The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout

There are not a lot of books I am inclined to like just on title alone, but I have to tell you, Kid vs. Squid is one of them. Because, come on! Kids! Squids! You can’t lose. Fortunately, however, there’s more going on here than a truly excellent title, and author Greg Van Eekhout has come by to explain how an extended fit of author pique ended of generating a story of kids, squids, and Atlantis.

GREG VAN EEKHOUT:

I was feeling really out of sorts one day. I don’t remember why. Lumps in my Malt-O-Meal, insufficient sock elasticity, who knows? Probably the world had once again failed to recognize my special snowflake status. In any case, I got angry about it (whatever it was) and I decided I was going to show them. Who “them” was and what, precisely, I was planning to show, I had no idea. But I would show them by writing something. In fact, I would write a whole bunch of things, one thing a day, for as long as my anger lasted. I asked friends and readers on my blog to send me words to use as story prompts, and they sent seventeen of them, and so I wrote seventeen little stories on consecutive days. (And if you want you can check out the full output of my FROTHING RAGE here.)

The word for Day 7 was flotsam, which is a fine, fine word, and I started my morning writing session with my customary very large Americano, a lemon scone, and a big dollop of anticipation for the fun I’d have crafting a little story around this word.

So. Flotsam. Junk floating on the sea. What would be an interesting thing to find floating on the sea? People? Okay, go with that. And where are they going to land? Um. Um. Sip coffee, chew scone … a beachside boardwalk? Okay, go with that. From there, the notion formed very quickly that these people land on the beach at the beginning of every summer and they work the cotton candy stands and T-shirt shops and midway games and carnival rides and tattoo parlors. And then, after Labor Day, the sea calls them back and they trudge across the beach and walk into the water and their lungs fill with brine and, once again, they drown.

Post to blog, finish scone, go to Day Job, and possibly be a fraction less angry with the world.

Most of the stories I wrote for these exercises were quickly forgotten, several were sold to the very fine science fiction podcast Escape Pod, but “Flotsam” kept scratching at me. Many an idle moment was interrupted by my brain going, “Dude, wait, who are these weird flotsam people? Where do they come from? How’d they get to be flotsam people? Not cool to leave your own brain hanging like this, dude.”

I found these questions sufficiently scratchy that I decided to answer them in a book. Even a short novel requires a commitment to months or years of work, so you really do want to make sure the scratchiness driving you to write a novel reaches all the way down to your bones. This one was hitting marrow.

Obviously, this had to be a book about Atlantis. Just as obviously, this also had to be a book about the weird town where the Atlanteans washed ashore every summer. I grew up near Venice, California, which was plenty weird but not quite in the ways I wanted it to be, and this book would be my chance to create a town with just the right kind of weird. This had to be a town with human-jellyfish hybrids, and haunted arcades, and lost and forgotten dark rides beneath the wreckage of old amusement parks.

And I wanted it to be a middle-grade novel (middle grade being a publishing category aimed at readers between the ages of eight and twelve), because I wanted this to be a summer vacation book, a book with weird magic and absurd situations, a book about having the best friends you’ll ever have, a book mixing humor and adventure, and a book about beginning to become the person you will be for the rest of your life. I wanted to write the book I needed when I was eight or ten or twelve but couldn’t find.

Also, one day when I was on the beach in San Diego I spotted this kelp man stomping across the sand. And I wanted to write the kind of book where guys like this make sense.

In the end, I don’t know if I ever showed anything to that amorphous “them” who’d made me so angry, but I do know that I’ve never had a more joyously fun time writing than I did with Kid vs. Squid. If readers experience even a fraction of that fun reading it, then I will be a very satisfied writer boy.

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Kid Vs. Squid: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Greg Van Eekhout’s LiveJournal. Follow him on Twitter.

27 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout

  1. Okay. I’m 53 years old, and I hardly ever read books pitched to the age range this one is when I was in that age range. But I really want to read this. It just sounds like fun.

  2. Do these kelp people KNOW you have a camera? In this day and age I’d think they’d want to restrict their amphibious takeover preparations to nighttime.

  3. My wife the third grade teacher is constantly complaining about how while everybody and their uncle is writing a young adult novel for teenagers, there’s very little of quality for the third grade set.

    It’s become doubly an issue for us as our kid is a seven year old precocious reader. He burns through a book in a day, and we are running out!

  4. Cool concept. But how peacefully do the flotsam people coexist with the jetsam people? Perhaps the sequel is already in the works…

  5. Marvelous name and idea!

    I will read it. I am afraid I would not have read it at age 8 though. I had to leave in the middle of the movie – Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory (the original) because it was way too weird and everyone was treating it like it was normal.

    I have talked to others about this fear. My very informal poll shows only a very small percentage of children were/are like me. (frightened at the bizarreness of things.) Now I am fascinated by the bizarre and love anything that makes things feel surreal.

  6. Sounds interesting, I’ll have to keep this in mind for the kids.

    It bothers me that the squid on the cover has eyebrows….

  7. Steve Burnap:

    For third graders, I recommend MT Anderson’s Thrilling Tales series: Whales on Stilts, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, & Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware. Funny and smart, all three. Maybe a little too advanced for third graders but really, really brilliant: The True Meaning of Smek Day by Adam Rex.

    Jackie M:

    Kelp Guy was probably too focused on making it back to his Miller Lite to notice my camera.

  8. Steve Burnap:

    Oh, I also very strongly recommend Sarah Prineas’s Magic Thief series (disclosure: she’s one of my best pals and blurbed Kid vs. Squid).

    Sarah is also largely responsible for my title. She’s clever, that one.

  9. Greg: *San Diego fistbump*

    Also, Steve Burnap, you can always turn your kid onto John Bellairs. You know, the dude who wrote The House With The Clock In Its Walls. Classic stuff.

  10. Keri:

    Where’d the marine layer go today? It’s all bright and burny out now.

    For any interested San Diegans, I’m going to be part of the Mysterious Galaxy Summer Reading Gala with Richard Harland, Barrie Summy, Meghan Whalen Turner, and Cindy Pon, on Tues. May 25, 7:00pm. All the details here.

  11. Greg van Eekhout: Thanks for the suggestions! But I think we’re gonna try out this thing called “Kid vs. Squid” first. (It’s on its way via Amazon Prime.)

  12. I try so very hard not to be overly impulsive, but this post just pushed me over the edge. Daughter’s 11th birthday is on Sunday, and now I have this book on hold at the local B&N. (And I can’t wait to read it after she does.)

  13. BTW, Pennywhistle is still my favorite story grenade. I always think of it when people are talking about good flash fiction.

  14. I just happen to need to be in Pasadena on Friday, so Vroman’s is holding a copy for me.

  15. I’ll be looking for the book come June, cuz I’m broke right now. Having read Norse Code I expect good things from Kid vs. Squid.

    And Greg, I’ll be at the reading on Monday.

  16. Just wanted to post here to say that the book arrived Friday, and my 9 year-old is already deep into it. He says it’s great!

    Please write more books like this one, Greg.

  17. Hey, Nick from the O.C.:

    So very happy to hear that the nine year-old’s enjoying it!

    I’m putting the finishing touches on the next book, a post-apocalyptic middle-grade. It’s probably less funny (on account of the apocalypse), but I’m still hoping the kid audiences will dig it. It’s got a cloned pygmy mammoth that poops an awful lot. So, I’m pandering a little.

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