You’ll be talking about how storytelling illuminates every stage of our lives at Wordstock this year. How does storytelling change for different ages? Do you decide if it is an ‘adult book’ or a ‘kid book’ before you start writing, or just figure it out as you go along?
The world is bewildering at any age, and a story, by definition, is an attempt to put something in order, to derive comfort and meaning from whatever narrative thread we find interesting. It is usually clear to me, when I have an idea for a story, if it is a children’s book or if it’s some other genre.
How should parents pick books for their children? How do you pick books for your son, or how did you when he was younger? What does he like to read now?
It’s like grocery shopping, isn’t it? We wander the library or bookstore picking up things that look good or that we’ve been meaning to consume because we’ve heard they’re delicious and/or good for us. And then we take them home and some of them we devour straightaway and other items just sit there, and meanwhile our child is pigging out on whatever looks good to him. Currently he loves graphic novels; he’s very interested in World War One and the Civil Rights Movement. He’s interested in poetry so we put Eileen Myles and Gwendolyn Brooks in front of him. We leave books on his bedstand and on his shelves, but he makes his own choices—he’s like a person in that way.
You and Colin Meloy met up at Powell’s in Portland back in 2007, and now you’re both back for Wordstock. I understand that Carson Ellis illustrated “The Composer Is Dead,” as well. Have your paths crossed other times in the past 10 years? Did you ever end up playing the accordion with the Decemberists?
Ms. Ellis and my wife are fast friends and comrades-in-arms in illustration. We have spent many a time together, and when the women talk about paper stock and brands of watercolors, Mr. Meloy and I wander into the next room and sit around talking about Russian fiction and which Electrelane album is the best. (Axes, obviously.)
You’ve said writing under a pseudonym is great, but are there any downsides?
Recently I ended up in conversation with a woman next to me on the airplane, and eventually had to utter the phrase “Lemony Snicket,” and, for about the twelfth time, found myself utterly disbelieved. It was like saying I was Spiderman, or Philip Marlowe: something I obviously wasn’t, because nobody could be.
Defenestration is also my son’s favorite word. What’s your second-favorite word?
Recently someone said to me, “Do you want a bouquet or do you just want flowers?” I have been thinking about that question, about the real-world privilege that is often reflected in semantic conversations. I’m grateful to be reminded of such things by that otherwise silly word, “bouquet.”