Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . David Arnold
Moving from Mississippi to Ohio to Kentucky during those impressionable childhood years, our current author has firsthand experience at what makes a good road trip. Taking an unexpected detour from his decade long career as a professional musician to a stay-at-home dad for his baby boy, it’s our good fortune that David Arnold channeled his creative talents into writing his first book. How lucky his growing legion of fans can ease the wait for his second novel by tuning into “Cinema Cycle,” Arnold’s own musical mix! Now don’t you wonder what’s playing on the radio when Arnold, his wife, and their young son are on a road trip together?
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
DA: Weirdo. (Weird shoes. Weird pants. Weird hair.)
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?
DA: Worst: ninth and tenth grade. Pretty much those two years. But okay, specifics: I didn’t have a lot of friends, and the cafeteria is about the scariest place in the world when you don’t have friends, so I used to sneak my lunch into the library, then pull out the biggest book in there, and eat behind it. It was pretty sad. (The upside was, I got some reading done.)
Best: I actually met my wife at my high school graduation party. And she’s pretty awesome, ask anyone.
SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
DA: Favorite childhood book: I devoured the original Hardy Boys series, then in middle school, read nothing but Jurassic Park over and over again. I still have that old paperback. It’s the only book I literally read the cover off of.
Favorite childhood food: Pizza. Pepperoni style.
Favorite childhood band: I went through an odd stage where I was obsessed with The Offspring and 311.
Favorite television show: I love good television now, but when I was a teenager, all I did was read and play guitar. Mostly play guitar.
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?
DA: So, yeah, during my obsession with Jurassic Park, I also became obsessed with this idea of how someone could even write a book that long! So, one day after school, I sat down at my dad’s old PC, opened my tattered paperback to page one, and started typing Jurassic Park verbatim. A few days later, upon returning to my noble work, I found that all my words at been deleted. In their place, my little brother had typed a note that said, “DAVID, DO YOU REALIZE YOU ARE TYPING A 464 PAGE BOOK WITH LOTS OF WORDS???” I’ve only slightly forgiven him.
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?
DA: When I think back to high school (or middle school, or college for that matter), I find that the classes I liked/didn’t like had a lot more to do with the teachers, and a lot less to do with the subjects. One of my favorite classes was German; I wasn’t any good at it, but I liked Mr. Phelps. He was relatable, and he cared about us. There were other classes I thought I would love (and won’t mention by name), but the teachers were either checked out, or uninterested in connecting with us. I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize the power of a good teacher.
SH: If you could be a character from any book, including your own, who would you want to be? Why?
DA: I don’t know that I would want to be Samwise Gamgee (though living in Middle-earth is basically my number one dream), but I definitely aspire to be as honest and loyal a friend as he was.
SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?
DA: We sing a lot on Christmas Eve. And not just voices, but guitars, pianos, flutes—we really get into the spirit of things. My family is pretty musical, so the whole family orchestra thing was inevitable, I think.
SH: If you had an important secret or story to share, who would be the first person you’d turn to?
DA: My wife. She is trustworthy, kind, and way smarter than me.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
DA: I’m struggling with this question for some reason. Usually, someone says recommend a book, and I say GO! Maybe it’s the word “should.” It’s hard to say what the general public should read. I recommend books all the time to certain friends based on what I know of them. So, let’s do that. Let’s pretend we’re friends, and I’ll tell you I’m currently reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy and find it extraordinarily brilliant, and that I love Salinger’s Glass family novellas, and, duh, the Lord of the Rings (though not just for its literary merit, or genre-defining world building, but mainly due to its character developments and friendships.)
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
DA: I think I would say I’m determined, organized, and (I hope) honest. Others might say I’m dangerously good-looking, intimidatingly brilliant, and really quite muscly.
SH: You fiercely believe in chips. If you had a chance to win an unlimited supply of a brand/flavor of chip, what would it be? If you could create any style/flavor of chip that doesn’t yet exist, what would it be?
