Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Garth Nix
As fantastic as his stories, our current New York Times bestselling and multiple award-winning author is the Australian gentleman Garth Nix! Nix is the second of three sons, born to a man of science and a woman of the arts, into the Nix household where reading was always encouraged. In speculative fact, it may have been his mom’s reading Tolkien while expecting that set Garth’s future in motion! A good student, Garth considered the Australian Army—where as a Reservist he acquired the valuable knowledge of how to build *and* destroy bridges!—as his career before acknowledging that he was really meant to be an author and graduated from the University of Canberra with a bachelor’s degree in writing. Briefly working in a bookstore and ten more years at various positions, mostly in publishing, Nix has been a full-time author for the past twelve years. Married to a lovely publisher, the couple are happily raising their two boys in Sydney. Any guesses what the most popular topics might be at their dinner table? Maybe something out of this world . . . ?
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
GN: I was a bit of a mixture. I benefitted greatly because my best friend was the most popular boy in the school, so I got carried along by him, and could join in anything. I was in the top class, so I was one of the smart kids, but two other close friends of mine were kind of bad boys. I think I was very lucky.
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?
GN: As I said, I was pretty lucky in high school with my friends. I did get caned once (we still had corporal punishment the first few years, it went out soon after) for setting off a fire extinguisher, which I didn’t do, I just happened to be the next person the teacher saw. I was furious at the injustice of it, but I also kind of accepted it as one of those things.
SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
GN: I hate choosing just one book or film or anything, because there are so many great ones. I was very devoted to The Lord of the Rings when I was about thirteen. My favorite food was probably sausages and mashed potato (still a favorite). I had lots of favorite bands, but I remember the first album I bought with my own money was Blondie’s “Parallel Lines.” Lots of favorite television shows, including “Dr. Who” and “The Goodies.”
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?
GN: I based the beginning of Mister Monday on a real-life experience of my own to my character Arthur. I periodically had asthma when I was in primary school (it went away in high school, came back when I was forty, seems to have gone again), which caused problems on the long cross-country runs we did every week. One time I decided to keep running even though I was finding it hard to breathe. I kept running, my breaths got shorter and shorter and eventually I passed out. When I woozily came to, one of my best friends was just staring down at me, instead of going to get help. Fortunately, I just lay there for a while and recovered enough to walk back.
SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?
GN: I regret not continuing with French beyond Year 10. When I was nineteen and visiting France for the first time, I could manage after a fashion, but two more years of French at school would have laid a much better foundation. But, of course, I’ve forgotten most of it now. If I could add a class to every high school in the world, I think I would make it ethics, to help students think about the framework of how they live their lives and interact with others. It might sound boring, but it could be made interesting. Like any subject, really, it depends on how it is taught.
SH: If you could spend the day with one of the characters from your books, whom would you want to it be? What would you do?
GN: As all my books are basically adventure stories, and adventures are generally extremely dangerous and uncomfortable, I would have to choose very carefully! But I would like to visit any of my characters on a nice, safe day. For example, I think I would get on very well with King Touchstone and the Abhorsen Sabriel on a visit to the Abhorsen’s House or their palace in Belisaere — but at a nice quiet time!
SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?
GN: My siblings and I answer the phone to each other (thank you Caller ID) with a cockatoo shriek. It can be alarming to others who hear it, or on the few occasions when it is actually someone else on the line.
SH: If you had an important secret or story to share, who would be the first person you’d turn to?
GN: My wife, Anna.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own, of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
GN: There are thousands! To take just one example, how about Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll? I think the world would be a better place if everyone read that.
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
GN: Discourtesy in all its forms: pushing in line; talking or texting on the cell phone while in the middle of conversations without saying “excuse me;” abusing poor waiters or retail staff who can’t answer back; just not thinking about others . . .
SH: Is there one moment in your life you’d like to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?
GN: No. I don’t believe in looking backwards too much. Savor the good memories and move forward!
SH: You have the opportunity to create a whole new holiday! What will you name your holiday and how will we all celebrate?
GN: My holiday would be The Day of Morning Reflection and Afternoon Cheery Perambulation. Everyone would have to stay in bed all morning, reading a book, magazine, or newspaper while sipping tea or coffee and nibbling on a croissant or some fruit. At the stroke of twelve noon, we’d have to leap out of bed, get ready and issue forth to walk at least ten miles, regardless of weather, etc,, and politely greet everyone we pass with a smile and a wave, if nothing else.
SH: When you’re done writing for the day, or taking a little “me” time, do you have a hobby or special treat you indulge in?
GN: I often walk down to the beach, via this cemetery http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waverley_Cemetery.
