What was the first creative piece you wrote?
A short story starring me. I entered a video game tournament, and I was utterly unstoppable. In the end, I won an all-expenses-paid trip to Florida with my best friend and my dog.
What was the initial inspiration behind your first novel?
I’ve wanted to write books my entire life. I wanted them to be brooding, serious books that people in black turtle necks talked about for hours over cappuccinos in Manhattan. I wanted them to be so brilliant that I psyched myself out and couldn’t write a word.
I had what you might call a crisis when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child. “I want this child to know she can do anything she wants to in life.” That’s one of the first thoughts I had. And in thinking that, I realized my child wouldn’t believe me if I’d been too cowardly to do the one thing I wanted to do in life.
So I said screw the people in black turtle necks and decided I was going to write whatever the hell I wanted. Put another way, I decided I was going to stop trying so hard and start having fun. What I ended up writing was something that’d never occurred to me to write: a fantasy story for middle graders (kids ages 8-12 or so).
The book was inspired by these gruesome ’80s trading cards I love called The Garbage Pail Kids. They got me thinking about a world where kids had truly bizarre superpowers.
I eventually got an agent for the book (Jenny Bent), and I’m still working on revisions four years later. I think it’s getting close to the point where she can try to sell it.
In what ways do you think having a family has changed you as an author?
The first thing that popped into my head was an image of Sisyphus pushing an enormous boulder up a hill for all eternity. We’ve got three little kids, so the boulder’s always there. I can only duck away from it for few minutes of writing now and then.
That probably sounds bad, but I don’t mean it that way. Having a family changes everything, and most of it’s good.
Like I said, I probably wouldn’t have finished a book if I weren’t a dad. And being one reminds me everyday that being playful, fun and creative is part of being a human.
I say to my daughter, “let’s do some drawing.” Instantly, she says “okay, dad.”
And she sits down and makes these beautiful little drawings with absolutely zero self-consciousness or inhibition. It reminds me we’re all capable of doing that.
What most reliably reinvigorates you when you feel like giving up on writing?
I’ve built up this narrative in my head that writing is the one thing that’s irrevocably mine. Almost every other minute of my life is dictated by outside forces. It’s work or eating or reading The Berenstain Bears to the kids. So I remind myself that giving up on writing would be giving up on the one thing I choose to do. I think we all need one thing that’s ours. And even if I’m doing that one thing badly, I tell myself I’d rather be in the game playing terribly than sitting on the sidelines.
Creatively speaking, what are you working on currently?
Beyond my first book, I send out weekly emails. They’re short nonfiction essays inspired by writing and life (sign up here!). I’m also working sporadically on an illustrated book for our kids. All three of our kids are in it, and they’re being hounded by a creature called the Wicked Wigman. He has a gigantic pair of scissors, and if he cuts off a lock of their hair, he can control their bodies like a puppeteer.
Illustration by Fred for the Wicked Wigman
What authors are speaking to you most of late?
Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss. My desert island authors are Haruki Murakami, Stephen King and George Martin.
How do you feel about the state of the book industry and what would you change about it if you could?
Running Daytonlit.com has taught me there are a lot more readers and writers out there than people realize. They’re not in the streets, though. They’re not on Instagram. They’re curled up with a book.
Often, I wonder what the U.S. would be like if it divided in two and television was outlawed on one side. What kind of society would the TV-free half have? I’m certain we’d read more. We’d make more art. We’d dance.
Maybe my change would be making TV illegal for one month every year.
Once again in tribute to The Uncommon Geek, I am going to ask THE question. Do you prefer Star Trek, Star Wars, or both, and why?
Give me Star Trek: The Next Generation. I grew up with Picard, Data and Deanna Troi, and I fell asleep dreaming about the Holodeck. I didn’t see any of the Star Wars movies until I was in my 20s and I started with Episode 1. That was probably a bad idea. I couldn’t get over the acting. The original trilogy is such a part of our culture, I felt like I’d already seen it by the time I watched it (I do love Rogue One and Solo, though). If I can throw a third series into the mix, I think Stargate Atlantis is ridiculously underrated (and SGU even more… I wish they wouldn’t have cancelled it!).
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Fred has consistently been one of the nicest, most thoughtful fellows and authors I have had the pleasure of meeting in person. His passion for his work and his family always inspires and uplifts me.
Fredrick Marion is hard at work on his first novel, The Very Strange and Very Secret Trashcan Club, with representation by The Bent Agency. A former newspaper columnist and technology writer, he publishes daytonlit.com and a weekly email newsletter for artists around the world.
He also has an official website here: fredrickmarion.com