DA: (Thank you for this question. It might be my all time favorite.) Boulder Brand Malt Vinegar & Sea Salt. And if I could create any flavor of chip that doesn’t yet exist, I would create Boulder Brand Extra Malt Vinegar & Sea Salt.
SH: Who was the first person who told you should be a writer?
DA: I’m not entirely sure, but I recently found a paper I wrote in elementary school, and at the end of the paper, I said something like, “I actually enjoyed writing this paper, and maybe I’ll be a writer when I grow up.” So maybe I’m the first person who told me I should be a writer.
SH: When you sit down to write, what do you need around you? Do you prefer a certain time of day or is it more spontaneous? How do you approach the creative process?
DA: I wrote Mosquitoland as a stay-at-home dad, which sort of dictated a write-where-you-can-when-you-can approach. I wrote on the couch, in the bed, in the car, on the floor, even at the YMCA. (Long story shortish: We had free family membership to the Y because my wife teaches aerobics, which means free two-hour child care, but since you can’t leave the premises, I would drop off my son, then sit in the lobby and get two hours of writing in. Boom.) I’ve heard others talk about their writing desks. I eagerly anticipate knowing what those look like.
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?
DA: I really do love good television. I’m a Sorkin nut, and I also love Seinfeld, The X Files, Arrested Development, and The Office (as long as Michael Scott is around, it’s good enough for me). I like good music, baseball, Kentucky basketball, craft beer, and more than anything, I just want to hang with my family. Wherever they are—that’s my hobby. I want to be there.
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?
DA: Elliott Smith, Jackie Robinson, Tina Fey, John Lennon, aaaaaand . . . my wife. (Because of all the things I said before, plus, she’s good at conversation.) My alternate would be Teddy Roosevelt.
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
DA: Flying. Also, spontaneous chip regeneration.
SH: If someone else wrote a book about your life, who would you want the author to be, what kind of book would it be, and what would you want as the title?
DA: Let’s go with Jules Verne. It would be an adventure about a fourth grader who discovers the benefits of decent hair mousse during an especially rousing game of kickball. (Not that my hair ever needed extra tending during kickball. But yeah, okay, it did. And Jules Verne would write the hell out of that book.)
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
DA: Unnecessary meanness. That, or constantly tapping me on the shoulder.
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What makes you sad? What scares you?
DA: I am definitely happiest when I’m with my family, and saddest when I am not. I am scared of cold soup and Cylons. (Because let’s be real: It’s only a matter of time before Battlestar Gallactica becomes reality.)
SH: What is one (or more!) of your favorite features about yourself? It can be anything from an impeccable sense of style to your sense of humor to crazy long toes that can pick up a variety of objects.
DA: I try my best to be the kind of person who follows through with things; I want people to know they can count on me. Also, I really like my beard.
SH: A series of choices: Comedy, drama or action? Appetizers or dessert? Spend or save? Cats, dogs, or neither? Elevator, escalator, or stairs? Text, email, or phone call? Night out or night in? Car, train, or bus?
DA: Hmm, not action. Comedy or drama, depending on the mood. Appetizers. Save. Dogs. Escalator. Email. Night in. Train!
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
DA: Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest. – Mark Twain
SH: Mim is a great nickname! Do you have a nickname, or would you want one?
DA: Thanks! I actually have a few friends who call me Big D, which . . . I dunno. They mean well, I suppose.
SH: Mim has her Mom’s lipstick for warpaint. What would you use as your warpaint? When do you think you’d need it most?
DA: At the heart of it, for me, the act of Mim putting on her war paint is her last ditch effort to connect with her absent mother. I’ve called it a sort of therapeutic compulsion, and I think it’s something not even Mim totally understands. But if you’re asking what I might use to confront especially difficult times, I would probably say music. There’s nothing quite like hearing the right song at the right time.
SH: If you were on your own epic journey, would you travel by bus, train, or auto? Where would you be headed, and why? The one bus driver stops for pie at Jane’s Diner, what would make you pull over a busload of people?
DA: As research for the book, I took a Greyhound trip from Nashville to Newark, and can safely say I’ll probably avoid traveling by bus if possible. Let’s say train. Destination: Hogwarts. And we would pull over for a round of butterbeers with Harry & Co.
