MORTON RHUE INTERVIEWS TODD
MR: You once owned and operated a fortune cookie company.
TS: At the beginning of my writing career I was unable to earn enough money from books to support myself so I started the cookie company to supplement my income.
MR: Why would anyone want to buy your fortune cookies?
TS: Mine were, uh, slightly risqué.
MR: Such as?
TS: When in Rome, ask for Florence.
MR: That’s not very risqué.
TS: Maybe that’s why the cookies didn’t sell very well. But they helped pay the bills and allowed me to spend more of my time writing than I would have if I’d had “a real” job.
MR: Time to write more than 140 novels.
TS: Some of them were novelizations of movies. FALLOUT is actually my 100th original work of book-length fiction.
MR: You tried some other forms of creative writing, such as television and movies. But you chose to return to books.
TS: To me, fiction gives the writer the most freedom and the least interference from outside… unwanted … “participants.” Novels are one of the most “singular” forms of writing, as compared to TV and movies where many people have a say in the eventual “product.” It’s true that with books an editor has some influence, but in most cases I’ve found that the editor’s comments are helpful.
MR: You write many different kinds of fiction: Humor, realism, adventure, fantasy, mystery, but FALLOUT is your first attempt at both a memoir and revisionist history.
TS: I think I’d get bored if I just wrote the same sort of book again and again. So I like to try different kinds of stories and different ways to tell them. Some readers may consider FALLOUT a significant departure from my other books, but to me it feels like the next logical step for someone who’s done so many other kinds of writing.
MR: I guess that makes sense for someone who took up surfing at the age of 52.
TS: I’d wanted to learn for a long time and finally did it during a vacation in Hawaii with my kids. Fifty-two is probably a bit late in the game to take it up, but I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. I’ve even created a new literary genre, surf poetry.
MR: Looks like that would be a good segue into the inevitable story-of-your-life part of this interview.
TS: I’ll keep it brief. I was born in New York City. When I was young my parents moved to Roslyn Heights, New York (Long Island). I went to the I.U. Willets Elementary school and then attended the Wheatley School for junior high and high school. My best subjects were math and science. I had difficulty learning to read and also had trouble with spelling and grammar. I went New York University for a few years, and then dropped out, lived on a commune, then hitchhiked through Europe where I was a street musician.
MR: You play the guitar.
TS: Very badly, but the Europeans didn’t seem to mind. Actually, I did pretty well financially because people would listen for one song, realize how bad I was, leave some money and run away as fast as they could. So I had a lot of turnover. But, strangely, I recently wrote and performed a song for American radio. It’s called “My Mother Was the Other Guy” and it’s been played on NPR’s Car Talk.
MR: So you wanted to be a song writer?
TS: I just wanted to write, period. Songs, poems, letters, books, TV and movie scripts. When I returned to the United States, I went to Beloit College where I studied literature and writing. After college, I worked as a reporter for the Middletown Times Herald-Record newspaper in Middletown, New York, and later as a copy writer at Compton Advertising in New York City. In 1978, I sold my first novel, ANGEL DUST BLUES.
MR: Which was a YA. But you also write middle-grade books.
TS: In 1993 I wrote HELP! I'M TRAPPED IN MY TEACHER'S BODY, the first book in the Help! I'm Trapped... series, which eventually grew to 17 books. I’ve got a new middle-grade series starring the Tardy Boys.
MR: Back to YAs. I hear there’s good news about the Time Zone High trilogy.
TS: Yes, I’m thrilled that Simon and Schuster reissued HOW I CHANGED MY LIFE, HOW I CREATED MY PERFECT PROM DATE and HOW I SPENT MY LAST NIGHT ON EARTH. They’re among my favorites.
MR: HOW I CREATED MY PERFECT PROM DATE was made into the movie DRIVE ME CRAZY.
TS: In my humble opinion, the book is way better.
MR: Some of your books have very different protagonists. In BOOT CAMP the main character is a wealthy Caucasian teenager who is forced to go to a boot camp. In IF I GROW UP the “hero” is an impoverished young African-American.
TS: The characters have more common than you might expect. Both feel oppressed by their socio-economic circumstances, albeit from very different ends of the economic spectrum. I didn’t realize that until I started writing IF I GROW UP. It came as quite a surprise.
MR: And, like the main characters in CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE and GIVE A BOY A GUN, both books focus on kids who consider themselves outsiders.
TS: Having felt like an outsider myself for most of my teenage years, I guess it makes sense that I’d write about them. I suspect I relate to them better than someone who was in the high school “in” crowd.
MR: There’s one last question I’m dying to ask you. BOOT CAMP has been published in Germany and lists me as the author. In fact, this is the fourth time you used my name on the German translation of one of your books. I’m flattered, of course, but I’ve never understood why you didn’t use your own name.
TS: The answer goes back more than 20 years to the original publication of my book THE WAVE. The same publisher was also publishing my novel FRIEND TILL THE END at the same time and didn’t want me to use my name on both books. Todd is vaguely similar to the German word for dead and Strasser in German means street. Dead Street translated into French is Mort Rue and somehow that became Morton Rhue.
MR: You mean, I’m not a real person?
TS: Sorry, but if it makes you feel better, you are my favorite pseudonym.