One thing that is unimpressive about me is my taste in – and knowledge about – music.  Yet, I love YA books about music and Rock-N-Roll. It could have something to do with the fact that these books get the coolest covers in the history of book covers, or it could be that I perceive the authors to be cool as hell. If I ever get a book published I hope the band book authors will let me sit at their lunch table, wherever that is in the school of published books. Until I find it, I’ll hope to enjoy their company over here at Sparks and Butterflies.

Today, I’m thrilled Antony John has stopped by to talk about his YA band book, Five Flavors of Dumb, published by Dial Books. In this funny and feisty book, Piper finds herself managing the school’s coolest band, Dumb. They are somewhat aptly named, as it turns out; and the fact that Piper is deaf, only complicates matters as she attempts to earn the band paying gigs and notoriety.

I loved that the main character was a girl, which in my reading experience is unusual for the band books. And I would have liked to have been friends with Piper in high school. I also would have liked to have been friends with Antony John. Here are his answers to my interview questions:

Jody: So, why a girl for a main character? I assume that your being a dude would make it easier to write a guy main character, and the story could have been just as good with a male lead. So, I’m curious about that choice. I want to also say thank you for writing a strong lead female! I loved that there wasn’t a hint of mamby-pamby in Piper.

Antony: First off, I’m delighted you found Piper strong. I think she is, of course, but I’m also kind of biased. As
for why a girl . . .

The honest truth is that Piper literally presented herself as narrator of this novel. I’m not the kind of author who has dreams about my characters, or long conversations with them in the car when nobody’s looking, but Piper arrived more fully formed than any character I’ve ever written. I knew her voice, her attitude, her background . . . everything. It was kind of freaky, to be honest. And she really didn’t change from first draft to last.

Not that everything was smooth sailing. I had to ask my wife to explain some things: What’s it like to kiss a guy? What makes a guy attractive? etc. The good news is that she gave me VERY detailed answers . . . which made it into the book.

By the way, I won’t be writing from a girl’s perspective again any time soon. A lot of people have said I did an okay job of it, and I’m not keen to push my luck!

Jody: I loved the scene where Piper played the air guitar. When was the last time you played air guitar? Be honest.

Antony: Honestly? Uh, that’d be this morning, I think. Unless we were running late — oh yeah, we were running late; we’re always running late — in which case, it would’ve been last night. I’m not a very demonstrative air guitar player — I go more for the occasional strummed chord — but rarely a day passes without a moment of air guitar glory.

Jody: And I know that you studied music in college, so what instruments do you play for real?

Antony: Started with the piccolo (weird, huh?), and moved to flute. Then added piano. And started singing in choirs and taking lessons. And added double bass, because I wanted to be a composer and felt that my string writing was weak. When I got to Oxford, I began conducting choirs and orchestras. I think that’s everything. (Yes, I was a music geek. Well noticed.)

Jody: Describe your teenage self.

Antony: You know, I actually had quite a lot in common with Piper. I was highly opinionated, sometimes to a fault; I cared deeply about everything and everyone, but wasn’t always sure how best to communicate it; I hated being wrong, and was too competitive for my own good. But like Piper, I was also energetic, determined, passionate, and very, very loyal when it came to family and friends. I’m still very close to a lot of friends from my teen years — even though all of them live in England — so I guess I wasn’t completely insufferable.

Jody: What was last thing you were grounded for? If you don’t remember tell us a story of something you did that earned you a good grounding.

Antony: I know you won’t believe this, but I was never grounded. Not even once. This has something to do with the fact that I was generally very well behaved (and not at all rebellious), and also the fact that my older brother had been a bit of a handful at times, and so I think my parents were too exhausted to keep tabs on me.

In fact, when I look back, I realize I really ought to have rebelled at least a little. It’s assumed that everyone goes through some kind of teen rebellion, and I feel like I missed out. Now that I’m twenty years out of high school, it’s a little late to do anything about it.

Jody: Did you know that if you Google “random questions” you will end up on a site that asks, “have you ever sniffed an animal’s butt?” Well, it’s true. I will not ask you that question, but I did pull a random question for you from that list. It is, Have you ever been cow tipping or snipe hunting? I’m particularly interested in your answer because you haven’t lived in the States your whole life.

Antony: Are you suggesting that Brits don’t pass the time cow tipping or snipe hunting?

Jody: Maybe.

Antony: Oh, that’s right, Brits have no idea what those two things are, and neither did I until now.

*pauses so he can go look them up on Google*

Oh! Well, I can’t say I’ve done either of those. But I’m all for impossible tasks, so now I have something to do this weekend!

Jody: Okay, back to your book. We should end the interview with something book-related, no? What’s the best/most interesting thing someone has said about it?

Antony: Oh, golly. I must admit that DUMB has received a lot of reviews, and they’ve been a lot of fun to read. But I still vividly remember the first trade review (from Kirkus). Getting that first review is always a gut-check moment, and I thought Kirkus’ was both very generous and extremely well-written. Here’sthe link:

http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/childrens-books/antony-john/five-flavors-dumb/

I also loved a review by a 7th grader, Beatrice Drew, that appeared in (I think) the Denver Post. She loved the book, and thought it was ideal for 4th-6th graders! Given how many eyebrows have been raised by my single use of the F-word, I don’t think I should be pushing it on elementary school students just yet!

Jody: Well, I’ll definitely be pushing it to my 7th grader. Congratulations on your success with this book. I look forward to your next one. And thanks so much for stopping by!

Antony: Thanks so much for having me along today, Jody. And a big hello to your readers!

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