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
GN: I would describe myself as retiring, polite, and thoughtful. Other people’s descriptions vary greatly, depending on how they have encountered me. I think anti-social, boring, and old-fashioned could come up! Though I have had kind people call me clever, funny, and a gentleman.
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?
GN: I would go for dead people (reanimated nicely, of course), as there is always a chance I might actually get to have dinner with the live people I admire, even if it is an incredibly remote chance. I would go for Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers, playwright Aphra Behn, the Roman Emperor Diocletian (the only supreme ruler of the known world to abdicate and grow cabbages), Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), and the Chinese poet Li Bai. I reckon that would make an interesting mix. I think we’d have a barbecue somewhere remote in the outback, under the stars. I don’t actually much like kangaroo, it’s too rich for me, but it would be a treat for the others.
SH: One of your books has been selected to be made into a movie, which book would you want it to be and who would want in your cast?
GN: Several of my books have come very close to being made into films at different times, so this question has arisen before. The two that have been closest are Sabriel and Shade’s Children, though there was also a period when The Keys to the Kingdom was being developed for a television series. I am actually much more concerned with getting the right director and screenwriter than with the cast, I think with the right screenplay and director, the right cast will be found, whether they are unknowns or existing stars.
SH: What made you want to be a writer? When did you think you’d be able to make a living doing it?
GN: Books made me want to be a writer. I simply wanted to write the kind of things I liked to read. I never presumed I’d be able to make a living from writing; the great majority of writers need to keep their day jobs. But I was very lucky and have been a full-time writer since 2001, after about ten books were published.
SH: What makes you feel happiest? What makes you sad? What scares you?
GN: I am happiest at home with my family, on a sunny but not too hot day, just hanging out together. I am sad in the usual circumstances:when things go wrong, people are hurt, terrible injustices are perpetrated, evil triumphs. I am scared by fears for my family, but I do try not to dwell on fear, because it is too easy to let fear rule your life.
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
GN: There are so many that are very tempting. I think I would most like to be able to control the weather, just in a small area, say over a modest-sized town.
SH: A series of choices: Early riser or night owl? Appetizers or dessert? Sweet, salty, or sour? Spend or save? Playing or watching team sports? Phone call, email, or text? Board games or online games?
GN: Night Owl. Appetizers. Salty. Spend. Neither playing nor watching team sports, although I’ll play and watch some individual ones. Email, but often you need to actually call. Both.
SH: Any advice for teens, something you wish you had known? Or wish you had done? Or wish you had not done? And why. (Or maybe: Best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten, at any age?
GN: It took me quite a long time to realize the importance of sustained, repeated creative work. It doesn’t matter how brilliantly you can write a paragraph or a page if you don’t keep doing it on a regular, timely basis. I knew people who were far better writers than me in their late teens or early twenties, but they didn’t keep writing all the time. I did.
Keys to the Kingdom (series)
SH: Arthur is both compassionate and a creative thinker, which attribute do you think is more important to his success in the story?
GN: I think they’re both important characteristics. Arthur is also very resilient and determined.
SH: Suzy Turquoise Blue is smart and gutsy—a big help to Arthur, but her personal story seems a little melancholy. What’s helping her gutsy side win out?
GN: I think she’s just one of those naturally irrepressible people who are incredibly valuable in any kind of hard or dangerous work. No matter how tough things get, they just keep going and their cheeriness helps lift everyone else. If you got shipwrecked, you’d want a Suzy Blue in your lifeboat.
SH: Soot, Grim’s eyebrow, is quite icky but clever. Why the eyebrow?
GN: Who knows? I just liked the visual image of an eyebrow sliding off and becoming an entity of its own. Eyebrows often do look like they might have secret lives . . .
SH: If Captain Tom could select one ship and one destination as favorites, which do you think he’d select? Which ship and destination would you select?
GN: It would be a fast sailing ship, for sure. Maybe he’d like one of the amazing new hydrofoil yachts like the ones in this year’s America’s Cup, as seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sr055W97l4o. As for destinations, he might just set sail and see where he ended up. For me, I like more comfort and rather less speed! I’m quite happy sailing around Botany Bay and Sydney Harbor in my friend Peter’s forty-foot yacht, Wayfarer V, which is a very seaworthy Salar 40.
SH: Animated tattoos? That seems like it’s a lot of added pressure in selecting just the right thing to have forever inked onto your skin. What would you want as your animated tattoo?
GN: The good thing about Dr. Scamandros’s tattoos is that they reflect his mental state, so they constantly shift and change. So you wouldn’t get tired of them. I certainly wouldn’t want that, however, as they would give too much away! Perhaps an animated tattoo in the shape of a watch that tells the time would be handy . . .