SH: What do you think (or dream) was in Arlene’s wooden box?
DA: I actually know, but I can’t tell you. (Sorry!) I’ve written a companion novella that reveals what was in the box—so hopefully something will come of that.
SH: How did you learn about a solar eclipse causing temporary blindness? Do you think Mim will ever see out of her right eye again? Would you be willing to lose your eyesight (in one eye) to see an eclipse?
DA: I actually know someone who stared at a solar eclipse in elementary school, and it caused permanent damage. It’s a completely different situation than Mim’s, but that was where the initial idea came from. I’m not sure if Mim will get her full eyesight back or not. In the book, she says she’s made peace with the potential permanency of it—and I guess I have, too.
SH: Mim and her mom had Kung Pao Mondays–and as much as I love Chinese food–I don’t know if I could eat it every week. Do you think you could commit to something like Kung Pao Mondays? What could you eat every week?
DA: Ha, that’s a really good point. No, I don’t think I could commit to Chinese food every week. I could probably eat pizza at least once a week, though. Or pesto. I love pesto.
SH: What do you think happened to Beck and Walt? Do you think there was a rendezvouski?
DA: Again, I’m a little limited in what I can say here, as I touch on this in the novella as well. But yes, I think they definitely reconvene in Cincinnati that April.
SH: What did you buy with your first paycheck as An Author? Was it a planned or an impulse purchase?
DA: Diapers. Total impulse buy. ☺
SH: From the writing to the reviews to the press, which part of this journey has been: the best, the worst, the most surreal, the most satisfying?
DA: The best: the community of writers. I’ve made some of my very best friends through the writing process, and I can’t imagine my life without them now. Writers, bloggers, booksellers, librarians, and people in publishing—I am just so grateful to be part of this community.
The worst: I’m not sure when it happens, but at some point between starting the manuscript and your book sitting on a shelf, there is a loss of innocence. I’m not complaining at all. But it’s hard to describe. It’s like taking this thing that is just a little dream of yours, and then offering it up for any and all to see. It’s wonderful, but scary. And it loses a bit of that pie-in-sky innocence.
The most surreal: I’ve been lucky enough to have the book appear in a few pop culture magazines—that has definitely been the most surreal thing. It’s like, okay, there’s Drake, and, oh look, there’s me. Bizarre.
The most satisfying: knowing I wrote the most honest story I could.
SH: There may be a rumor circulating that your book has been selected to be made into a movie. Who would want in your dream cast?
DA: If I could cast it, I’d love to have some new up-and-comers, a cast of kids no one really knows yet. But seriously—if it ever got to this point, I’d be more than happy to sit back and let the professionals do their job.
SH: Do you have a soundtrack playing in mind as you write? Can you match songs for other people and/or events?
DA: I actually create a special soundtrack for the main characters in my book. Early on, I realized this afforded me an extra conduit into their heads. They’re mostly instrumental playlists—lots of scores by Alexandre Desplat, Jon Brion, Yann Tiersen mixed in with the occasional song by M. Ward, Elliott Smith, Bon Iver. I’ve never really tried matching songs to anything but characters—but I think I could probably create playlists for a few people in my life.
SH: What’s the best, most surprising question you’ve ever been asked? What question do you wish someone would ask?
DA: Best question: the one you asked about creating a new chip flavor! (I stand by my answer, by the way. Boulder Brand Extra Malt Vinegar & Sea Salt would make an exquisite chip.)
Question I wish someone would ask: Who edited Mosquitoland? I could go on all day about the genius of Ken Wright and Alex Ulyett at Viking. I’ve often wondered why editors don’t get a credit on the book’s jacket or back cover. Editors don’t just make the book better, they make the book a book. I owe so much to them, and will never forget how kind they’ve been to me, and how they challenged me to make Mosquitoland the best possible book it could be.
Books by David Arnold
Mosquitoland. Viking, 2015. 336p. $17.99. 978-0-451-47077-5.
David Arnold on the Internet
Author website: http://davidarnoldbooks.com/books/