Asked for biographical details, Henry Clark admits that his mother was a dadaist and his father worked for La Mama, New York’s famed experimental theater. Pressed for further details, he produces strange, sepia photographs of dubious provenance that hint at further mysteries. Elusive though the details are, one thing is clear: He is the author of both What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World, published this year, and The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, which will be out in April 2015.
Here, he is taking time out from his busy writing schedule to answer questions from FanboyNation’s Jessica Greenlee.
Jessica Greenlee How did What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World get its start? Did the sofa come first or the human characters?
Henry Clark Well, I’m sure most of us, at one time or another, have wondered, “What would the works of J.R.R. Tolkien been like had he chosen to write about crayons instead of rings?” I decided the Middle Earth books would have been a lot more colorful, and I set about to explore the notion. Instead of finding a ring in a damp old cave, my diminutive hero finds a zucchini-colored crayon between the cushions of a sofa, and the Sauron character—now cast as billionaire industrialist Edward Disin—comes looking for it. So the crayon came first, then the sofa, then the human characters. Disin (rhymes with listen; his company is the Disin Corporation) is afflicted with Compulsive Completist Disorder, which compels him to complete collections, and he already has all the other crayons. Compulsive Completist Disorder, by the way, is a trait that practically defines fanboys and fangirls, so I’m sure your readers can relate.
JG Will there be a sequel?
HC My publisher will be looking at the sequel in January 2014. The sofa winds up in New York’s Algonquin Hotel, registered under the name Dorothy Parker, and the kids accidentally knock down the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, so it’s a holiday tale. Oh, and there’s a Hollywood-style red carpet interview where the interviewee is a steaming pile of dinosaur poop, so it’s also subtle social satire. We’ll see how my editor reacts.
JG You list the Victory Garden Crayon colors as “Zucchini, Beet, Leek, Mangelwurzel, Carrot, Eggplant, Pumpkin, Asparagus, Celery, Squash, Mushroom, Potato, Spinach, Rutabaga, Mustard, and Kidney Bean. What is Mangelwurzel? Have you ever tried it?
HC All right, the only way you could know all the Victory Garden crayon colors would be from finding one of the Easter eggs on the indorsia.com website, and as the webmaster repeatedly states on the site, the site has no Easter eggs. So I don’t know how you know this. But as to mangelwurzel, it was kicked out of the beet family by the other beets, and is best known as the vegetable originally hollowed out to be used as a jack o’lantern before the powerful pumpkin lobby sidelined it. My grandmother was famous for her mangelwurzel jam, which was nice on toast, and could also be used to mortar bricks together.
JG Have you ever met an intelligent sofa?
HC I went to school with a couch that was there on a scholarship. An interior design major. It earned extra money in the campus coffee house by collecting loose change from the pockets of students who made themselves comfortable. And some of my best friends are easy chairs. Despite their loose morals.
JG What is your next book, The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, about?
HC It contains an irrefutable proof of the existence of time travel, the literary equivalent of finding an iPhone in King Tut’s mummy case or a fossilized snow-blower in the La Brea tar pits. Once it’s published, I expect to win the Nobel Prize for Time Travel Research, unless somebody from the future comes back, steals my idea, and the prize has already been awarded. But we’d know that, if it’s already happened, right? At least, I think we would. My publisher recently sent me out on a trans-temporal book promotion tour—I thought the tour would have been closer to the book’s publication date, but my publisher said it’s time travel you moron; it doesn’t matter—and that’s where the picture of me I’ve provided to accompany this interview came from. That’s me in the Library of Alexandria, circa 48 BC. The librarian kept telling me to put out my cigar, but all the ashtrays had scrolls in them…
JG Where do you usually work on your books? Have you got one specific place?
HC Most of Sofa was written in a storage room on the second floor of John Layton’s General Store, a Civil War era mercantile on the grounds of Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a museum on Long Island where costumed docents recreate nineteenth-century life. Then the museum management found me and kicked me out. Now I write in my basement office, between the washing machine and the furnace. I really miss the old-time fiddle music.
JG What do you read for fun?
HC The usual suspects. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books; Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series. One page a day of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day—that’s the most I can process in one sitting. Old New Yorker humorists like Robert Benchley, S.J. Perelman, and James Thurber (I’m curious to see what they’ve done to Thurber’s Walter Mitty in the remade movie version). I just finished Jack Gantos’ Dead End in Norvelt and liked the gothic humor of it. I refuse to start reading A Song of Ice and Fire until George R.R. Martin finishes the thing.
JG Is there anything you haven’t been asked that you wish you had? And what is the answer?
HC I haven’t been asked, “How does it feel to be here tonight, nominated for the Best Screenplay Oscar based on your own novel?” To which my answer would be probably be, “Watch out! Don’t step in the steaming pile of dinosaur poop!”
JG Thank you again for taking the time to do this.
HC My pleasure.