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Between Two Lockers With Antony John

An interview with Antony John, author of Five Flavors of Dumb.

Between Two Lockers With Antony John

Welcome back to our Between Two Lockers series, aka, the series in which we are unafraid to ask hard-hitting questions to your favorite authors. Sure, The New York Times might ask authors about their "craft" or whatever, but only here can you learn who is on someone's Freebie list!

Today, we've got Antony John, author of the awesome book Five Flavors of Dumb, on our chopping block! Before I read Dumb, I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did, and I was surprised by its heart and humor and depth. Before I interviewed Antony, I was expecting him to be funny and awesome, but he surpassed my expectations yet again by being even funnier and more awesome than I imagined! Antony John, I am totes excited to invite you to our slumber party!

Alright! Interview questions! Let's get it!


In Five Flavors of Dumb, you have a hearing-impaired person, an Asian love interest, an African-American beauty, and at least two lower-middle-class people. This is approximately 72% more diversity than many YA books. Did you set out to include a diverse cast of characters, or did it just seem organic to Piper's world?

Definitely organic to Piper's world. Actually, I lived in the area of Seattle where the book is set, and so I know the book is fairly representative, both ethnically and in terms of socio-economic class. I just tried to reflect this diversity, and then follow through on some of the issues that might arise from such a cast trying to coexist.

(Just a quick aside: Piper is deaf or hard-of-hearing, but not hearing-impaired. Everyone thinks that's the sensitive and p.c. term, but deaf people hate it. And I don't want FYA readers to get into trouble, you know?)

Antony, thank you so much for schooling us! (That isn't sarcasm; I hate when I accidentally insult someone!)

In my review, I awarded Piper's dad with the coveted Cliff Huxtable Award for Awesome Dadhood, which I was not expecting to do at the beginning of the book. You did a great job of showing the "other" side of parents. Were Piper's parents and their relationship based on anyone in particular?

Short answer: No, but Piper's dad says "thanks for the award."

Long answer: I'm a full-time stay-at-home dad, so I know well what it's like to care for kids all day, as Piper's dad does. Meanwhile, my wife works outside the home, and in the past has had to pull exceedingly long hours, like Piper's mom. For readers of Dumb, this might be sounding eerily auto-biographical. But it's not. At all.

See, the difference is that my wife adores her job, and has always been 100 percent supportive of me. Also, I chose to be a stay-at-home dad, whereas Piper's dad fell into it when he lost his job. And it's this family dynamic---one parent staying home involuntarily, while the other works longer hours to compensate---that I was trying to convey in Dumb. In particular, I wanted to portray Piper's dad as this guy who still views himself as a high-flying professional, whereas his day-to-day activities place a premium on things like diaper changes and naps. And as much as he feels resentful for his misfortune in being laid off, he must also wrestle with the guilt of not really wanting to spend time with his own children.

Of course, music acts as a catalyst, peeling back these layers and revealing someone who---as you so eloquently put it---"still wants to sit in their underwear and eat cereal straight out of the box." And he comes to realize that Piper needs him to show both these sides of himself---the grown-up and the silly---for them to truly connect. The good news is that he embraces this, as I would like to believe all fathers would do.

(Here endeth the lesson.)

Antony, I for one think your kids are lucky to have you!


Who wins in the following Rock Star Death Matches:

Kurt Cobain vs Pete Doherty

Reflexively, I was going to go with Doherty, because, like, you know . . . Cobain's dead and all, and therefore loses in a TKO. But then it occurred to me that PD is never more than one snort from death himself, so that answer might be inaccurate by the time you post this. So it's Cobain all the way. (Although PD gets bonus points for having the marginally less insane famous ex-partner.)


Jimi Hendrix vs Eric Clapton (cool, 1970s Eric Clapton, not, like, current Eric Clapton)

Glad you clarified the EC era, or I'd have wondered about your sanity as I barfed up my nose. But it's still Hendrix. Hands down. (Notice how I'm siding with the US musicians, here? It's positively un-British of me. I expect to have my citizenship revoked any moment now.)

