Q&A: Joe Monninger

Joe Monninger
There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers.  This month we chat with Joe Monninger.

If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?

My young adult work wouldn’t be a bad place to start.  At least the books are short!
When did you first think of yourself as a writer?

               When I was about twenty-four I worked in Mali, West Africa and I received a telegram from my dad saying I had finished third in a Redbook Short Story contest for writers under the age of 25.  This was about 1977. I remember feeling strange afterward, knowing that some secret part of my interior life – the desire to be a writer – had come a little bit true. 
How did you end up living in NH?
When I came back from Africa – from a stint in the Peace Corps – I lived in Portsmouth.  I loved that city.  I moved to Providence, and then Vienna, Austria, and then back to New York City following jobs.  Finally I had a chance to work as a visiting writing professor at UNH.  While I was there, a full time position opened up at Plymouth State University.  I applied and got the spot and I’ve been there, or here, ever since.  Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Where do you like to write?

I took over a play fort that we had built for my son in the back yard.  I insulated it and put in a woodstove.  This spring, in fact, a local builder came in and expanded it so that it’s more comfortable.  It has a great window overlooking the mountains and a meadow where horses graze.  Now with the cabin in good shape, I have absolutely no excuses not to get work finished.  But I should also mention that I write standing up, so if I’m on vacation, or in a hotel, I put a chair on top of a desk.  It works for my height.    
How important is place in your writing?

Most of what I’ve written over the past two decades is set in New Hampshire or, more broadly, in New England.  I know the trees here and the animals and the seasons.  That’s an enormous help.  I also find the New England character compelling.  We are shaped by our geography, so my New England characters are shaped by these rough winters and glorious summers.  In my young adult novels, I’m interested in the rural poor, in those tough, generous kids who persevere.  They intrigue me and I admire them.

What do you do when you aren't writing?


Walk my dog.  I have tons to do.  I also teach full time at Plymouth State University, so there’s always work to be done there…student papers to grade, classes to prepare, recommendations to write.  Living in New Hampshire, the weather keeps us busy.  In the winter I shovel; in the summer I fight back the lush green growth.  Paint the house, and so forth.  I’m also an avid fly fisherman, so I try to get out a couple evenings a week to throw a fly. I also take trips out west to fish some of the great streams there.
What's the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?

It’s dogged as does it.  I think Trollop said it.  It means just keep at it.  Writing isn’t a one-time thing.  It’s an entire life if you let it be.  The reward – this is a clich√©, but it’s true nonetheless – is the doing of it.  The work.  The moments of invention.  If you’re an active writer, chances are you’re doing two or three things at once.  You’re revising story X while composing article Y and negotiating for book Z.  You have to work at it.  It’s dogged as does it. 
The other thing is to do your best on each book.  Don’t let yourself off the hook by projecting forward and saying, gee, on the next book I’ll do better.  I’ve written some books that failed, but I meant them to be good.  I gave an honest effort even if the result wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?

I’ve loved so many books!  I loved comics as a boy – and still love them – and any sort of boy adventures.  The Hardy Boys.  Call of the Wild.  And I loved sports books, the story about the big game, the background of a famous runner.  But the Lord of the Rings series was the first story that swept me away.  Especially The Hobbit.  I lived in those books and had to resist the temptation to re-read them over and over.  They spoke to me about adventure, I suppose. I also read a great classic called The Man-eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett, a hunter who went into the hill country of India to rid the jungle of man-eating tigers and leopards.  That book transported me.  I’ve always said there are two kinds of books.  Books to take you away, and books to make you look inward.  I love both kinds, but my earliest impulse was for books that take you away.           
What are you working on now?

I’m working on a four book middle school series for Scholastic.  It’s called Stay Alive and each story is predicated on a disaster.  Kids are left in the wilderness, or on an island, and they fight to survive.  The first two books are finished and will be out in January, 2014.  They’re great fun to write.  They’re all action and they take me back to my boyhood imaginings.
I also have an adult novel coming out with Plume and there’s a possibility of a Hollywood book.  That’s a long story and we’ll see if it ever happens, but that’s what I’m working on.

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