Before shooting me an e-mail with your question(s), check below and see if you find your answer. If not, e-mail away and I’ll send a response the next time my imaginary friends give me a breather from my next book.
Where do you write?
Wherever I fire up my computer. It’s usually in my home office, or in New York City. But I also write on the train, and on the research trips I love to take. Wherever I go, I always carry a notebook to jot down ideas or lines I overhear. Try not to sit next to me in a restaurant; I’m a big eavesdropper. My notebook has teeth.
Have you ever had writer’s block?
No, I’m not smart enough to realize I have nothing to say. As long as there’s something running across the screen of your mind, there’s something to “report” to the blank page or screen in front of you.
When/how did you first start writing?
When I was an actor in a theater company I started writing monologues and sketches for performance. Writing for theater led to writing for the TV screen, which led to writing a book for the screen of the reader’s mind.
Where do you get ideas or inspiration for your work?
All my work comes from reactions. I’m a “narrative reactor.” It can be the smallest thing that triggers a story.
Once I read an interview with a writer who had moved back to the tiny town in Minnesota where he had grown up. He told the interviewer that when he was a boy in this town he had made a vow: “I’m not going to die here.” This little-kid vow struck me as the beginning of a wonderful character. That reaction grew into the story of Out Of Patience.
It doesn’t have to be a character idea that begins a story. An emotional reaction, like frustration, can give birth to a story. When I was writing a lot of educational TV for kids, I became upset with the amount of censorship and the overemphasis of multiculturalism constraining the scripts. My frustration triggered a question: What’s the last minority with special needs that America has yet to recognize? My answer: Vampires. Suck It Up flowed from that “What if…”
My books are the product of reacting, having something to say and a story to share. I want a reader to see the movie that projects from the fluttering pages of a book to the screen of his or her mind.
What people or events have influenced you the most?
My parents were the first to open the window of imagination and encourage me to leap through it. Luckily, it was the only window they urged me to jump out of. After leaving home, I found mentors that influenced me, notably, a brilliant mime and theater director named Tony Montanaro, and Jim Henson of Muppet fame.
Both men had an uncanny genius for building bridges between imagination and reality.
Probably the most profound event to influence me was a non-event. My parents didn’t allow a television in our house until I was sixteen. Contrary to what you might be thinking, it didn’t make me an avid reader. But it did give me powers of self-entertainment. If you can entertain yourself, you can do anything.
What books from your childhood did you like?
I have vivid memories of my father reading us Kidnapped, and Treasure Island. Later, in school, books like Bang the Drum Slowly, Fahrenheit 451, and Twain’s Letters From the Earth left strong impressions. If I had to pick one influential book it would be a book I had to read in 10th grade English:
Moby Dick. I loved it, especially the structure of alternating chapters between the narrative and the details of whaling. It was fiction and non-fiction in one book. That was something I probably imprinted on as a reader/writer. I love doing research and infusing fiction with facts, the more bizarre the better.
Are you ready for some rarely asked questions, you know, some weird ones?
Sure, I’ve been known to do weird.
What’s your most mortifying moment ever?
Easy. First day of 3rd grade, teacher’s calling the roll, she calls my name. I say, “Here.” She calls my brother Tor’s name. He says, “Here.” She realizes, “Oh, you’re twins!” Then my brother — who hated being a twin — shouts, “No, Brian flunked a grade!” I haven’t been the same since.
What was the worst thing about growing up?
What was the best thing about growing up?
Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever lived?
Here, woods of Maine, for almost a year.
A picture’s worth a thousand mosquitoes.
What’s with your last name?
A long time ago, it was Mühl, but my father changed it to Muehl (pronounced “meal”). But everyone pronounced it “mule” so I changed it to Meehl. I’m thinking about changing it back to Mühl so I can have a smile button in the middle of my name.
Since you’re both the interviewee and the interviewer, is there anything you’d like to ask yourself?
Yeah, do you think I’ve given all the answers ever needed? Will I never have to answer another question from a reader?
Sorry, dude, you walked through the wrong door. Antisocial Media is down the hall.
Which one is it?
The one that’s always locked.
Brian also contributes posts on writing to his agent’s blog, Crowe’s Nest. If you want to know a lot more about what it takes to be an author these days, check it out.