“What. Is. This?”
“That is a box.”
“And what. Can I. PUT. Inside it?”
I scanned the shop for any sign of a hidden camera or punch line but, finding none, I answered with as straight a face as possible,
“Um, anything that is smaller than the box?”
And it’s true. You can put lots of things in boxes. Shoes, presents, knick-knacks, curios, belly button lint, cats belonging to theoretical physicists. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. As an author, people are always trying to put you in boxes. This must be true because there pictures below that prove it.
My first book was set in India, which led people to immediately ask “Oh, so it’s likeShantaram?” To which I would reply; “Yes, all stories set in India are essentially identical in theme and structure. Much like all films set in the USA are basically indistinguishable, like Sleepless in Seattle and Terminator 2 for instance.” One of the things that I am most proud of about that book is that is has been filed under everything from philosophy to adventure to comedy to literary fiction. That, and a pretty girl once sent me a photo of herself reading it naked.
Likewise, it seems abundantly strange to me that more authors don’t write for a wider range of ages. Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman all write books for kids as well as adults, and yet there still seems to be a prevailing attitude that authors should write exclusively for one group or the other. When I set out to write a book for a younger audience, I never considered the fact that this should restrict either my vocabulary or thematic content. Zeb and the Great Ruckus is, for the purpose of bookstore shelf filing and Dewey decimal system appeasement, a children’s novel. It is also, however, a novel that essentially warns against the dangers of an overly authoritative government that oppresses its citizens through constant surveillance and restricting individual expression and art. It’s just that it does this through the viewpoint of a pair of twelve year old kids who go on a fantastic and hilarious adventure.
Sometimes we shouldn’t try and fit things into boxes. Think of literature like a bird, you could cram it into a tidy little box and file it away under neat little labels, but you’d be much better off letting it spread its wings and fly. And not just because a dead bird in your filing cabinet is going to stink like hell.
From Jessica: If anyone is interested in reading my review of Josh's book, click here.