INTERVIEW: Jeremiah Tolbert, Author of “Arties Aren’t Stupid”

In your own words, please briefly describe the plot of the story.

Arties spend their time dodging the tin men and trying to Make.  The Arties’ leader, Niles, discovers a new way of Making, but ends up busted by the tin men.  With the help of a melodie named Boo, Mona must come up with a plan to save her friends, even if it means turning to the thicknecks and brainiacs.

Please talk about the genesis of the story, how you came to write it, where the idea came from, etc.

The genesis for the story was a news story about people making graffiti with moss by mixing blendered moss  in water and then using it as paint.  The idea of living graffiti struck me, and the story was born from that.

Please tell me about–or rather introduce the readers to–the protagonist.

Meet Mona. She’s a teenaged artie, just starting to grow up.  The most important thing in the world to her is Making.  The second most important thing is Niles, her group’s leader.

Did the writing of this story present you with any significant challenges (i.e., was it particularly difficult to write, etc.)? If so, please tell me about that.

Trying to capture the unique perspective of someone who is essentially autistic, and in fact, a society of people who are autistic.  Trying to understand how they would think as a group, and what would drive them.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

As an artist of sorts myself, I know a little bit about what it’s like to be compelled to Make.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

The ideas for the story really just came from the daily research I do by reading a lot of weird news websites.  My daily information gathering functions as research for much of my work.

Anything else you’d like to add? Also, if there’s anything about your personal background that’s somehow relevant to the story, let me know.

In this case, I kind of doubt it, but who knows how the mind of a writer works?

I almost had enough credits in college to take a double major in biology and sculpting, but I would have had to cut back on anthropology classes, so I just stuck with the biology degree.

What is the appeal of dystopian fiction? Why do so many writers–or youyourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

We write about it and read about it for the same reason we enjoy tragedies.  We love stories about people whose lives are worse off than our own.  It makes us feel better about our own problems.  I mean, hey, I might not have a job, but at least I’m not a star crossed lover who drinks poison or the face being stomped on by a boot forever.  There’s just something cathartic about it.  

The difference between dystopians and tragedies is that dystopian stories often end on an upbeat note, with a hope of change (but not always).  

What are some of your favorite examples of dystopian fiction, and what makesthem your favorites?

It’s kind of hard to beat 1984.  It practically established the dystopian subgenre.  Another favorite is Charles Coleman Finlay’s short story “Pervert” because it subverts gender roles and sexuality in really interesting ways.