I love the way nonfiction writing has changed over the years from strictly factual to entertaining while educating, and Tim J. Myers, author of the new book Rude Dude’s Book of Food, is a master at it! I was lucky enough to get to interview him and here’s what he has to say about writing great books.
Me: Thank you so much for letting me pick your brain about writing! First, I love to see how books start out. I know you have a love of history and food, but at what point did you decide to turn the interesting information your mind collected into a book?
Tim: I love this question, since as a writer I can’t help but wonder about what makes us write, both in general and on a specific project like Rude Dude. As human beings, we all have our interests, but what tips the scales to the point that you choose all the work involved in writing a book? A big part of it for me was my equally intense love of stories – I began to read stories that really interested me. But the biggest single thing was that I began to hear Rude Dude’s voice in my head and realized I had to scratch that itch. And of course along with that came the realization that I might be able to make food history fun and interesting for young readers.
Me: I hear from so many authors that they can hear their characters’ voices and I know I hear them when I write. Rude Dude’s voice is certainly energetic along with knowledgable! While it seems the stories just role off your tongue, I know how much research is involved in writing nonfiction. How did you choose the topics that ended up in the final manuscript?
Tim: I wish I could give a serious and official-sounding answer, but the fact is that I simply chose foods I really love! Holy cow – I let my stomach lead me rather than my brain! I should add, though, that I also knew that all these foods are super-popular on a global scale, so I figured I could find amazing facts and fascinating histories associated with them.
Me: I can tell that you love what you write and I think that is why your book is so fun! I know that there are other things though, that you have to consider when making a book, like making sure it isn’t too long or too short. Are there any topics you wish you had included? Will they possibly show up in a “next book” or do you just file them away and move on to what your mind is working on next?
Tim: That’s an insightful question – you seem to know how my mind works! I’ve actually collected a fair amount of research on other foods – corn, bananas, cookies, sugar, etc. – that interest me. I don’t mean that I did specific research, but I kept whatever I encountered that seemed as if it could be part of a second Rude Dude book. And who knows? Maybe someday there will be one. I do a lot of that – filing things away – in actual file cabinets – while I’m working on other things.
Me: If Rude Dude makes another appearance, I will be the first in line! You wrote the book in such a way that you could expand the concept (and narrator) into teaching and entertaining us with many more aspects of history. Do you see a different kind of story in Rude Dude’s future?
Tim: I appreciate that comment and question! Yes – definitely yes. It’s an open-ended format, and maybe I’ll get the chance to do more with it. That kind of thing generally depends on factors beyond my control – like what editors are interested in, what the public seems to want, etc.
Me: As a writer, you are all over the map. Nonfiction, poems, picture books, songs, and much, much more. What would you say is the common element in your writing that you want to reach your readers?
Tim: I love this question, mainly because I think the answer is somewhat mysterious. Many artists, it seems to me, are motivated less by thoughts than by impulses, by some vague but powerful sense of interest in something or desire to shape some as-yet-not-fully imagined idea or story. And that’s certainly true for me. In one sense, there’s no specific thematic unity in all I do, since I’m interested in and compelled by lots of different topics and literary forms. On the other, I’d have to say that my core impulse is to both explore and celebrate the wild, beautiful, sometimes terrible reality of life in the world, including the astonishing nature of human beings. All of which is to me a very sacred thing. So if I can help kids laugh as they’re learning about the complexities and amazements of food history, I’m actually serving that core impulse, even if only in a smaller, specific way.
Me: There’s no “smaller way” about it – you have jumped in with both feet! Another way you spend an enormous amount of your life helping people is as a senior lecturer at Santa Clara University in California. Most writers I know also have a “day job” and must try to find a balance between that and their writing. How do you balance the two?
Tim: Yes – finding that balance is an ongoing challenge! I love teaching, and see it for the crucially important thing it is, so I give a lot to my students. But I also need to write. There are a couple of great “tricks” for making it all work out, but they’re hardly magical! One is simply working very, very hard. Another is time management; I’ve learned how to squeeze my time for maximum efficiency. For example, I sometimes write or do other work in my head as I’m riding my bike to work. And since I do a lot of different things, nothing ever feels boring or tiresome, and that keeps my energy and interest up. I also try to stay healthy. But I’ve learned too to listen to my body and mind when they’re overworked and just need a rest.
Me: I completely agree! I get some of my best ideas and problem solving done for my stories while I am resting or taking a break from the fast pace of life. I get to rejuvenate and go back rested and ready to make great progress. Tim, I can’t thank you enough for sharing all of your insights about writing and for going the extra mile to make sure readers everywhere can have access to Rude Dude’s fascinating finds! I can’t wait to see what you do next!
For more information on Tim J. Myers, please visit his website …timmyersstorysong.com