Describe your latest book.
Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut! is my first fiction book. It's also my first young reader book. It's a sci-fi/fantasy adventure that I like to think is also pretty funny. Many may disagree. I mean, what's more subjective than comedy? Anybody can agree on what's scary or dramatic or emotional or exciting, but people have about a million different senses of humor. And so getting a bunch of people to agree on what's actually funny to a majority of them is pretty much close to impossible. And, fully aware of that, I'm entering my book in the never-ending parade of things that are written in the hopes of making people laugh.
Or at least making kids laugh. Although I'm embarrassed to say that what makes kids laugh and what makes me laugh is usually pretty similar, meaning that at the tender age of 45 I'm about as mature as an eight-year-old. Well, at least a rather smart eight-year-old, I like to think. Or a really dumb 55-year-old.
But I digress.
"Iggy" (as the hipsters will soon be calling it, much like anyone in the know refers to the fruit drink Sunny Delight by its much cooler nickname "Sunny D") is the story of 12-and-a-half-year-old Ignatius MacFarland, a kid who never felt like he fit in on Earth. So desperate is he to escape his bullies and life in general that he decides to build a rocket which will fly him into outer space where he'll meet up with aliens he's sure will be cooler and smarter and nicer and who will understand him much better than the people on Earth do. But when something goes wrong with his rocket and it explodes, Iggy ends up in the next frequency over from the one in which our world exists. This new frequency exists in the same space that our world does — it's just one frequency over, much like how two radio stations next to each other on the dial come out of the same radio, depending on what frequency the radio is set to.
The only difference is each frequency evolved completely independent of the other, so that everything in the new world Iggy finds himself in is way different from the world he grew up in. Plants, trees, animals, creatures, people — nothing is the way it is back home.
Which is why Iggy is so surprised to find out that a teacher from his school who everybody thought had been killed in a gas explosion years earlier is now in this frequency and has set himself up as the president and dictator of all the creatures in it. And so it's up to Iggy and Karen, another frequenaut from our frequency who he meets in this new world, to stop his old teacher and free the inhabitants of this alternate reality.
And, I swear, as all this happens it's funny.
Or at least I think it's funny.
But we've already been through this at the top of the page.
Anyway, I hope you and your kids like my book. It's the first in a series, so if you do like it, there'll be another one out next year. And if you don't like it, well, it makes a functional and attractive paperweight.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I was a Ronald McDonald in Toledo, Ohio, for a summer. It seemed like it would be a fun job and since I had been a clown in earlier summers (a freelance clown, that is — roaming the countryside in search of carnivals and picnics like a makeup wearing hobo looking for a free meal). I was possibly the skinniest Ronald McDonald who ever existed, since I was tall and lanky back then (ah, the good ol' days). But pretty much every appearance I made turned into some sort of disaster. Either kids would try to attack me when they discovered I had candy in my pockets to hand out, or I'd ride on a float in parades in the broiling hot sun with my makeup running while pretty much every adult along the route would holler out, "Hey, Ronald, where's my fries?!" and laugh uproariously like they were the first person to think up the "joke." I even got to play in a Toledo Mudhens minor league baseball game in which I inadvertently made the whole team hate me when I announced that I was so bad at baseball I was "going to get sent down to the minors."
Needless to say, I was not hired again the following summer.
If you really want to laugh, pick up Simon Rich's Ant Farm and his newest book Free-Range Chickens. All the stories are extremely short but pack maximum hilarity. I laughed out loud at these books consistently.
If you're looking for a really cool thriller with true heart at the center of it, check out Brad Meltzer's new book The Book of Lies. I just think it's really great and extremely inventive.
How do you relax?
I like to cook. There's something really great about feeding other people, especially if you can surprise them by cooking something that they actually like. I think most people get nervous when they hear someone they know is going to cook for them, because it conjures up images of burnt food and the chef sneezing all over the ingredients and having to pretend something is really good when in fact it tastes like somebody cooked a turd. But if you actually bring out something that tastes good and surprises them, then it's a great feeling.
My favorite food to cook is Italian because it's hard to go wrong when you're using garlic, tomatoes, basil, and peppers. You really have to work hard to screw that up. But you have to work even harder to make it great. Mine's not great yet. But I just keep trying.
And I don't sneeze all over the ingredients.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I was told about a graphic novel called The Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw when I was at this year's ComicCon down in San Diego. Whitney Matheson from USA Today said how much she enjoyed it and when I walked into the convention hall I saw both the book and Dash Shaw himself at a table signing copies. I picked one up (it's a huge thick book, about the size and weight of a brick) and brought it home, thinking it would take me a long time before I could actually sit down to read it. But that night I decided to read the first few pages and next thing I knew I had finished it. It's just a really great, low-key story about the breakup of elderly parents and the effects it has on their children and grandchildren. The way that Dash draws a character that must be based on him as a frog is extremely touching.
Anyway, it's a really great book. Definitely check it out.