Pete Townshend vs Roger Waters

Oooh, tough one. I'm going to go with Pete Townshend on impulse, but 70s Roger Waters walks on . . . well, water. (Sorry. Bad pun. Egregious, really.)

(Yeah, Antony, but far as I know, Roger Waters has never felt the need to do any "research" on kiddie porn. I can't divorce Townshend from that now.)

What is your number one, no holds barred, favorite band OF ALL TIME?

To say the Beatles feels like such a cop-out, but what can you do? Their early, middle, and late periods are all great, and they stuck around long enough to actually have early, middle, and late periods. It's such a rare thing to witness a band's style evolving over time, and rarer still for their fans to stick with them as they do. Oh, yeah, and I'm a total music-theory-head, so the harmonic complexity of some of their songs makes me nerd-happy.

OMG ME TOO! We are totally soul twins! I mean, us, and all the other people who love the Beatles. So we're like soul bazillionets!


If your real life adolescence was a YA book...What would you, the main character, be like?

I'm the supportive boy friend who isn't a boyfriend, who listens well and actually gives a crap, and is therefore crapped on. Frequently. (Unfortunately, all of these positive behaviors suddenly evaporated in college, which is why I'm glad you've asked me this question in the context of a YA novel.)

No, Antony, trust. Had these behaviors not evaporated in college, you would have run the risk of turning into a Nice Guy. I hate Nice Guys.

Who is your secret crush?

I crush on so many girls there isn't space to list them all. I can, however, divulge that every single one of them would reject me even if I actually summoned the courage to hypothetically ask them out. However, they all seem to like telling me about their crappy boyfriends. (I think some of this was by default: I was the only male flute player for miles around, and all the female flute players had poor taste in partners.)

To get back to your question: For the sake of our hypothetical YA novel, my secret crush is anyone with two X chromosomes.

What is your number #1 source of angst?

Science class (specifically: biology and chemistry). My utter ineptitude at these subjects would be a rallying cry for my fictional oppressors. But then, somewhere around chapter 13, it would be revealed that my Extreme Science Angst is really just a narrative ploy, since I'd actually given up caring about science in kindergarten. (Irony Alert: my wife is a biochemistry professor. Yes, really.)

At what point would the reader pump his/her fist in victory?

Because I'm a nerd, it would have to be the day I get accepted to Oxford University to study music. And also the day I finally get the girl (although this, we would discover two chapters later, is actually part of an elaborate dream sequence).

Oxford educations come with fancier gowns and bigger bragging rights.

And who would play you in the film adaptation?

As a teen, I'm as awkward as Jay Baruchel, as much of a patsy as Jonah Hill, as clueless as Michael Cera, and as smooth as Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Someone who embodies all of these qualities has no place on film.


What is your secret power?

I am blissfully ignorant of my own (many) limitations. If I weren't, I'd never have had the gall to write a book from the perspective of a deaf girl who attended a co-ed US high school. Unlike, say . . . me.

What is your #1 favorite food?

Right now, Thai. We used to eat bucket loads of the stuff in Seattle, but I haven't found a good Thai restaurant in St. Louis yet, so I'm suffering withdrawal.

Great. Now I'm craving Thai food, and I just had lunch.

Tell me about your area of expertise.

That'd be music. Not to be cocky, but by the time you've got a Ph.D. in something, you ought to have a clue what you're talking about, you know? I definitely have a clue what I'm talking about, although I'm not sure that it always helps. No editor should have to ask the question: "Antony, I love your writing and all, but WTF is a Neapolitan Sixth?"

Antony, I love your writing and all, but, um, what IS a Neapolitan Sixth? Is it related to ice cream?

If you could assemble your own Ocean's 11 of fictional characters, who would you pick and why?

Leader: Veronica Mars

Right Hand Man: Maniac Magee

Brains: Millicent Min, Girl Genius; Frankie Landau-Banks (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks)

Faces: Basil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers); Edmund Blackadder (another BBC sitcom; apologies if no one knows it)

Misdirection: Evie (What I Saw and How I Lied)

Gadgets and Demolition: V (V for Vendetta); Artemis Fowl

Muscle: Hit-Girl (Kick-Ass); Iorek Byrnison (The Golden Compass)

YES! I so want to be the money behind this operation so I can hang out with these people!! (ALSO, people who haven't watched Blackadder are dirty commies whoI refuse to associate with!)

