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 (aka nosy) questions. It the hot seat today: Rob Vlock, MG author of SVEN CARTER & THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT (S&S/ALADDIN).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? All I know for sure is it involves books, dogs, my family, and a cottage in the hills of Perthshire, Scotland. Plus, the freedom to spend as much of my time as I want writing.
What is your greatest fear? The same as everyone else’s — that I’ll walk into the kitchen of my favorite restaurant and discover that the chef is really a poop-flinging monkey named Stanley who forgot to wash his hands after using the bathroom. Also death.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Impatience. Writing is a long, slow game. I hate how I torture myself while I wait for everything to play out.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Intolerance. There is so much of it in the world today. It feels like there are so many people out there just looking for a reason to hate anyone who thinks or acts differently from themselves. It’s one of the reasons I love kidlit that models tolerance for readers.
Which living person do you most admire? My dad. Not only did he lavish his family with love and kindness, he shaped my understanding of the world around me with his endless curiosity and openness. He taught me to value reading, music, science, art, and learning. Even today, at 90, he’s still learning and always hungry for new experiences. And he’s just started writing a memoir! I hope I grow up to be like him one day.
What is your greatest extravagance? I’d have to say coffee. I buy naturally processed green coffee beans, roast them myself, grind them in a high-end grinder and make my two or three daily cappuccinos using an embarrassingly fancy espresso machine. It’s definitely more extravagant than a Mr. Coffee.
What is your current state of mind? Stressed. Which is actually fairly common for me. There’s always a deadline to meet (or not meet, as the case may be), sales to worry about, events to prepare for, and revisions to obsess over – not to mention a day job, two kids and two dogs. There’s no shortage of things that compete for my attention.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Contentment has always been overrated in my opinion. I get the idea of being appreciative of what you have, but contentment just seems to me to be a half step away from complacency. If you’re content with the way things are, you’ll never strive for something better.
On what occasion do you lie? I have been known to stretch the truth to spare others’ feelings. Serve me an over-salted bowl of soup or a cup of bitter, lukewarm coffee and I’ll probably tell you it tastes great. Which means I can never be relied upon answer the question, “Does this make me look fat?” (Then again, I might be lying right now, so you’ll never know for sure.) 🙂
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Started” and “began” are two words that tend to creep into my writing too much. “I started to run down the street” is so much weaker than simply “I ran down the street.” I’m not sure why I have that little tic, but I have to excise it from my writing a lot!
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? Does predicting the future count? Or telekinesis? Either would be a great talent to have! But, if I have to be more realistic, I’d love to be a better musician. I get great joy out of playing now, but it would be so much sweeter if the sounds I produced didn’t make everyone within earshot wish they were hard of hearing.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Making two amazing kids. My wife did most of the work while they were gestating, of course. But now, when I look at the kind of people my kids are turning into, I feel incredibly proud about how we’re raising them.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? What a tough question! I’d probably want to come back as one of my two dogs, Hector or Agamemnon. They are seriously spoiled and have the whole family wrapped around their tiny doggie fingers. Must be nice.
What is your most treasured possession? If my mind counts as a possession, that’s the one I treasure most. If we’re talking material objects, I’d have to go with my father’s old microscope. We used to spend so many hours gathering pond water and looking at the little beasties we’d find in it! I use it with my kids today, and I hope they’ll pass it down to theirs one day.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Geez, this is getting depressing. I think losing a child is the most miserable tragedy anyone can suffer. When my oldest sister died at age 36, my parents’ grief was unbearable. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
What do you most value in your friends? Trust and loyalty. I have a small circle of extremely close friends who I would do anything for, because I can implicitly trust that they’d do the same for me.
Who are your favorite writers? Soooo many to choose from! Some of my favorite kidlit authors are Lois Lowry, Jonathan Stroud, Jonathan Auxier, and, of course, J.K. Rowling. For adult lit: Cormac McCarthy, Franz Kafka, Herman Melville, Anthony Doerr. And I’m sure I’m forgetting a few dozen others!
Who is your hero of fiction? My favorite fictional hero would have to be Bartimaeus, the wise-cracking demon from Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series. In my mind, he’s pitch-perfect — such a great combination of charm, power, humor, quirkiness, and vulnerability.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? You know that caveman who invented the wheel? I don’t identify with him, but I identify with the guy who lived next door to him and said, “Oh, man! What a great idea! I wish I had come up with that!”
What is your motto? “Necesse est ut glutiam cum stercore, non carpentem.” Translated to English it’s roughly: “When you have to swallow a turd, don’t nibble.” A bit crude, I know, but it really is something I try to live by. Too many people spend too much time nibbling at the edges of the unpleasant things life demands of them and have no time left for the things they love. Get the unpleasantness out of the way and move on to writing that next great novel!
ROB VLOCK writes fun, funny, fast-paced books for middle-grade readers. When he’s not writing, you can usually find him somewhere in the greater Boston area trying to make his trumpet sound like something other than a dying goose. It’s a work in progress. His follow-up novel, SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY (S&S/ALADDIN), will be published Fall 2018. Visit Rob at his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.