An Interview with Rob Skaggs: Where in the World is Amos Beery and What is He Doing?.

Jun 21, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Rob, you have just published a great new novel, that will keep kids reading most of the summer. Was that your intent?

Not only summer–all the time! I hope Amos Beery spurs kids on to many more reading experiences.

2) Poor Amos- not only does he not get any respect in school, but he has fickle friends. What were YOUR school days like and who was YOUR best friend?

I was one of those kids who really didn’t think he belonged in school. Back then, my greatest hope was to become a garbage man. I’m very serious here–and I doubted I could even pull that off. But a book changed things for me. One day in seventh grade as I walked home from school I found a weathered, torn old book (actually, I’d been kicking it along the way, as in “kick the can”). The chances of my voluntarily picking up a book for any reason were pretty slim, but pick it up I did, and I couldn’t have said why then and still can’t now. The twenty-minute walk home stretched into over an hour and a half, and by the time I arrived home I was hooked. I had become a reader. That experience altered the course of my life. Soon after, I gained a new friend who did become my best friend–Lee. Lee was a reader clear down to the cellular level, and so reading became part of our bond. Now, thirty-three years later, a love of reading is still part of our friendship. In fact, Lee gave me lots of extremely valuable feedback as I wrote Amos Beery. He was my first reader.

3) Poor Amos, not only has a bad day at school, but he comes home to even more troubles. It this a ” terrible awful, horrible ” day for Amos?

Indeed, Amos’ day gets off to a “no good, very bad” start when he gets dumped and beat up in front of all the kids at school, but it does get much, much worse. As in real life, though, some days just really are like that.

4) His friend Finny- where did you get the idea for him? He seems to be a singular individual?

Though Finny is a mixed bag of kids I knew, there are two upon which he’s based–one named Robert, the other Artie. They were both scrappy kids with a gleam in their eye, the kind who didn’t mind making trouble if the payoff was good but who nevertheless had their own deep sense of right and wrong. Either of these two boys would, if provoked, go at Satan himself, armed with nothing but squirt guns.

5) Rob, Amos and Finny seem to be contemporary Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn compatriots. Did you design it this way?

Mr. Twain has been in my head for decades now. It wasn’t a conscious decision to design Amos and Finny after Huck and Tom, but Huck and Tom are characters that have never stopped echoing in my consciousness. It was only after the second draft of Amos Beery was complete that I realized Huck and Tom were so ingrained in Amos and Finny.

6) Your book kind of reminds me of the Canterbury Tales- as a literary vehicle. How did you map out this book?

The Canterbury Tales–wow! I’ll have to chew on that–it’s actually a new thought to me. I will say that each of the various “seasons” of the story is something of a distinct story unto itself, indeed a bit like The Canterbury Tales. I say “seasons” because I planned the story out in metaphorical “seasons” beginning with “summer,” when the story is just getting started, moving into “fall,” when terrible problems arise, leading into the “winter” of the story, where it surges intensely toward its “spring,” which is when the dust settles and a new beginning becomes possible. I had read many books on how to put stories together, but it was a television interview with one of the script writers for Law and Order that clicked best, and the “seasons” approach turned out to be the right one. The chapters worked very naturally within this structure.

7) I don’t want to give the entire book away, but I would label your book ” High Interest, High Excitement and High Pace”. Is this your formula?

That is an excellent way to label it. In writing for a middle school aged audience, I couldn’t chance losing them along the way, so I knew the interest had to go to their core (Mom), the excitement had to flow naturally from the stakes and the challenges Amos encounters, and the pacing had to sweep them onward clear to the end, just as I like to be. High Interest, High Excitement, and High Pace–now that’s a formula!

8) We hear a lot about reluctant readers, but I feel that kids just need to be exposed to a wide variety of books in order to get them reading- your thoughts?

Every kid just needs that one book, the one they are shocked to discover they cannot put down. Without the variety you’re speaking of, they aren’t very likely to encounter such a book. Kids don’t often know what kinds of books they will love until they’ve been exposed to the many types that are out there. But then all it takes is that one book, that one magic moment, when they go from being non-readers to becoming readers, from avoiding books to seeking them out. That’s what happened to me.

9) Where can parents get this book which is going to keep their kids mesmerized for part of the summer?

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Booksamillion are all good options for online ordering, but parents can walk into any bookstore and order it there as well.

10) What have I neglected to ask ?

I honestly cannot think of any better questions than these.

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