Pete Hautman Q&A

February 7, 2022
Pete Hautman writes for all audiences with equal dexterity.

“When I get stuck, and I do, I switch gears and work on something else, which is why I have three or four books underway at any given time. It took me years to figure out how to do that — to not be paralyzed by the blank page. You become blocked by thinking that you have to write some particular thing next, and you don’t know what it is. So write something else and come back to the sticking point later.”

You won the National Book Award for Godless. What was that moment like when you heard the news?

The NBA ceremony is live, structured like the Oscars. I was sitting with my publishers in an enormous ballroom in New York. When they announced the winner in my category I instantly went from a state of breathless anxiety, dread, and nausea, to utter calm. It is one of the experienced gambler’s truths — the reward is in the anticipation. Hoping for joy is nice. Winning is like, OK, fine. Next? Those people who jump up and down screaming when they win? Amateurs! It felt the same winning the L.A. Times Book Prize event in 2011, and at the Edgar Awards a couple of years ago. And not winning? Great! I don’t have to get up and speak.

Your book Slider was like watching the film Big Night to me. Made me hungry! How did you get interested in the world of competitive eating?

That’s interesting. I think most grown-ups are kind of grossed out by Slider. I became interested in competitive eating most because it’s so … bizarre. Like boxing, or football. I don’t know how I would explain such sports to an alien visitor. After watching Big Night —  do you remember the final scene? — I immediately went home and made some scrambled eggs.

How do you handle writer’s block?

When I get stuck, and I do, I switch gears and work on something else, which is why I have three or four books underway at any given time. It took me years to figure out how to do that — to not be paralyzed by the blank page. You become blocked by thinking that you have to write some particular thing next, and you don’t know what it is. So write something else and come back to the sticking point later.

Whenever I see a water tower, I think of you, because of Godless. Do you hear that a lot?

People are always sending me water tower pics.

You often write about spiritual matters. Do you find the acting of writing affirms your place in the universe?

Not belief, but it gives me the sense that I am at least trying to understand. It is my way of trying to view reality through other lenses. In that sense, it brings me closer to the “other.” And maybe, if I write well enough, it can bring others closer to me.

You write books for YA audiences as well as adult audiences. Did you have an epiphany early in your career that you sort of get readers in the age group?

My first YA novel, Mr. Was, was written for adults, or so I thought. When my agent proposed publishing it as YA, I didn’t know what YA was. I learned quickly, and the more I thought about how impactful the experience of reading as a young person was for me, the more I became interested in being a part of that. I do, however, have a couple of adult novels in the works. One should be out in early 2023.

Your partner is also an acclaimed author. Do you have house rules about each other’s writing time?

Not really. We are always up in each other’s shit. Just this morning Mary yelled, “Pete! Pete! Come here!” I jumped up from my desk and ran into her office. “Look!” she said, pointing at her computer. It was a photo of a cow licking a woman’s face. Big tongue! I didn’t mind seeing that.

What is next for you?

The Rat Queen, an “upper middle-grade” novel, will be coming out in the fall from Candlewick Press. It’s a sort of horror story with fairy-tales and talking rats. My editor describes it as “A middle grade novel featuring a young girl who grapples with the utility of the conscience.”