by Elie Lichtschein

Elie Licht­en­stein recent­ly spoke with Matthue Roth about his newest book, The Gob­blings.

Elie Lichtschein: You’ve writ­ten both nov­els and pic­ture books. Does the process of writ­ing a pic­ture book dif­fer much from writ­ing a nov­el? How so? 

Matthue Roth:The process of writ­ing any sto­ry is dif­fer­ent than any oth­er one, of course — just by virtue of the char­ac­ter and the plot and the lives you’re telling. But yes. When you’re writ­ing a pic­ture book, you’re mak­ing a blue­print. Every line you write is going to linger in the artist’s mind and is going to be mag­ni­fied a thou­sand times — you only get, what? Five or ten lines to a page? And part­ly because the artist will trans­form those five or ten lines into a whole tableau. Mul­ti­ply that by six­teen dou­ble-page spreads, and that’s the space you get to tell an entire story. 

EL: What did the col­lab­o­ra­tion process between you and Rohan look like? 

MR: There’s a peri­od of time where the man­u­script is ful­ly mine, and then a peri­od where it’s ful­ly his. Our edi­tor, Robert, is sort of the in-between­er — he’s the con­duc­tor. There was some back-and-for­thing, which was annoy­ing for Rohan, I’m sure, because he was already work­ing on lay­outs when I was still plan­ning what would hap­pen in the big chase scene. But it also made every­thing a lot more inte­grat­ed; it made the whole book more of a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort. 

EL: What was the impe­tus behind The Gob­blings? What inspired and pushed you to write it? 

MR: Most­ly this intense feel­ing of lone­li­ness I had while spend­ing time in Aus­tralia, and a Baal Shem Tov sto­ry of a boy on his own in a syn­a­gogue in a strange town on Yom Kip­pur [see the review here for a sum­ma­ry of the sto­ry]. I want to say that my kids pushed me, too — and they do; they’re always ask­ing for sto­ries, and my head is rarely togeth­er enough to be able to launch a sto­ry at them ful­ly-formed — but I think at heart, every sto­ry I tell is for myself. If it does­n’t hold my atten­tion, pic­ture book or nov­el or film or some­thing else, then it’s prob­a­bly not good enough for any­one else to read. 

EL: What oth­er works inform your writ­ing? Which authors — clas­sic or con­tem­po­rary — were most influ­en­tial while you worked on The Gob­blings?

MR: I think there’s a lot of Kaf­ka in there. And some of Mau­rice Sendak, who’s basi­cal­ly in my DNA, and Kel­ly Link, who tells these very nat­ur­al and organ­ic sci­ence fic­tion sto­ries that are both com­fort­ing and scary. 

EL: You’ve writ­ten a pic­ture book retelling clas­sic Kaf­ka sto­ries. And the gob­blings — long-snout­ed, rep­til­ian, alien mon­sters who feed on met­als and machines — are won­der­ful­ly Kafkaesque in their mun­dane absur­dity; they are, essen­tial­ly, huge mos­qui­to-like pests in out­er space. Was this a con­scious choice to chan­nel Kaf­ka in their creation? 

MR: It real­ly was­n’t a con­scious choice to evoke Kaf­ka, although he’s al­ways hunt­ing around my brain. One review­er point­ed out that nobody’s real­ly evil in The Gob­blings; even the gob­blings only do what they need to to sur­vive. It’s real­ly like a fairy tale — well, with space ships and ro­bots and stuff. Nobody’s wicked; they just have dif­fer­ent priorities. 

EL: I under­stand you recent­ly received an MFA in cre­ative writ­ing. Did The Gob­blings, in an ear­li­er draft, make an appear­ance in your program? 

MR: Not direct­ly! But I think telling sto­ries is one of those things that, the more you do, the bet­ter you get. It ramped up my skills, not just how to tell Adult Lit­er­ary Fic­tion Short Sto­ries,” but how to tell stories. 

EL: To write a pic­ture book, do you need to be trans­port­ed back into your child­hood? Or else into a wide-eyed, all-is-pos­si­ble, child-like mind­set? If so, how do you achieve this? 

MR: I think that telling any sto­ry is like cre­at­ing a world. Some­times it’s even lit­er­al. I think I def­i­nite­ly get trans­port­ed into a dif­fer­ent mind­set, but it’s less a kid mind­set” than it is the mind­set of my char­ac­ter. I think it’s real­ly just, like, whose sto­ry am I telling, and what words and form tell it best? And for Her­bie, I was like, this is a pic­ture book. 

EL: What can read­ers expect from you next? 

MR: I have two pic­ture books in the works! One is called No Dogs Al­lowed, and it’s about a dog that gets kicked out of a cor­ner store and goes on a sort of fan­tas­tic under­sea jour­ney. The oth­er is We Are in a Pot of Chick­en Soup, and it also has a sort of fan­tas­tic jour­ney. Under, um, schmaltz. 

EL: What are you read­ing right now? 

MR: A short nov­el by Steve Stern, The North of God, part of Melville House­’s won­der­ful novel­la series. And I just got my press copy of this crazy anthol­o­gy called Jews Vs. Aliens, which I’m in, but now is the first time I get to read the oth­er peo­ple’s sto­ries, which are uni­form­ly bizarre and awe­some. And with my kids, we just watched the film Labyrinth for the first time, and we’re reread­ing Mau­rice Sendak’s Out­side Over There, which it’s based on.

Elie Lichtschein is a writer and musi­cian based in New York. He is cur­rent­ly pur­su­ing an MFA degree in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the New School, where he is com­plet­ing a mysti-fan­ta­sy Mid­dle Grade adven­ture novel.

Relat­ed Content:

Elie Lichtschein is a writer and musi­cian based in New York. He is cur­rent­ly pur­su­ing an MFA degree in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the New School, where he is com­plet­ing a mysti-fan­ta­sy Mid­dle Grade adven­ture novel.