Author Feature: Alex Van Tol

Food Freak by Alex Van Tol

It really seems like Dani’s dad has gone around the bend. Ever since Dani’s mother died of cancer, all her dad does is stand around on street corners with his crazy signs, proclaiming that processed foods mean the end of the world. The Food Freak, as he is known, has already scared away all of Dani’s friends at her old school. But it’s a new year, and Dani is at a new school in a different part of town. Maybe things will be better now. Dani just needs to keep her head down and avoid making any friends. That way, nobody will find out about her dad and his insane protests. The plan seems to be working fine until one day Dani meets a boy who helps her see things in a different light.

What image/scene/character did you start this book with?

As I was driving to pick up my youngest son at school one afternoon, I drove past a house with a couple ICBC signs on the grass that said, “Slow Down: Children at Play”, and I wondered what it would be like if a kid had parents who littered their lawn with signs. Like, embarrassingly so. From there, I imagined what it would be like if one’s own parent actually *wore* the embarrassing signs around. Initially this book was called “Apolcalypse Guy”, after just such a man who used to stand on street corners in Victoria with huge signs proclaiming impending doom. He was a bit of a local celebrity.

What kind of research did you do for your book?

I read up on different kinds of processed foods and their effects on our bodies. Often I will spend a fair amount of time researching things in my books, but Food Freak didn’t need too much research.

Do you write in chronological order?

I tend to write a book from start to finish. I joke with other authors about the inevitable 2/3 mark, where the plot begins to seem boring and we wonder what’s the point of all of it. I have taken to calling that the doldrums, similar to the area in the ocean where north and south currents meet, and where boats just kind of float around lamely until the wind picks up again and drives them on.

What’s the hardest part of writing?

Actually sitting my butt down in the chair and getting started. I am always surprised at how easy it is to futz away the hours doing research, reading blog posts about writing, reading about other writers, reading and replying to emails… it’s not that writing is all that hard, really! But sometimes it’s just tough to get going. I find that if I break my work into manageable blocks (i.e. “You can’t check your email until you’ve written 250 words”), then it tends to get done. If someone disappeared the Internet from my computer, I’d surely get a lot more books written!

What’s your favourite form of procrastination?

Oh. I find myself strangely compelled to clean my house when I have writing to do.

What book do you wish you wrote? 

Any book that handles multiple perspectives ably. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a good example: Kingsolver really knows how to get inside her characters’ heads and make their struggles and thoughts real. I also admire Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: his handle on the deadly micro-manipulative psychological games people play inside intimate relationships is outstanding.

What is your favourite aspect / part of your new book?

I love that Dani thinks her own body is terrific, despite it not fitting the current demented mainstream ideal of feminine beauty.

What is your writing ritual?

Coffee in a travel mug, water in a mason jar, my notes open on one side of the screen and the manuscript open on the other, cursor blinking. And then I read articles at The Atlantic for a few hours.

Which actor / actress would you choose to play your protagonist in a movie?

Interesting question in that it makes me reflect on the nature of my characters. I don’t actually ever see their faces. I don’t know what they look like, other than their body shape and hair colour. Often I don’t even have a clear idea what part of the world their ancestors hailed from, e.g. whether they’re Latino or African-American or Innu or of European descent. They shift and morph a lot as I go, so I often end up with someone entirely different than who I began with. For Dani, I’d pick someone who’s a bit short and voluptuous — definitely carrying more weight than your standard Hollywood actor.

Food Freak is on shelves now!

Alex Van Tol, author
Alex Van Tol
is the author of thirteen books, including the Orca Currents titles
Chick: Lister and Oracle. A former middle school teacher, Alex loves shopping at the local market and cooking delicious meals from scratch. She does, however, also harbor a hopeless love of sugary things and can’t imagine a world without Skor bars. Alex lives in Victoria, British Columbia, where she hopes her two young sons will one day outgrow fries and learn to love a rich, cheesy risotto. For more information, visit www.alexvantol.com.

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