SH: The Raised Rats make trades in secrets and information sharing. What would you want to know—and what kind of promises would you be willing to give them in exchange?
GN: There are many things I’d like to know, but I wouldn’t be keen on trading information to find out. So, I guess I wouldn’t be much use to the Raised Rats. I am quite secretive in nature. For example, I very rarely share my work in progress with anyone.
SH: Were you inspired by anything specific when you came up with the wide array of military uniforms? If you were conscripted into service, what do you think you’d be doing and what would the uniform look like?
GN: I was inspired by the general history of military uniforms. If you take a look at any European army of either the early 19th century or even the early 20th century, there were a vast number of individual regimental uniforms, some of them amazingly colorful and impractical. When I served in the Australian Army Reserve, we had no such splendid uniforms, just jungle greens and khaki dress uniforms. But if I could choose a uniform for style and color, ignoring anything practical, then something like the 1850 British 11th Hussars would be pretty impressive!
SH: If you owned the crocodile ring, what would you want the ring to alert you about?
GN: Bad traffic up ahead would be handy, though I suppose Google Maps can do that, so perhaps something more interesting. Perhaps an early warning if I was about to make a fool of myself so I could shut up . . .
SH: The New Nithlings are declaring an interest in farming. How did farming become the dream occupation? If you were a new nithling, is that what you’d want to be, and what kind of farm?
GN: I think farming for the New Nithlings is about attachment to land and landscape, they want to belong somewhere. If I had the same background they did, and the same history, then I would like to be peacefully farming somewhere, too.
SH: The Fifth Part of the Will, or Friday’s portion, is a force for moderation, while Lady Friday is pretty extreme. How did they co-exist at all? How did they not have some sort of effect on each other?
GN: The individual Trustees have become imbued with one of the Seven Deadly Sins, the fragments of the Will (to a lesser extent) represent the Seven Virtues. They’re not always directly opposing sins and virtues. The Will has also been locked up and restricted, so it has little power over Friday.
SH: Why are the days at the end of the week so much more powerful and power hungry?
GN: There is a hierarchy in the House, so the later Days are more powerful. But as often happens with power, the more you have, the more you want.
SH: Arthur seems to really enjoy being a Raised Rat. If you could become any of the creatures/denizens in any of the Houses for a brief time, what would you pick?
GN: I’d quite like to be a Raised Rat myself! Though, it would also be great to simply have a pair of good wings—to be one of the Dawns, Noons, or Dusks. Probably Dusk in my case. I’d like the dark clothes.
SH: If you could bring a treasured childhood toy to life, what item would you choose?
GN: I probably wouldn’t, now that I am much older and hopefully wiser. But I suspect that at Arthur’s age I would have wanted my very old and much-lived platypus “Bark” to come to life.
SH: Do you think Arthur two halves will ever rejoin?
GN: I don’t usually speculate beyond the end of a book. It’s finished for me, complete in itself. But I am happy for others to wonder about these questions!
SH: In the end, so much of what had been created is destroyed. Is there one person, place, or thing, that you’ll miss the most?
GN: In the books? Or in life in general? I think ultimately people are the most important. You can feel nostalgic for places, but it is not the same as missing people who have died or otherwise irrevocably gone out of your life.
SH: If you were the architect, what would be the first thing you would create/change?
GN: That’s a very interesting question. How much should you interfere? When does your interfering prevent people exercising any choice or free will? Where do you stop? I think if I was the Architect I would be unable to resist interfering, but I’m not sure it would work out better for people.
SH: How did you decide what the different days of the week would be in-charge over (Lower House, Far Reaches) and what would be their individual troubles to overcome? Do you have a favorite day of the week? (Both an actual day and one of the characters!) Which day of the week are you most like?
GN: I’m not really sure. I spent probably a year making notes about the series before I started actually writing Mister Monday, so it is difficult to pinpoint some decisions. I guess like a lot of things in my work, I decide all kinds of things more by instinct and gut feel than anything else.
Abhorsen Trilogy Series
SH: The Bells have such complex personalities and requirements for their proper use. How did you come up with all the particulars?
GN: The bells evolved over some time. When I first wrote their names in Sabriel, I didn’t really know much about them. As the book progressed and I had to know more, I worked it out and then again in Lirael and Abhorsen, I had to think things through to a greater extent. This is typical of how I work—I tend to not get into all the detail until I need it for the story.
SH: Sabriel seems to be able to take the biggest shocks without losing her mind—such as when Mogget transforms or finding Touchstone. Were you tempted to give her at least one epic meltdown? If you gave her one now, what do you think would prompt the episode?
