He’s a fellow Austinite, so that little piece of information should solidify that he’s a legit author. He also is author to a witty and hilarious tale of friendship that all kids need to read. As I mentioned in my review, How to Make Friends and Monsters, Bates uses “witty writing, humorous monologue, mischief and mayhem, that will leave you laughing and understanding the true meaning of friendship!”
So of course I wanted to host him here! Not only do we get the regular 4 Questions, but a few bonus questions about Howard Boward, inspiration of characters and a love of monsters!
Ron Bates is a writer, journalist and humor columnist who has produced creative work for a variety of mediums. He began his career as a newspaper reporter, and his frequently funny takes on life caught the attention of Legacy Publishing, which hired him as a resident humor-columnist for their three regional magazines. As a freelance writer, Ron’s work include the children’s story Arnold Bought a Bug, and St. Mary’s and the Art of War, the true story of how Italian POW’s transformed in a tiny Texas church. Rob is the author of the Cranium Comics series Brawn, the inspirational play Flight 1615, and Underground Ink, a collection of humorous poems. As an award-winning copy-writer, Ron lives and works in Texas.
1. What is something about your life right now that you would have never imagined 5 years ago?
That anyone would want my autograph. I still feel like I should apologize whenever I sign a book, it’s this sense that I’ve somehow left a permanent blotch on an otherwise perfect page. Getting to do something like that is an honor and one of the most gratifying parts of the book-writing experience but it’s surreal. I guess it’s because authors aren’t accustomed to being onstage — the book is the star, we’re somewhere back behind the curtain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful but I always half-expect people to say they’re joking and then pull the book away.
2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
The hard part is limiting it to just one thing. But, looking back, my biggest regret is the time I wasted. It’s not a matter of wishing I’d worked harder or longer, it’s more about wishing I’d seen the path earlier. Writing a book was always something I was going to do “someday.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that any day can be someday–it’s not some magical point in the future. In hindsight, there were an awful lot of some days I let slip away while I was waiting for some huge, life-changing moment.
3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
In college, I joined the speech team mainly because it was a good way to meet people and you got to travel to events around the country. We were at nationals one year in Kansas City and a group of us came up with a game we called “elevator Frisbee.” The name pretty much says it all — we divided and got into elevators facing each other and, when the doors opened on the next floor, we’d throw the Frisbee to someone waiting in the elevator on the other side. This continued all the way to the top floor. The object of the game was to time your throw perfectly so that, the second the elevator doors opened, a Frisbee would come whirling through them. It was stupid. But I remember laughing as hard as I have ever laughed at anything, and the looks on the faces of the hotel guests watching a Frisbee fly out of one elevator and into another was priceless. I don’t really think it was this ridiculous game that made me happy, it was that I’d found a group of really creative people who were just as warped and immature as I was and together we were “greater” than the sum of our parts. It was a special time.
4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
The world neither starts nor ends with you. That sounds so obvious but every generation seems to struggle with the concept. For some reason, there’s this point in our development where we believe we have to change things, and only we can do it because we have all the answers. That’s not the next generation, that’s every generation. The trouble is, we forget that others felt this way long before our arrival. There’s a reason things are as they are, a reason our predecessors set us on this course. That doesn’t mean it’s the right course but it does mean you don’t change everything just for the sake of change. You owe something to the next generation, just as the previous one owed something to you, so don’t throw away the past carelessly. You might be robbing those to come of something precious.
And now a few about How to Make Friends and Monsters!
5. Where did the idea develop? Are you a big Frankenstein fan?
I grew up a big fan of old monster movies. I’m not just talking about the “classic” monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman, I liked them all–Mothra, Gamera, the blob, the giant ants from “Them.” One of my favorite memories is staying up late on Friday nights and watching the cheesy midnight movies that always involved some nuclear mutation bent on destroying the planet. But just when you thought you knew everything about monster history, it changed. Sesame Street gave us Cookie Monster and Grover, Harry and the Hendersons gave us a lovable Bigfoot, and we met Sulley and Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. Suddenly, monsters, which had always been the scourge of mankind, could be friends.
In a lot of ways, the book is an examination of one question — what is a monster? Is it a monster because of the way it looks, because of where it came from, or because of its actions? At its heart, this is a story about a friendship between two kids, one of whom just happens to be a “monster.”
6. Were any of the characters inspired by real people?
Definitely. There are elements of people I know in all of them but they’re not exact copies. My brothers and my sister, for example, have all found instances in the book that happened to them while we were growing up. Those parts were when the story felt most “real” to me because they were real experiences. When I picture Winnie McKinney in my head, I know the face I’m thinking of and it belongs to a real-life person. Is Winnie her? The best answer I can give is “kind of.”
As for Howard, he looks at the world a lot like I do. I think he worries about the same things I worried about at his age, so I know I’m in there, part of the mix. Hopefully no one I grew up with will see themselves in the bullies in the story — but if they’d been on the other end of the wedgie back then, there’s a good chance they might.
7. What’s one of the main things you hope your young readers come away with after reading this?
Fitting in isn’t about becoming who you think the crowd wants you to be. It’s about being who you are and finding your place among people who wouldn’t have you any other way. You might make friends by pretending to be someone you’re not, but you’ll never really be one.
8. So is there anything on the horizon for Howard?
Indeed there is. I’m finishing the second book in the series right now and it takes place a little later in the year, during the winter months when the first snow has just fallen. We tend to think of snow as this pillowy layer of fluff that floats down from the sky but Howard sees it as something else entirely. Rolled into a ball, it becomes a cold, hard weapon and he is its unfortunate target. Naturally, with his passion for inventing things, you can count on him coming up with a very unusual snowman. It’s not that Howard means for it to be unusual, it’s just that his inventions never quite turn out as planned. But most of the main characters from the first book are back and Howard is still trying to survive the perilous halls of Dolley Madison Middle School, so hopefully it’ll be a fun read.
Thank you so much Ron! Looking forward to following Howard’s mishaps and adventures!