Meg Rosoff: Confronting the Big Questions
We spoke with Meg Rosoff during her recent visit to the U.S. from England, where she now resides, to promote her new YA novel There Is No Dog (reviewed below). The book depicts God as a sex-starved 19-year-old smitten with a human named Lucy. Its content got her blackballed from an event this fall in Bath, England. Here she discusses the roots of the idea, and the surprises that evolved with its flowering (or should we say, “de-flowering”).
Where did this idea come from?
My husband’s a painter and he happened to be home doing some drawing one day and listening to Radio 4, the English equivalent of NPR. They were doing a program about all the actors who’d ever played God in the movies. My husband said, “Why is it that it’s only old white guys who get to play God? Why not a teenager?” And I thought, “Oh a teenage God! That explains everything.”
How did you come up with the idea of “team leaders” Bob and his “assistant,” Mr. B?
Mr. B and Bob were the central relationship from the beginning. Mr. B is me, really. I worked in advertising for 15 years, and they were always bringing in a guy who’s 22 and hadn’t done anything. They’d say, “We think he’s got potential.” Nearly always they turned out to be complete f*&%-ups. Mr. B gives Bob the benefit of a doubt. Mr. B’s the one who’s seen all the creative directors come and go. He’s sort of a lovable character because he doesn’t lose his faith in humanity. Here I am an atheist, and the only two characters I care about in the book end up taking over the role of God. You could almost read that as a confirmation of faith.
Tell us more about the Eck, Bob’s pet.
The Eck was a turning point. Once God had a pet, things just kind of clicked. He started being more three-dimensional. I love that the Eck is so full of attitude, kind of resentful and funny, and yet it’s terrible this poor little guy is going to get eaten. He’s one of my favorite inventions. What’s the point of writing if you can’t invent the last in a species that’s nearly extinct? I have an old friend in New York [Nicholas Godlee, a renowned costume designer] who designed the plush Eck for me. Each has a tag: #22 from extinction, or #23.
We have a soft spot for Bernard, the vicar.
I like looking at those characters whose lives might have gone in directions that have a slight sense of puzzlement. Like in that David Byrne song, “How did I get here?” You wonder a bit about Laura [Lucy’s mother]. She doesn’t seem to be happily married yet wants to marry off her daughters. You see snapshots of people in early youth, and then you see Lucy’s mother and Bernard, and you see, “Okay it doesn’t always turn out perfectly.”
Judy Blume’s editor, Dick Jackson, has said that it was the word “God” that got the book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret banned. Do you think it’s your depiction of God that got everyone riled up in the recent cancellation of your scheduled appearance in England at the Daily Telegraph Bath Festival of Children’s Literature?
That’s what’s so memorable about that book, that wonderful title and the fact that Margaret is talking to God. I said in my blog, “Burn the Witch,” I’m not the one who’s going to bring God down. I’m interested in the discussion of theology and why people believe. I always get pissed off at people like [Richard] Dawkins who say that people who believe in God are morons. We have billions of people on the planet, and five or six billion have faith. To say there’s no God does not deal with the fact that something important is going on.
And adolescence is precisely when kids begin searching for their own answers.
Even people who are devout believers have to struggle with faith. Religion is not a static state any more than marriage or love is. It has to be explored and questioned. I wonder if it’s left over from that idea that there has to be some kind of priest who comes between God and the individual, which is a bit medieval. I think religion can handle discussion. It’s a big topic with a lot of depth and history behind it. If it’s going to crumble the first time someone writes a book that says maybe God is a 19-year-old, we’re all in trouble. I think it’s the job of writers to confront big questions, and that’s why people read books. –Jennifer M. Brown
Link to Web site and Eck:
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM SHELF AWARENESS here