Avery Monsen is a writer, illustrator, and actor who lives in New York. He is the co-author and illustrator of several books, All My Friends Are Dead (a national bestseller), I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York, and K is For Knifeball. His writing and illustrations have been featured newspapers all over the country. Avery has acted on 30 Rock, Nick Jr., and in several national commercials. He performs sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. We are thrilled to welcome Avery back to campus this week for LitFest. He will present a workshop called “Make Something Now” during on Friday, February 15.
1. You describe your books as “children’s books for adults.” How did you decide on that genre?
When I wrote All My Friends Are Dead with my buddy Jory, I don’t think we were aiming for a specific genre. We just wrote what we thought was funny. We tried to make each other laugh. Only afterwards, when our editors asked us to write a product description and back cover copy, did we stop and think how on earth the book would be classified. Calling it a “children’s book for adults” seemed like the easiest way to make sure parents didn’t buy it for their 5-year-olds and scar them for life. We didn’t want that on our consciences.
2. You recently published K is For Knifeball, an alphabet of terrible advice. How was the process different, now that your earlier books are national bestsellers?
Honestly, I try not to think about sales stuff too much. It freaks me out. Obviously, there’s pressure to make each book better and funnier and more popular than the last, but you also just have to keep writing. You can’t be too precious about your work. That’s the tricky thing that nobody tells you about being a creative-type-person: you just have to keep on making stuff! For the rest of your life! You can’t ever stop hustling! So I just stay busy and have fun and keep making things that I’m proud of. Hopefully, people connect with them and maybe there will be another bestseller someday. Either way, I’m having fun.
3. So you are a writer, illustrator, actor, sketch comedy team member, recorder player (the instrument), and, according to Twitter, my future friend. Which role is your favorite?
Your friend. Next question.
4. How did your experiences at Marin Academy influence your path as a writer, artist, and person?
MA was the best! Aside from the obvious (great teachers, beautiful campus), MA really fostered individuality. In my case, that meant it fostered weirdness and hooliganism. I’ll give you an example: I was a Spirit Captain (is that still a thing?). [Travs: Yes!] In one of our assemblies, we made two people from each grade stand in buckets of ice water for as long as they could. After about ten minutes, they all started shivering and crying and then a bunch of teachers rushed the stage and pulled them out of the buckets. It was total mayhem. (Now that I’ve typed this story, it seems like an example of terrible decision-making more than fun, kooky individualism. Oh well!)
5. What advice would you give to a high school student interested in writing, illustration, acting, or all of the above?
Have fun! Stay busy! Don’t do it for the money, because the money’s not that good. If you have any questions about anything—career stuff, creative challenges, relationship advice, urgent medical questions—come ask me on February 15th, E Block. I don’t totally know what I’m going to talk about and it may be a total disaster, but it will definitely be interesting. Be there!