Frequently Asked Questions

Lennart Tanges

Young Scribes

Q: Did you always want to be a writer?

A: Not a chance!

As I mentioned on my ABOUT page, I never read my first poem, short-story, novel (and so on) outside of an English class until I was twenty-six years old. I didn’t have the patience to sit own long enough to read a bubble gum wrapper, let alone a book.

And that was just reading. But writing? It took me years after that first book before I would stop moving long enough to even know I had something worth saying (the way we all do, really). Before I realized how good it feels transforming thoughts and feelings and experiences into words. How incomparably magical it is to spend some time living from the inside out. That’s what writing is, after all. Those moments when you’re at the page.

As a boy, I was so not ready for that. Back then, I was trying to stuff every feeling I had into all the dark spaces I could find. Writing was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I mean, I’d have eaten broccoli first. Even asparagus. Just not at the same time.

I loved movies, though. They always felt like adventures I was part of and I could enjoy them with my dad. I still love movies. They’ve always been a way for me to decompress. Besides, I envision everything I write (even the poems) as small movies.

Q: What’s the hardest thing about writing a novel?

A: I’d say, writing it. No, seriously.

I mean, it’s one thing to have an idea about a theme or to have a character in mind or a certain event, but physically sitting down and writing, that’s the hardest part. Because a whole lot of stuff gets in the way. Not like some psycho in a hockey mask with a chain saw chasing you around, but sometimes sort of like that.

In order to write, you have to give yourself permission to go spelunking. Inside your own self. That can be pretty scary. It can also be pretty awesome. But in order to get to the awesome part you have to actually sit down and start.

Sometimes fear can make that tough to do.

And sometimes just trying to juggle the rest of your life can.

Q: Is it true you’re a Yoga teacher?

A: Believe it or not, I am a Certified Yoga Teacher. That’s right, I said, yoga.

The biggest reason I did all the training to get my certification wasn’t to teach a class, though, but so I could take specialized training to become a NINJA.

Okay, maybe not a ninja, but how cool does that sound? That would probably be on my Top Ten Coolest Things To Become list if it wasn’t for the assassination part of the job. But the rest of it would be awesome! The stealth. The unbelievable martial arts. Those awesome throwing stars. Not to mention, I tend to look better in dark colors.

Anyway, the specialization I mentioned was in what’s called Yoga As Muse (YAM). Right now I’m one of only 8 people on the entire planet licensed to teach this lethal (okay, still trying to work something ninja in there), how about this revolutionary combination of yoga and writing.

The main reason I mention it, aside from the fact that it’s a pretty cool way to slip into writing, is because one of the questions we were asked during our training is this:

“What are you writing for?”

It wasn’t until I took the YAM training that I even stopped to consider what was behind my desire to write. I’m not talking about money or fame or anything like that. I thought about it for a long time. I wasn’t one of those people, after all, who knew back in high school I’d be a writer. I mean, English is the only subject I’ve ever truly hated, but that’s another story.

I thought and thought and, finally, I realized I’m writing for two main reasons: to have a voice, and to share my voice with those who might not have found theirs yet (I guess I sort of hinted at that on the HOME page). After all, I tend to write about misfits, about people who are either invisible to everyone else or who stand out so much they’re treated like outcasts.

So, I do have my Yoga Teacher Certification which means I put in the hours on the mat and studying. I’m qualified to teach a class, but I haven’t taught one yet.

Q: Why not?

A: Because, right now, every spare moment I have I’m spending on my writing.

But I look forward to teaching a class sometime soon. Yoga and writing are a lot alike – each involves a turning inward and a letting go. You can learn a lot about the world and about yourself that way.

