After a brief hiatus, welcome to another installment of Inside the Author’s Studio, where we give you a peek into the minds and studios of your favorite Workman authors.
Today, in anticipation of the gift-giving holidays (what else?!), we venture into the studio of Mike Vago, author of The Miniature Book of Miniature Golf and The Pocket Book of Pocket Billiards for some delightful Q&A, speed-round-style.
Recent book you loved/learned from
Loved: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King. The series gets tagged as “Harry Potter for Grownups,” because it’s about a kid who goes to school to learn magic. But he’s a teenager, with all the self-involvement, pettiness, shortsightedness and drama that goes along with that. So the enemy isn’t a Voldemort-type figure as much as it’s the hero’s tendency to sabotage all of the relationships in his life. It’s hard to create a hero who’s basically unlikeable for most of the story and make you want to keep reading, but Grossman pulls it off in the first book, and then improves on that in every way in the second.
Learned from: Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw. Gladwell can write on something as simple as why there are lots of brands of mustard and only one major brand of ketchup, and make it something profound and engrossing.
Books of Wonder on 18th St. in Manhattan. My kids are 3 and 6, so a bookstore devoted solely to children’s books is a great place to spend a rainy afternoon. I’m also fascinated by pop-up books, and they have the biggest selection I’ve ever seen. And they have a cupcake bakery in the store. Books and cupcakes? That’s pretty much all I need out of life.
I am the best fantasy sports commissioner in America. I have a football league that’s been going since 1988, and I have a league that combines football, baseball, basketball and hockey into one wondrous, all-consuming monstrosity. In both cases, I don’t use Yahoo or some other fantasy sports web site – I input the stats by hand, because my scoring system is better than theirs.
Bookmark, dog-ear, or virtuality?
I tend to use the receipt from the book as a bookmark, which has the unintended side effect of reminding me, weeks or months later, of where I was and what I was doing when I bought the book, which is kind of nice. But I tend to move back and forth between dead trees and the Kindle. I love browsing in bookstores, but I also loved being in rural Ireland, probably an hour’s drive from the nearest bookstore, sitting outside in the middle of a field, and buying another book in 30 seconds because I had just finished one. I don’t think one’s going to replace the other; I think we now have different options that each have their own advantages.
Book you are most ashamed never to have read
I know I should be most ashamed at never having read Hemingway, or Faulkner, or the many classics I managed to get an English Lit degree without reading. But at the moment it’s No Country For Old Men. I love McCarthy, I desperately want to see the Coen Brothers’ film, but I want to wait until I’ve read the book, and I keep putting it off for no good reason.
Most frequent form of writerly procrastination
Mostly reading. Let’s just say that being able to access the entirety of human knowledge on the internet is both a blessing and a curse.
Favorite childhood book
Every day after lunch, my 4th grade teacher read us The Book of Three, the first book of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. When we got to the end, I decided I was going to read the rest of the series myself, and that’s really what got me reading in a serious way. I had always been a big reader, but that was the start of having favorite authors and tearing through everything they had written, which I still do.
Alternate ambition (i.e. If you weren’t an author/Workman studio guru, you’d be…)
I ran my college radio station, and then an internet radio station for about 7 years, and long dreamed of being able to do that for a living. And my unrealistic career choice after college was music critic. I quickly learned that neither of those are real jobs for more than maybe 5 people in America each. So now my unrealistic goal is to be the person who picks the songs for movies, which is also only a real job for about 5 people.
Your perfect meal
I’ve been to the South maybe three times in my life, but I’m hooked on the food. Fried catfish, garlic mashed potatoes, greens, cornbread, fried apples, crawfish pie (which is impossible to get, post-Katrina and BP) and some sweet tea. Lucky for me, there are plenty of Southern transplants who have opened restaurants in New York.
My wife’s from Ireland, so I’d love to have a house here and one there. Or if I’m dreaming big, the top floor of the Chrysler Building here, and an 800-year-old castle there.
Super power of choice
Being able to fly. Apart from anything else, it would make getting home from work so much easier.
If you could miniaturize any other game or sporting event (with a limitless production budget), what would it be?
The big problem I encountered when trying to develop a sequel for The Miniature Book of Miniature Golf is that most sports are played in the same place. Every football game is played on an identical regulation field, so what do you put on page two? Golf lends itself to a book well, because every course has 18 different chapters to it, in a sense, and no two courses are the same. So I developed an idea for a Miniature Book of Real Golf, with different heights of “grass” for the rough, the fairway, and the green. The tallest grass was tall enough that you could tee off from it, you could hit the ball into the air, and it would take about 4 shots to get across the course, just like it would for one of the pros. But for that to work, the book was 10″ x 12″ (opening up to twice that size) and nearly twice as thick as Mini Golf with die-cuts and fake grass on every page. So, basically, I had invented the most expensive book in the world. But I still think it would be a lot of fun to play, if money were no object.
What Workman book would you like to receive as compensation for your involvement?
I already have so many! I’ll go with Joshua Jay’s The Complete Magician. My 6-year-old recently saw a magician at a birthday party, and now he wants to learn how it’s done. I just realized that every book I’ve mentioned in this thing has “magician” in the title. I swear that’s unintentional.
Mike Vago spent middle school study-hall periods mapping out elaborate miniature golf courses, which not only directly led to authoring The Miniature Book of Miniature Golf and then The Pocket Book of Pocket Billiards, but also to his career as a graphic designer. He has written for New York Press, The Stranger, and Artvoice. He lives with his family in Jersey City, New Jersey. His books, mini and pocket-sized as they respectively are, make excellent stocking stuffers.
BONUS! Check out this amazing trailer: