Monday, October 1, 2012

Interview with Tom Angleberger

I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Tom Angleberger on August 10, 2012, at bbgb tales for kids bookstore just before a signing for his latest book, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee (Abrams, 2012).

 Mr. Angleberger began, “I haven’t got much to say, frankly. I’m mostly just about Star Wars and origami.

“You know, I jut met R2. At a bookstore in Cincinnati there’s a Star Wars expert there, and he’s an illustrator of a lot of the Star Wars books; anyway, he’s just made his own R2-D2. He brought it to the store. It’s amazing…

“That’s the great thing about my job, is that I’ve got side benefits of meeting R2-D2 and Chewbacca. …I came very close to meeting George Lucas, but he has a lot of stuff on his plate.”

MDC: Tom, your writing has a lot of energy. Do you find you have to work up into a certain mood? Perhaps you dress in character, or do calisthenics?

TA: I think for a long time before I sit down and start writing. I walk many, many miles in the process of writing books. So when I sit down to write, I usually know what’s going to happen and so the energy goes into picking the words and finding the little ways of putting the puzzle pieces together.

Your online bio lists Asperger’s syndrome as your superpower. Tell me about that.

My brain is not exactly wired properly and one of the side effects is the outpouring of words – there are other side effects, some of them unpleasant – but one of them is the outpouring of words, which can be unpleasant at the wrong time. But when I’m sitting in front of my computer and the words pour out into new chapters of Origami Yoda, at those moments it seems like that what’s my brain was supposed to be doing.

Do children with Asperger’s recognize something in your Origami Yoda books?

The great thing is that a lot of them are reading my book. Often when I have an event I look out and I see some fellow aspies out in the audience. We understand each other.

The crazy, crazy thing is the stuff that that only isolated me when I was in school - like being a big fan of Star wars - to the point of annoying everybody with how big a fan I was, and origami to the point where I was folding instead of whatever else you’re supposed to do at school - these two things which were maybe my weakness back then, now that’s what I’ve got to offer. And the crazy thing is when those two things came together instead of being weaknesses they turned into this huge thing that changed my life. Star Wars Origami, I mean has totally changed my life.

If you went back and asked the other people I was in the sixth grade with and you said, “Do you think what he’s doing now is going to turn out to be good?” you know, they’d be like, “No way, he’s gotta grow out of it!” And I didn’t.

Did your parents think the same way?

My parents have been incredibly supportive all the way along. They let me be an art major in college and they’re huge supporters of the books … They were very good parents for an aspie to have. They handled it all pretty well.

You have also been published under a pseudonym.

I have two books as Sam Riddleberger.

Is he an alter ego?

No, that was just the time I felt the need for a pen name. I was writing for the Roanoke Times, privacy issues and all of that, and I wanted a pen name and it was just a total disaster all the way around. Everybody hated the name. My grandmother was mad because I wasn’t using my real name. I’d walk into a school and they were like,  “Do we call you Sam, do we call you Tom; who are you?” It was all a big mess and so Sam Riddleberger probably won’t be writing any more books. He’s had his moment.

Let’s talk origami. What sparked your young interest?

When I was probably four or five my mother taught me how to make the origami cup. It’s very helpful when you need a cup and all you have is a piece of paper. But you made a cup and it works for a little while. So that was probably my first origami. And then Curious George folds all those newspapers into boats and he’s got the instructions for the boats right there in that book. And I had another book or two at that time that had origami and origami instructions in a fictional book. So that stuck with me and when this book came out, having Yoda instructions in the book just made perfect sense.

Do you get a lot of Yodas in the mail?

The way I like to get them best is by email because I post them up on We have a thriving community of kids called super folders. They send in their stuff and I post it and they comment on it. That’s a huge thing and it has been one of the best parts of doing this. They’re great kids and I actually use a lot of their ideas in the book, so they really become a part of the writing of the books.

Anybody who reads this and wants to fold something, after you fold it email it to me and I’ll put it on

Like the original Star Wars, are your Origami Yoda stories a trilogy?

The Fortune Wookiee book sort of ends with a cliffhanger, so we’ve had to admit to people, yes, there is another book. But unfortunately it is still top secret who the star of that book is going to be.
Tom Angleberger tries on the Heidelberg Handlebar #7.

I enjoy all your books, but Horton Halfpott is my personal favorite. It is a really intelligent, really silly book. The narrator is a great character!

The narrator actually almost made an appearance in the book. The narrator was born when I was reading Charles Dickens. You know he [Dickens] can be really funny and I thought man, I would like to write a book the way he’s writing this. And I sat down to do it and I really thought it would be a book for adults. M’Lady Luggertuck was this elegant lady in this big castle and everything, and next thing I know, the kitchen boy shows up in the story and he just took over the story.

He was just such a great character, he took it over and that’s how that whole book happened, and that’s the reason I got started writing for kids was because that kitchen boy showed up and insisted that the book be silly and crazy and wacky. And unfortunately some adults refuse to read silly, crazy, wacky books – it’s a sad fact – but most kids are willing to read a silly, crazy, wacky book.

Might you write for adults at some point?

No. It’s going to be all for kids, and adults are welcome to read it if they are willing to take a chance on silly, crazy and wacky.

The characters’ names sound like their personalities – Old Crotty, Montgomery Crimcramper, Blight and Blemish – how did you come up with them?

That was part of just loving Charles Dickens and some of those other authors with the crazy names and so I would just sort of think for a second and whatever would pop into my head I would try to give it a Dickens twist and then run with it.

And you illustrated them…

That was actually probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because the drawings in Origami Yoda are pretty easy to make. They’re fun doodles. But the drawings in Horton Halfpott, I wanted them to be really good! And I’m not all that good so I worked all summer just pounding away and drawing those over and over. Plus they were done in pen and ink, so that’s a crazy mess. That was a lot of fun.

Tell me your favorite: Summer or Winter Olympics?
I’m going to have to say X Games.

Partridge Family or Brady Bunch?
Brady Bunch

Adam West or Christian Bale?
Oh, Adam West!

Hardy Boys or Encyclopedia Brown?
Three Investigators

Narnia or Middle-Earth?

Paper or plastic?
Paper. You knew I was going to say paper. That was a set-up.

Be sure to read about the book signing in my other October 2012 post featuring Tom Angleberger

And two more great Star Wars books! 

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