Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Tony Abbott

Twenty questions for authors, none about writing. Some questions are not in the form of a question. (Previous Q&As may be found HERE.)

This week we have TONY ABBOTT, author of the novel Lunch-box Dream, Firegirl, and The Postcard. (See below for purchase links.)

1. Rename yourself.

TA: Sandoval Harper

2. Satan hoofs up and says two words to you. What are they?

TA: “It’s time.”

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

TA: “‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” [Youtube]

4. What is the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?

TA: Falling off my bike and landing on my hands

5. Form a supergroup using any four musicians, living or dead, that would be thoroughly awesome to experience, for better or worse.

TA: Charles Mingus (double bass), Ginger Baker (drums), Norah Jones (vocal and guitar), and Orpheus (lead guitar)

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

TA: I don’t like to dress up, though I realize that doesn’t answer your question.

7. Tell us something you built.

TA: A Nativity scene using cedar shingles when I was nine

8. If you could safely have one non-domesticated animal as a lifelong companion, what would it be? (Fantasy creatures are allowed.)

TA: A tiger

9. What do you like to grow?

TA: My lawn

10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

TA: Stacks of books on the floor

11. How would you like those eggs?

TA: Over easy

12. What’s the worst thing about your favorite holiday?

TA: The gifts

13. You’ve just been turned into a lousy superhero. Who are you, and who is your nemesis?

TA: Elbow Johnny. He battles evil with lightning-quick elbow action. His nemesis is named Nemesis, played by Truman Capote in the lost film, Elbow Johnny and Nemesis’s Sisyphus Symptoms.

14. Name a thought that has profoundly scared you in the night.

TA: I work for myself.

15. You’re stinking rich. What’s the first thing you add to your home?

TA: A wall around the yard

16. What are you up to this weekend?

TA: Answering interview questions

17. Which color makes you feel the most comfortable? The most anxious?

TA: Comfortable: Green. Anxious: Skin color.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

TA: Dishwasher. Or plongeur, as Orwell has it.

19. I mean honestly: aren’t you better off living without ___?

TA: Censorship

20. James Cameron discovers something new at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. What do you hope it is?

TA: A sealed container holding manuscripts of two undiscovered Faulkner novels from the period 1929-1936

Tony Abbott (born 1952) is an American author of children’s books. His most popular work is the book series The Secrets of Droon, which includes over 40 books. He has sold over 12 million copies of his books and they have been translated into several other languages, including Italian, Spanish, Korean, French, Japanese, Polish, Turkish, and Russian. He has also written the bestseller Firegirl.

Previous Q&As may be found HERE.

Tony Abbott’s Official Site

Buy his books:

Lunch-Box Dream

Barnes & Noble


Barnes & Noble

The Postcard

Barnes & Noble

Grass and Bones

This year’s giant pumpkin plant fizzled — it had the same stunted side-vines that troubled me last year — and I decided it was time to move on and spend my springs and summers doing something practical, like beer-brewing or falconry.

The pumpkin patch is now a bare patch of dirt, however. Our dog Bones assisted in the planting of arborvitae, and fall is the best time of year for seeding the rest of the patch with grass. After some light weeding and leveling, there was no need to loosen or amend the soil with nutrients, since I’ve been adding loads of compost and organic fertilizer for the pumpkins and it’s easily the richest, fluffiest dirt you’re liable to find in a typical suburban backyard.

I borrowed my parents’ spreader and used Scott’s Sun and Shade variety of seed (aka, Idiot-Proof Seed) and lightly raked the scattered seed into the soil. The key is keeping it wet, which is easier to do now that the hot summer sun is on the wane, and I’ve got the sprinker rigged in the center of the yard and mean to use it a few times a day until the grass takes hold.

The downside of growing grass is that Bones lurvs digging in the patch, tearing up roots and burying bones (for real) and playing ostrich, and because I removed the cheap protective fence around the patch in early summer (and foolishly threw it away), Bones has to be leashed whenever he’s let outside.

Bones digging:



It seems unfair that he’s so restricted considering his help with the arborvitae. All that work, he must be thinking, and now I have to be chaperoned by a parent wearing pajama bottoms and untied sneakers.

After a single day, it’s already getting him down. This morning he saw a chipmunk lurking in the back corner, and although I did my best to run at his side and Chase It Into Its Hole Just Because, my pitiful man legs were no match for Bones’s usual speed, and the chipmunk, unalarmed by our approach, very gradually turned and escaped with no particular haste.

In other words, I let Bones down. I’m sure he’ll take a lot of heat for this, especially once the squirrels start mocking our efforts. But this is the way it has to be, and I can only hope that the yard animals will be awed by Bones’s unfettered speed once the grass is grown and he can resume his leashless sallies into the yard.

Your Friend, The Medicinal Leech

Ah, medicinal leeches. Writing a novel set in the 18th century allows me to research subjects such as this, which is nearly enough reason to write the novel in the first place.

Back when people believed that proper health required balanced “humors” (four essential bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile), numerous ailments were treated by bleeding the patient. Fever and inflammation, for example, resulted from too much blood, so all you had to do was let some out and you’d be fine.

The leech of choice was often hirudo medicinalis, the European medicinal leech. There are Mexican and North American varieties, as well. They can grow up eight inches long, are greenish brown, and have a thin red stripe along their dorsal side.

Hirudo medicinalis has a sucker at each end: one for leverage and one for feeding. The feeding sucker is triple-jawed with up to a 100 little teeth. After they bite, they quickly inject an anticoagulant and anesthetic so the blood keeping flowing and you might not notice, or mind, the steadily fattening leech dangling from your flesh.

Eventually the concept of bodily humors fell out of fashion and the medicinal leech was back to living in muddy pools, forced to wait for unwary prey and watching their poor slithery children starve for lack of blood. These were dark days for the medicinal leech, but now, thanks to modern-day microsurgery, hirudo medicinalis and family are back in hospitals where they belong.

Current practice calls for leeches to reduce coagulation. One case of such a need is the relief of venous pressure. Another is improved circulation in reattachment operations, including surgery on fingers, ears, and eyelids. So if you ever wake up in the hospital with a leech attached to your eyelid, think of it as your own dedicated nurse, happy to earn its keep with a small amount of your blood.

I recently had a chance to meet these fellows at the 18th Century Day in Saratoga, NY, and they were every bit as friendly as I hoped. See the video below. You can almost feel them wriggling for my eyelid.