t actually published a novel yet (c’mon 2017!) I think I’ll go with being ranked #1 in the world in Pokemon TCG limited play in 2001. Pokemon’s making a comeback, so I think it’s not beyond the pale to bask a little in the geekier side of my past.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I think I’d come back as a person again. I’ll leave it up to fate to decide what sort of person. Do I get to keep all the memories of my previous life?
What is your most treasured possession? My old stuffed Snoopy from when I was a baby. Dude is ragged and threadbare, but if you made me choose between him and, say, my car, I’m giving over the keys in a heartbeat.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Knowing my kid is suffering and being unable to do anything about it. I don’t want to imagine what that’s like for a parent, and I feel blessed that we’ve been fortunate in that regard in our lives.
What do you most value in your friends? Honesty, both in word and in deed. I like it when people are comfortable around me, and when they feel like they can be themselves.
Who are your favorite writers? Tolkien, Twain, Roald Dahl, E.B. White, Sir Thomas Malory, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne Valente, Dr. Seuss, Joe Dever, Ursula le Guin, Bob Salvatore, and Ray Bradbury, to name a few.
Who is your hero of fiction? Lyra Belacqua – resourceful, skeptical, motivated, and deeply human.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Mark Twain – I aspire to both live in the world and write about it as insightfully as he did.
What is your motto? We have three simple tenets in my family, and I suppose those are my motto: Work hard, be nice, and tell the truth*.
*see above for notable loophole.