Greg Van Eekhout is a native Southern Californian currently living in Pacific Beach. He finds a lot of inspiration from walking on the beach, looking out across the vast, deep sea, and finding weird dead things on the shore. He once thought he found a human leg, but it turned out to be a bleached squid.
Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Greg at San Diego Comic-Con, but he did not mention his penchant for body parts.
For what age audience do you write?
I write adult books and middle-grade (roughly for ages 7 – 13) books, primarily science fiction and fantasy.
Tell us about your latest book.
My most recently written book is the second part of a fantasy trilogy, ostensibly for adults. It’s about wizards in Los Angeles who get their powers from consuming the bones of extinct creatures, like mammoths, sabertooth tigers, griffins, and dragons, which they find in the La Brea Tar Pits, among other places. But my most recently published book is ‘The Boy at the End of the World’, a middle-grade science fiction nove labout a boy, Fisher, who was part of a program to save the human race from extinction. He wakes up in the far future inside an Ark, a facility where he and hundreds of other human specimens were frozen in hopes that, when the Earth became once more inhabitable, the human race could repopulate the Earth. But when the facility is attacked by drones, Fisher is the only survivor. Along with a broken robot named Click and a cloned pygmy mammoth named Protein, Fisher sets off on foot across the vast wilderness in search of a another Ark and more human survivors. It’s an adventure/survival story with lots of strange creatures (giant parrots, piranha-crocs, weaponized prairie dogs) and killer robots.
Henry: I love the names Click the robot and Protein the mammoth. And piranha-crocs? That’s like an armored Cuisinart.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Mostly, I hope readers get an entertaining ride, that they enjoy the jokes, the banter among the characters, the friendships, the action, and that they get a sense of what the world might look like after people have been gone for thousands of years.
Henry: You had me at weaponized prairie dogs.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
At a certain point in the writing of any book, you become absolutely certain that it’s terrible and is only getting more terrible with every word you write. This is normal. You just have to keep going, push your way through, and have faith that, through practice and experience and determination, you will get to the end. Then, either you’ll find things aren’t as terrible as you thought they were, or you’ll square your shoulders and face the challenge of making the terrible words and sentences and chapters better.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
There is no TEAM in CANNIBAL.
Henry: And there is no “I” in apocalypse.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Meeting readers is always a great experience, especially kid readers. It’s an amazing experience when someone tells me that a thing I made helped cheer them up, or inspired them somehow, or helped them pass time in a fun way.
Henry: I completely agree. I did an elementary school visit and got an entire classroom fired up about finishing a science fiction picture book that we started together.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I have nothing original to say. The basics are this: read a lot, write a lot, and learn to finish what you write. Don’t focus on getting published. Focus on producing the best work you can, and have fun doing it.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I like what E.B. White said about writing for children: “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Is it strange to drink coffee out of those big plastic paint buckets? No, I don’t really have any rituals.
Henry: Hmmm. I had you pegged for a Cthulhu-worshiping entrail-reading ritual kind of guy.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Matter-Eater Lad was a member of the Legion of Superheroes, and he could eat anything. But his rival, Calorie Queen, could eat anything and it would give her super strength. I want to be Calorie Queen.
Henry: I am Calorie Queen, but without the super strength.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Oscar Wilde for the conversation. Julia Child for help in the kitchen and tales of spycraft. William Shakespeare for the jokes.
Henry: Julia Child is a brilliant suggestion, since she brings both interesting experiences and culinary expertise to the party. And you can’t go wrong with Shakespeare. I just wrote a picture book based on Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab in Romeo & Juliet.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
I’m more interested in real creatures, actually. I mean, giant squid, right? Eyes the size of dinner planes? Beaks that can snap cables? They fight whales?
Henry: It is a scientific fact that giant squid, like honey badgers, are badass. I agree that real creatures are amazing in their own right. I am writing a scifi early chapter book where the alien creatures have bizarre powers that are based on real Earth creature abilities.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have a girlfriend and a dog and live near the beach. I have a tiny balcony garden and I like to scream at the tomatoes to hurry up and ripen. I like to grill things.
Henry: I read somewhere that screaming at tomatoes encourages them to grow. But don’t try it with kale, because the kale will cop an attitude. Plus, I don’t yell at Brussels Sprouts because I don’t want to encourage them. By “grilling”, I assume you mean grilling food rather than interrogating suspects.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I don’t want a tombstone. I want my diseased body set aflame and catapulted over the walls of my enemies.
Henry: A proven tactic since the Middle Ages. Well played, sir. They could also use a trebuchet to hurl your tombstone after you to inflict additional damage upon your enemies.
Where can readers find your work?
Pretty much anywhere books are sold. If your local bookstore doesn’t have them on the shelf, they’ll almost certainly be happy to order you your very own copies. They’re also available at the usual online places. And here in San Diego, we have the wonderful science fiction bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, and they’ve always got my stuff in stock, often autographed.
Henry: Yes, Mysterious Galaxy is a great indie bookstore. We have our books there too.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.