What is your best karaoke song?

"Summer Nights" from Grease. It means I don't have to be up there by myself.

Tell me something scandalous!

I make a weird high-pitched groaning sound when I sleep. If I'm sharing a room with someone, I try to warn them so they don't assume the worst.

Oh, dear.

What is your favorite adult beverage?

A British beer called "Old Thumper." Although I'm also really partial to a local IPA called "O Fallon 5-day IPA."

What book have you read the most number of times?

Okay, confession time: The only people who ask that question are people who read fast. If you read as slowly as me, reading a book a second time is like giving up a month of your life. That's why I'm probably the last remaining human being who hasn't read Harry Potter 7, just because it's SO DAMN LONG. I'm not even sure that I've ever read a book more than once. Appalling, I know, but true.

Who is your "freebie"?

In the interests of retaining my present (and exquisitely awesome) wife, I think I'll have to take a pass on that. Which is really sweet of me, cause she'd say Patrick Dempsey in a heartbeat.

YA authors are so cool. Who would you give a BFF charm to?

So many to choose from, but I'll go with fellow St. Louis author Heather Brewer. She's a font of writing wisdom, incredibly energetic, connects 100 percent with her readers, and is unbelievably generous and kind.

Out of all of the characters you've written, which one do you most wish you could be?

Piper, from Five Flavors of Dumb. Hands down. She's who I should have been as a teen. (I mean, not that I should've been a girl---which might've been tricky at my all-boys school---just that I should've been more like her, personality-wise.) Instead of hiding behind her nerdiness, she embraces it and shuts down the people who can't be bothered to "get" her. Teen-me kind of has a crush on her, to be honest. (In light of my earlier answers, this will surprise no one.)

If you were invited to the FYA slumber party (and obvs, you ARE), what pajamas would you wear, and what is the most crucial snack food and/or movie you'd bring?

Oh, yeah, I have to wear PJs at a slumber party, right? Since I don't own any, I'd have to go with boxers and a bright yellow T-shirt with a picture of Shaggy from Scooby Doo (who bears an uncanny resemblance to me, apparently). For a snack food, I'd bring beer (which has as many calories as potato chips, if you drink enough of it). Movie: Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Ah, John Hughes, how we miss you.

I am all for beer as a form of sustenance. And WORD on John Hughes.

And now, it's time for everyone's favorite psychic prediction game, MASH! As always, Antony provided three options and we provided a fourth unsavory one. The random number was seven. Play on, playas!

Mansion Apartment Shack House

Someone 5'7" with a cute nose
Someone brunette with an infectious smile
Someone with soulful eyes and endless energy
The Berlin Wall (you'd have to fight that other lady for it, though)

Didn't get one
Didn't get one
Didn't get one [Damn you, INS]
Queens, NY

# of Kids
2 [Don't you dare say any number higher than 2]

Wine taster
Trapeze artist
Corpse on CSI
Officer handing out ASBOs

1 billion
2 billion
5 billion

Boring, OR
Peculiar, MO
Okay, OK
Hell, MI

Betta fish
Potted plant

Lime Green Triumph

MAN, Antony!! I was so looking forward to seeing you cram your 20 kids, plus Chewie, into your Fiat. You must have the best MASH luck ever!!

ETA: THIS JUST IN! Antony is hosting a super awesome giveaway!! Everyone who "likes"* Antony's Facebook author profile is entered to win TWO SIGNED BOOKS: Five Flavors of Dumb, signed by Antony, and also Will Grayson, Will Grayson signed by John Green and David Levithan. This is your chance to own two awesome books that this site raves over, so, you know, you should get on that.

To enter, go here: Antony John on Facebook

*I hate that Facebook has turned "like" into a verb that requires quotes around it

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.