Lafayette’s Top Ten Coolest Things to Become
(other than a Young Adult Author)

(my top choice from the time I was five all the way into my thirties)
ACTOR (movie actor, not stage – as a boy, stage fright was one of my three biggest fears after death & heights)
NINJA (like I said, black’s my color, though I’d probably slice off a finger with one of those swords)
SEQUOIA CLIMBER (like Xero, I love going UP . . . it’s coming down where I tend to make a mess of things)
BRAD PITT’S STUNT DOUBLE (I’m just saying)
SPY (using deductive reasoning, super-cool gadgets, and awesome physical skills to save the world would rock)
MOVIE DIRECTOR (no stage fright issues to worry about, and I’d get to help create visual stories)
ORGANIC FARMER (not just any farm, though, but one that could feed all of North America . . . the only drawback – I do still run away in fear from some veggies)
VISUAL ARTIST (a painter of canvases, a sketch artist, an illustrator)
ADVENTURER WHO DISCOVERS A LOST WORLD (not that I’d want anyone to lose a world, of course, but combining travel and discovery, I mean, how cool is that?!)

Q: When you write, what gets the sparks flying?

A: Everything I write is different with regards to what sparks my interest.

For a poem, sometimes it’s simply another poem. I’ll read work by someone I admire, like Dorianne Laux or Lynn Lifshin or JP Dancing Bear (or a short story by someone I may have never even heard of previously – that happened with ZZ Packer), and a word or a phrase or a sentence will take hold of me and sometimes that will be the title of my work and I’ll go from there.

Sometimes the emotion of the piece I read, or the theme, will inspire me to experiment.

With my novels, I usually start with a character (there’s some trait, something that makes that person different – I may have mentioned, most of my characters are misfits) or I’ll have a character’s name, which will lead me to the character’s personality.

Or I’ll just have a feeling that a topic is important to explore (like bullying or being mentally disabled).

Sometimes real life people or events will inspire me, but most of my stories and poetry are imagined. The story of Xero, for example, is imagined. But the character Knee Boots and his situation were loosely inspired by three different people. I guess for all my novels, I start with a character who is different from the norm and try to understand what it would be like to live that life and what we might learn from such a character.

I’ve always had this burning need inside to help people realize how and why they matter.

Q: Why?

A: Probably because, for a very long time, I couldn’t realize that about myself.

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels,
I myself become the wounded person.” – Walt Whitman

For me, when I write, it’s an attempt to become “the wounded person” so I might understand “how he/she feels.” Then, through my writing, I try to help other people understand one interpretation of how he/she might feel.

Q: What are some of your favorite books (or your favorite authors)?

A: Well, most go hand-in-hand.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (my absolute favorite)
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Feed by MT Anderson
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going
The Buffalo Tree by Adam Rapp
The Canning Season by Polly Horvath
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkein
The Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore (the books that started it all for me)
Harry Potter (all seven) by JK Rowlings
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

I’m also a fan of Russell Banks, John Irving, Kate DiCamillo, Robert Cormier, Jacqueline Woodson, and many others.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m finishing up revisions for the first book in a series of middle-grade misadventures for boys (though there’s a touch of romance in there, as well as humor) called Xero Treu: The Extraordinary Tales of an Extra Ordinary Boy. It wasn’t supposed to be the story I finished first. Apparently, however, no one told Xero and he wouldn’t stop coming around.

Q: So you work on more than one story at a time?

A: Much to the confusion (and occasional frustration) of others, yes! I need to have multiple projects. Keeps me from getting “stuck.”

Every time one story requires me to reflect on some element, I can go to another story and continue to write. Doing so keeps me at the page, so I keep developing my craft, while also freeing me up. It’s a lot like yoga that way, only instead of moving my body to free up my thoughts, I just focus on another character.

I’ve always had a brain (evidence to the contrary, aside) where thoughts are more like jiffy pop than a stream. They don’t just fluidly flow one into the next, but pop-pop-pop all over the place, often at the same time.

Some people have told me that I need to just finish one story first and they’re probably right, only some days, when I’m struggling with Mr. Bones (when I’m resisting it for some reason or Gabe is resisting me), if I can work on another project it frees me up.

It’s almost like, if Gabe knows he’s the only one I’m listening to, he gets stubborn (not always, just once in awhile), and he crosses his short stubby arms and he turns away and he makes me work for every little detail. Of course, if I’m suddenly listening to someone else, then he’s like, “Well, okay. I guess we can talk about it.”

That’s why I started the MG novel about Xero.

I have the backstory, characters, themes for about ten different novels all ready to go. I just need the time to do some research and to flesh them out. And that’s what I’m trying to do now whenever I get the chance.