GN: It would be out of character for her to have an epic meltdown, I think. In general, she’s usually in a situation where she simply can’t afford to have a meltdown. This is often the case for people who are put into extreme situations. If they manage to rise to the occasion, they will do whatever is necessary without histrionics, even if you might otherwise expect them to freak out. Teenage girls and boys have done amazing things in emergencies when you might expect them to have a meltdown instead.
SH: When you were fourteen, did you have one epic event that you were waiting for and worried would never happen?
GN: No, but I had hoped that on my eleventh birthday I would wake up to discover that I was an Old One, like Will in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. Still can’t believe that didn’t happen.
SH: How genius would it be to have a Mouse of Rescue that could be carried around? If you had such a mouse, where would you want it to go for help?
GN: I would hope that it could bring a rescue force of well-armed, Charter magic-wielding librarians, just as in the book!
SH: When the Lieutenant sees the undead coming, could this be the first sighting of zombies in teen fiction?! Would you want credit for creating zombie chic? Maybe zombiepocalypse?
GN: Well, I always wanted to differentiate my Dead from stereotypical Undead and zombies, so it would be kind of hypocritical to want to claim it now!
SH: It’s hard not to be emotional at the end of this book and the trilogy. Did you shed any tears for any of the characters–happy or sad? Did you shed any tears for yourself—happy or sad—that the series was over?
GN: I did cry as I wrote the ending, not because it was the end, but because of the emotion I wanted to invest in the story. I think that if I can make myself feel the emotional charge, then, hopefully, it will transfer into the writing. And of course, the series isn’t really over. I’ve returned to the world of the Old Kingdom in two long short stories, “The Creature in the Case” and “To Hold the Bridge” and now, also in Clariel, which will be out in September 2014.
A Confusion of Princes
SH: All the specs for those space vehicles, the physics of space travel, *and* the complex politics found in all each original society you’ve created: How in the world did you manage all these threads?
GN: It’s very hand-wavy science fiction really, without much concrete foundation. If you make the story work well enough, people will gloss over the SF underpinnings. They just have to seem logical within the context of the story, and I guess this is something I’ve learned to do with fantasy, as well. If you make it seem believable within the context of the story, it will work.
SH: Emperor, Prince, or ordinary person—each has its own strong appeal for Khemri. Which would you choose and why?
GN: I certainly wouldn’t want to be the Emperor, being merely the strongest and most recent addition to a gestalt mind of disembodied personages. A Prince seems appealing, with the superhuman abilities, the authority over others, and so on, but then it comes with being perpetually at risk, always in danger from other Princes—and the Princes are sociopaths at best. I think in that unpleasant universe, I would most like to be a human outside the Empire. Preferably a long, long way outside the Empire!
Books by Garth Nix
Keys to the Kingdom series
Mister Monday. Scholastic Press, 2005. 361p. $16.99. 978-0-4397-0369-7. VOYA February 2004. 4Q 4P J S
Grim Tuesday. Scholastic Press, 2005. 321p. $16.99. 978-0-4397-0370-3. VOYA August 2004. 4Q 4P M J
Drowned Wednesday. Scholastic Press, 2005. 389p. $16.99. 978-0-4397-0086-3. VOYA August 2005. 4Q 4P M J
Sir Thursday. Scholastic Press, 2006. 344p. $16.99. 978-0-4397-0087-0. VOYA February 2006. 4Q 4P M J
Lady Friday. Scholastic Press, 2007. 304p. $17.99. 978-0-4397-0088-7. VOYA June 2007. 5Q 4P M J
Superior Saturday. Scholastic Press, 2008. 278p. $17.99. 978-0-4397-0089-4. VOYA August 2008. 5Q 4P M J
Lord Sunday. Scholastic Press, 2010. 320p. $17.99. 978-0-4397-0090-0.
Abhorsen Trilogy Series
Sabriel. Harpercollins, 1996. 292p. $18.99. 978-0-0602-7322-4. VOYA April 1997. 4Q 4P J S
Lirael. Harpercollins, 2001. 487p. $18.99. 978-0-0602-7823-6. VOYA August 2001. 4Q 3P M J S
Abhorsen. Harpercollins, 2003. 358p. $17.99. 978-0-0602-7825-0. VOYA February 2003. 5Q 4P M J S
A Confusion of Princes. Harpercollins, 2012. 337p. $17.99. 978-0-0600-9694-6. VOYA April 2012. 4Q 4P J S
Garth Nix on the Internet
Garth Nix Website: http://www.garthnix.com/
The Keys to the Kingdom: http://www.keystothekingdom.com.au/
The Old Kingdom Chronicles: http://www.oldkingdom.com.au/