What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Booze. Glorious booze. I make a mean martini. It's the same martini they make at the Dukes Hotel in London, which is the martini that Ian Fleming liked. The Plymouth gin is frozen and so is the glass so that you never use ice. You pour a bit of vermouth into the glass, then top it with the frozen gin. Then you squeeze a big slice of lemon rind over the top of it and drop it in. Man, oh, man. Good stuff. If it's good enough for the guy who wrote all the Bond books, then it's good enough for the rest of us. Right? Right!
Oh, and the wife and I love wine, too. Especially reds from France and Italy.
Hey, I'm a writer. I'm supposed to drink, right? Well, not when I'm writing kids books, I guess. So, forget you just read all this.
But make yourself a Dukes martini. You won't be sorry.
Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Freaks and Geeks. It's the best because I created it. Hey, I never said I was above a shameless plug.
Actually, I think my favorite series of all time was All in the Family. Especially the first five or six seasons. Before Baby Joey was born and Mike and Gloria moved next door. Then the show got a bit maudlin for my tastes. But the glory days of that show are some of the most brilliant episodes in TV history.
If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
I would have liked to be Marcello Mastroianni. Because he was one of the coolest guys ever. Or at least he was on screen. I've read that he was sort of boring in real life, so maybe what I want to be is him as the characters he plays in his movies. Especially his Fellini movies. When he was in 8½ there was simply nobody cooler, from the way he dressed to the way he acted. He was the best. And he wore a suit better than anybody.
I was always intimidated by cooking, even when I was starting to do it a lot. I used to be a slave to recipes, in that I had to measure everything exactly and would never dare deviate off the instructions. So, if I had a great recipe, the dish would be great. But if I had a not-so-great recipe, I'd be left with something that wasn't very impressive even though the basic idea of it sounded delicious.
The following books are the ones that freed me up and made me start to see how ingredients interacted and how I could add in my own style and ingredients to make each dish something I would be proud of and actually want to eat.
Appetite by Nigel Slater
This is sort of my bible, or at least it was the one that got me to face cooking differently. Nigel's whole philosophy is to free yourself from the exactness of recipes so that you can start to be instinctual whenever you make something. His recipes are very vague, which forces you to make decisions about tastes you like and the strength or weakness you want of each ingredient. And it's a fun read on top of it.
Passione: The Italian Cookbook by Gennaro Contaldo
Jamie Oliver credits Gennaro as having taught him how to cook (Jamie is also a big fan of Nigel Slater's). Gennaro's recipes leap right off the page. I picked up the book in London after we had eaten at Gennaro's restaurant, also called "Passione." I practically had a religious experience as I read each of the recipes in the middle of one sleepless night. It somehow made me realize how the flavors of Italian food happen and come together. It's the most used cookbook I have and is getting pretty beat up. I'd get a new one but Gennaro signed this one, so I'll use it until it turns to dust.
Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Café by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
This is another book that I use so much the pages are wrinkly from all the water and ingredients I've spilled on it over the years. The recipes are simple and elegant like Gennaro's but the book is also laid out beautifully, with the most mouth-watering pictures of the actual food. But while pictures in cookbooks often look more like beautiful portraits than representations of what the food will actually look like when you cook it, the pictures in Italian Easy make you realize if you do what they tell you to do, your dinner will look just as good. It's the garage rock of cook books. When you listened to the Ramones, you used to say to yourself, "If I had a band, I bet we could sound as good as that." When you find a recipe in this book, you're pretty certain you can do it yourself too and it'll look as good as it tastes.
The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart
This is the bread baker's version of the books I referred to above. Great pictures, fantastic recipes and writing that makes you feel certain you can be successful when attempting to make anything in the book. Let's face it, making bread can be hard. But only when you have a book that intimidates the hell out of you with either confusing, complicated recipes and writing that makes it seem more like you're about to do a science experiment than try to bake a warm loaf of comfort food. I make ciabatta because of this book and it's always a hit and impresses people that I actually made it. And it's not that hard. Not the way Peter Reinhart tells you to do it.
The Cook's Illustrated Complete Hardbound Library
I've subscribed to Cook's Illustrated Magazine for several years now and have found their recipes to consistently be the best, simply because they do some much testing of everything they put in each issue. But when I bought the complete set of every issue they've ever put out (they publish a new book at the end of each year that has all of that year's issues in it), which comes with a reference index so that whatever you're making you can look it up and it'll tell you all the issues that a related recipe is in. This set of books has gotten me out of trouble many times when I've been preparing dinner and suddenly realized I didn't know how to make something or had to change dishes at the last minute because of a guest's dietary restrictions. It's a huge set of books, so you need the shelf space, but make room for it in your kitchen and you won't be sorry.
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Paul Feig is the creator of the critically acclaimed TV show Freaks and Geeks and the author of the adult memoirs Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence and Superstud. This is his first novel for young readers. He lives with his wife and two dogs in California.
Books mentioned in this post
Paul Feig is the author of Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!