How do you write a successful novel for kids eight to 12? For Adrienne Kress it’s a no-brainer. First, says the author of the just recently published Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, read all the children’s literature available – beginning in childhood and continuing to the present day. Next, retain the detailed thought processes and vivid, heightened perceptions that you experienced as a child. Finally, teach drama to kids and find yourself hanging out with them in the breaks between lessons, not because you have to but instead because you feel a kinship with their high-energy, non-stop-chattering, wildly imaginative selves; more of a kinship, perhaps, than you feel with your peers.
Kress has always written stories, mainly to entertain herself, until a professor encouraged her to think of it as a viable career. Later, on a trip to England, while strolling through the town of Bath, it crystalized.
Her love of kids. Her knowledge of children’s literature. Her lifelong passion for writing.
Her first book, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, was the well received. Her second, Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, is both a sequel (Timothy’s story connects to Alex’s) and a stand-alone book.
Along with her career as an author, Kress is also an actress, playwright, director and teacher – as busy as a hyperactive child let loose in the sandbox that is Canada’s arts and entertainment scene.
Adrienne Kress met with TORO Woman photographer Franco Deleo for this sexy photo shoot and gave us more insights into her personality with this questionnaire.
Q: What is the quality you like most in a man?
A: Sense of humour. Thoughtfulness. And when I say thoughtfulness, I mean someone who has empathy and understands that the world is a complicated place. Just someone who thinks about things before they do them.
Q: The quality you like most in a woman?
A: Same as above. I have a really great group of girlfriends – I’m lucky in that I have a lot of different groups of friends – but there’s this one group and we have totally bonded because we make each other laugh so hard that we are crying.
Q: What is your present state of mind?
A: Overwhelmed. Not in a bad way. Just everything that’s going on in my life. There’s a lot.
Q: What is your greatest indulgence?
A: Dining out – I probably shouldn’t do it quite as much as I do. And I’m a huge film buff, so I go and see a lot of movies.
Q: What is your most treasured possession?
A: This may sound really cheesy, but I have a teddy bear. His name is Beary: B – e – a – r – y. So, bear-eee. And it was a birth-day present. So I got him on the day I was born, from my great aunt. And he’s just a teddy bear. He doesn’t really do anything. He lost an eye, so there’s a little bandage over it. But he has been everywhere with me; he’s been to England with me, and just everywhere for all these seminal moments in my life. And I thought I lost him once in a hotel, this was a couple of years ago, and I was like a five-year-old. I was like, “Where’s my teddy bear? Where’s...?” I was like freaking out. I mean, I would be upset if I lost my laptop because I have a lot of work on it. But, of everything, if I lost Beary that would be a tragedy [laughs]. So there you go, my teddy bear Beary. I am so cheesy.... [laughs].
Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Well, there are a lot of film directors and writers and actors that I really admire, but I’d actually have to say my parents. My first book is dedicated to “team Kress” because my parents really helped out – I mean, they worked on my edits with me (both were English high school teachers, and my dad taught creative writing). But they’re also just incredible people. My father is one of the most moral and ethical people that you could ever meet. Like if you ever had a moral dilemma that was postulated in class, just call him up and he’ll have the right answer for you. And he’s also very funny and smart. I’m like this [gesticulates in a whirlwind motion with hands] but he’s very quiet. And thoughtful. Really caring.
And my mother is also very ethical, but she struggles a bit more like I do [laughs]. But she’s always been very strong, never frightened to say her opinions. And she was always teaching me – you know, girls are often told to be quiet – but she was always saying to me, “If you have an opinion you’re allowed to share it, you’re allowed to be smart, you’re allowed to have pride in what you do. And so they were both really amazing people. And they’re fun to hang out with too [laughs].
Q: On what occasion do you lie?
A: Well, I do lie. I’m not going to say that I don’t lie. It’s really tricky. It’s always very circumstantial. I don’t like playing tricks on people – but, oh, once in a while, once in a while. If it’s peer pressure, possibly. And if it’s something I know that the person can really handle. But I hate being played tricks on, and I’m very gullible – so I don’t like that kind of thing. I guess that I’d lie to save people’s feelings, really, but even then I prefer to be as honest as possible – so that when I say something positive they know it’s the truth. So, once in a while, if the situation requires a bit of diplomacy. Just every once in a while – you kind of have to a little bit sometimes.
Q: Other than your present occupation, what occupation would you like to try?
A: For a while I was interested in law, but then realized that I’d rather play a lawyer on TV. You know what? I think maybe architecture, actually. I love buildings. And I love looking at them. And I love walking around. In university I had a friend (who is now going into architecture) and he and I would walk around the campus and check out the latest buildings.
Q: If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I mean, I have issues with my life, as everyone does, but I think it’s been pretty sweet. I guess I’d be curious to see what life is like on the other side and come back as a boy. I’m very interested in filmmaking, and it does at times seem like a boys’ club, and so it would be something to come back as one of the Martin Scorseses or Steven Spielbergs at the cutting edge of that industry – this is just off the top of my head. I realize that I’d have to go back in time for this to happen.... [laughs].
As a thing? I’d like to be a cat. A cat with nice owners and a really comfy warm house.
Q: What is the most overrated virtue?
A: Loyalty. It´s a great thing when you defend and take care of the people who matter to you. Not so much when it blinds you to the truth of a situation. Too many people remain loyal to others who have long since changed their behaviour. Like respect, loyalty isn´t an obligation, it is earned.
Q: What trait do you deplore most in others?
A: Thoughtlessness. In the sense that I really have issues with generalizations, especially around gender. Men are this and women are that. I don’t like it when people don’t think and use ... well, just not looking at the facts. Looking at things from the outside and making a sweeping judgment then and there without really getting to know the situation or the people. I don’t really mind people having opinions, as long as they’re founded in something. Yeah, that really bugs me a lot lately.
Q: What trait do you deplore most in yourself?
A: So many.... [laughs]. Oh, well I talk a lot – as you can probably tell – and because I talk a lot I express a lot of opinions and at least once I day I will invariably put my foot in my mouth. Sometimes I just say the wrong thing, but don’t mean it. Yeah, just talking a lot and inadvertently offending someone. And I always think about it and feel terrible for days afterward.
Q: Who is your favourite children’s author?
A: There’s a lot. I like J.K. Rowling – I enjoy her writing – but I also respect her almost even more as a person. The way that she’s handled the media, the way that she’s handled the attention. She’s incredibly gracious under pressure and just incredibly gracious: anything that she’s written since the Harry Potter books, 100 per cent goes to charity. I also really love Norton Juster, who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a really great book and it’s really funny. That book was really inspiring. And then, while not a children’s author, but Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, has been the greatest influence for me.
Q: What is your motto?
A: I like mottoes! I probably have a lot of them. Well, I have three. They are all quotes. The first is from a Jacobean tragedy, “A pox on your outlandish feminine antics!” I don’t know, I just like it. It may not be something to live by, because I actually enjoy outlandish feminine antics.
But then these next two are actually really more like mottoes for me. Jane Austen, “Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint.” And I like that because I think I’m a little wackier than normal. There are times when people look at me with my sense of humour and don’t realize that I’m joking. So do as you wish but don’t lose your bearings – and choose! That’s the key.
And then, my next one that I always use, especially when I’m talking to other writers and actors, is from the movie Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”
Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate is available at bookstores across Canada and the United States.
William Morassutti is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TOROmagazine.com. Prior to joining TORO, he worked in Canadian broadcasting as a writer, producer, director, reporter and host.