You’ve written both middle grade and young adult novels. How is the writing experience different for these age groups?
The writing experience isn't that different for me. The process of creating interesting characters, developing a story, and revising is pretty much the same. It's more a question of where i want to hang out in my mind for the next several months: with twelve or seventeen year olds. Because Larry is older, there's more freedom in terms of things he can do but the writing process is the same.
Josh’s feelings for Beth and Janine often motivate him to take action. If it weren’t for them, would Josh have started an anti-consumerist website, ran for president, and joined Gus’s group? In other words, what exactly motivates Josh?
Josh doesn't like to think about how much of his motivation is driven by girls. It's the part of himself he's pretty embarrassed about. When he was younger he had such a difficult time with girls and now he has two great young women in his life. He doesn't quite know how to handle it. Even without Beth and Janine, he'd be an activist; it's just a matter of how much. The other woman who's woven into Josh's motivation is his mother. Even though she's been dead for years, she factors heavily into the decisions he makes.
How do Thoreau’s teachings guide Josh through a difficult period in his life? How does being at Walden pond invigorate Josh? Briefly discuss your own thoughts on Thoreau.
Walden Pond is one of my sacred places; I go there all the time. Every season gives you something different to take away. It really is a magical place. It's pure chance how Thoreau ended up being integral to the books. In the first draft of The Gospel According to Larry, Josh quoted Kafka to me in the parking lot, but as I revised, I thought the Thoreau quote was more appropriate. Once Thoreau got into the book, his words spread through the pages until he became an organic piece of the story. His words are very comforting to Josh who feels barraged by our consumerist culture. That's one of the great things about books - a reader can find a literary soulmate whose words resonate. As a reader myself, i look for those writers all the time. Josh is very lucky to have found Thoreau; lots of kids are. It was exciting to learn from educators that 'Larry" is often taught with 'Walden' at schools. Walden may be a challenging text to read, but Thoreau's message is just as important today. Simplify, simplify.
What is the most important lesson Josh learns from his experience studying with Gus? What does this say about life in general?
Every reader takes his own message away, but for me, Josh learns that all he really can be is himself -- as flawed as he is. A person can spend so much of their life trying to discover his or her 'real' self when it's who you are to begin with. Josh discovers he's imperfect, he always will be, but that doesn't mean he can't affect positve change today. I think it's something that applies to all of us. I also love that this big 'guru' is just a regular guy. Josh learns everyone on his path can be a teacher.
Discuss the whole concept of skewing or playing with Josh’s reality that you put into play in this book.
All the Larry books are about bending reality. As a novelist, I play with reality all day, but with the Larry books I go a bit further, surfing the line between fiction and non-fiction even to the point where my main character doesn't know what's real. I love books that do that; as a reader. I had no idea who was pulling the strings behind Josh's reality until i wrote the climactic scene. Even i was surprised, which for me as a writer, is the biggest thrill there is.
Josh says that it’s difficult for him to let people see the ‘real’ Josh. In your opinion, who is the real Josh? Who is Larry? Are they one and the same?
After three books, Josh and Larry are pretty interwoven in my mind; I think about them interchangeably. What’s funny is how I think of them as real. When my husband goes to the town dump and comes back with more stuff than he brought, I just look at him and say, "That is so not Larry." Even i don't know what's real with Larry anymore - I never go to Bloomingdales but found myself in the makeup department there last month and suddenly stopped to listen to the people walking by and talking - I was living inside one of my books!
What are some of your favorite comments from fans about the Larry books?
I get letters and emails every week from people who want to talk about Larry. The question that's asked most often, of course, is whether Larry is real. I usually answer that he is to me. But the letters I love are from kids who've gotten politically active, are working on candidate campaigns or grassroot issues, have gotten soda companies out of their school, have been turned on to Thoreau, or who have whittled down their possessions. Larry speaks to a lot of kids which is great. I also get lots of opinions about Larry's love life. I never would've thought to create Janine if so many students weren't so interested in Larry and Beth.
This is your third book about “Larry.” What do you hope readers will take from this latest installment? What’s next?
I want readers to have fun when they're reading Larry and the Meaning of Life
. Kids have to do so much reading for school, I want them to just kick back and have a good time. If they end up thinking about their own lives, that's cool too. I have another Larry in my head I can't wait to write - if you think i tortured the poor guy this time around, just wait! I sit on my couch and literally laugh out loud when i write these books - it's not a bad way to spend the day.