Interview with Markus Zusak Part 1 of 2

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by Mike

The View From Here Interview: Markus Zusak

At the age of 30, Zusak has already asserted himself as one of today’s most innovative and poetic novelists. With the publication of The Book Thief, he is now being dubbed a ‘literary phenomenon’ by Australian and U.S critics. The Book Thief topped the New York Times Bestseller List and Zusak is the award-winning author of four previous books for young adults: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, and I Am the Messenger, recipient of a 2006 Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature. He lives in Sydney.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your hobbies.

I’ve never thought of myself as being a hobbies person, I don’t know, but generally I’ve always read, and lately I go surfing early in the morning, before starting work.

What's your ideal night?

Lately it’s having dinner at my daughter’s miniature Ikea table with her and my wife, getting the girl to bed (sometimes as soon as possible!), then eating ice cream and watching The Sopranos or Six Feet Under. I might do a last bit of writing before bed, and then read bits and pieces of a few books (a bad habit). It’s pretty simple really, and I probably sound like a boring old slob getting stuck into the ice cream watching telly, but it’s true.

What is your favourite book?

A favourite has always been What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I think it shows that great characters make great books.

How did you get your first publishing deal and how did that feel?

I guess I’m what you call a slush-piler. I just sent my manuscripts to the slush pile of publishers and hoped for the best. Over seven years, I was rejected seven times on three different books. The fourth attempt was picked up by a small publisher, and I still have great memories of staying up all night, talking to my brother and sisters (my dad called me at 2:30 in the morning because I was overseas).

How do people react to you when they find out you're a writer?

It can go in almost any direction. Some people have no idea what to do with it. Some tell you about the book they would write, if only they had the time. On the whole, though, people are generally very positive and interested, because they haven’t met a writer before. They usually want to know all about it, from the discipline of actually doing the work, to how a writer gets paid. My friends, though, they usually rib me about how I just sleep in and watch Oprah and that I don’t really have a proper job. I’ve given up arguing now, so I just agree with them, even though half the time I realise I’ve started work before they have. Still, it’s best to keep the romantic idea alive. If they call around midday and ask if they woke me, I always say yes.

Has your life changed in any way following the huge success of The Book Thief?

It sounds dramatic in a way, but that book has definitely changed my life. First it was in the writing, because while you always write a book that means something to you, once in a while you’re lucky enough to write one that means everything to you, and that’s what The Book Thief is for me. The fact that it has done so much more than I could ever have imagined (I thought it would be my least successful book) has also meant that I don’t have to work other jobs as well. I can make a living just by writing.

How did you feel weaving the stories your mother told you about life in Germany during the war into the story, was it an emotional process?

I think I’m more an emotional person than an emotional writer. When I’m actually writing, I only think of what I feel is right for the book. Even though I can get emotional at a certain point, I still feel like there’s a part of me that tries only to make the book work, rather than worry what people may think of it, or in the case of The Book Thief, how my parents might react. I pretty much try to ignore the audience altogether.

How did your family end up living in Australia?

My parents both immigrated in the late 50s from Germany and Austria. They met in Sydney, and my father, who was always planning to go back to Austria, stayed because my mother had no intention of going back to Germany. Four kids later they are still here. They’ve been Australian for fifty years or so.

Part 2 of this interview on Thursday.

Read TVFH book review of The Book Thief here.

For The Book Thief's web site click here.
For Markus Zusak's web site click here.

And coming Friday The Lone Ranger reports on the London Book Thief Project by Random House and The View From Here. A sneak peak opposite.

Click here for part 2.

For a printed edition of this interview go to issue 10 of The View From Here by clicking here.


Delighted Scribbler said...

Nice Interview. Makes me want to read The Book Thief.

Mike French said...

You won't be disappointed DS - it was one of my fav reads last year.