Matt Youngmark recently agreed to sit down for a virtual interview with editor Dawn Vogel. Not only is he a friend of the MSJ editors, he’s also done a couple memorable covers for our quarterly magazine, and he’s also the guy who does the fancy layout for our anthologies. Recently, he published The “Wonderful” Wizard of Futhermucking Oz, which is a YA novel that retells the story of the Wizard of Oz with a modern-day protagonist. It’s hilarious and FULL of cursing. So read on to learn more about Matt and his book!
Dawn: Tell our readers a little bit more about yourself.
Matt: I guess I’m best known for the Chooseomatic Books series, which are novel-length, PG-13 choose your own adventure books—I’ve written three so far and will probably write more in the future, because they’re so much fun to do. I also did a daily webcomic called Conspiracy Friends (it’s not up any more, but it’s been collected into three paperback volumes, which are HILARIOUS, if you want to check them out).
DV: How did you come up with the idea to rewrite a beloved children’s classic as a young adult novel?
MY: I’ve always wanted to do something with a public domain work—they’re just sitting there, you know? And nobody owns the copyright any more. It’s like somebody left the top down on their sweet convertible with the keys in it—HOW CAN YOU EVEN RESIST?
Then I was reading some review of that Oz show on NBC that just got cancelled (I still haven’t seen it), and it got me pondering what I would do if I was going to take a swing at the Oz mythos. The idea of rewriting the original 1900 novel with a modern protagonist in a constant state of WTF made me laugh, and it felt like the kind of thing I could write pretty quickly, before the novelty wore off. And I did write it pretty quickly, and I’m delighted at how it came out, so here we are.
DV: What was the weirdest thing you learned about L. Frank Baum and/or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while writing this book?
MY: Definitely the genocide. About ten years before the first Oz book came out, Baum wrote two newspaper editorials (and he was the editor, so it’s not like it was just some assignment) where he explicitly called for the complete extermination of Native Americans. It’s some fucked up shit. A lot of his fans speculate that he didn’t maintain these views later in life, based on the fact that he was progressive on women’s rights and hung around with people who weren’t horrible racists and whatever. But we don’t have anything on the record where he walks any of it back to judge him by. We just have those editorials.
I actually worried a bit that I would alienate Baum fans by touching on it. And then after the first reading at Norwescon, a guy came up to me and thanked me for mentioning it in the text because he’s part Native American and it meant a lot to him. I mean, I sincerely hope that Baum fans like the book too, but if I have to choose between readers, I guess I’d rather have that guy.
DV: Is your portrayal of Arabella based on actual fifteen-year-old girls you’ve met, or just sort of a general “this is what the young folks are like these days”?
MY: For the most part, Arabella just reacts to situations the way I do when I’m in a bad mood. The main difference is that I’m pretty quick to hit that “edit” button in my head before I say something that might hurt someone’s feelings. Arabella is super fun to write because she doesn’t have that—she was done putting up with people’s bullshit by the time she was about 8, and no one’s paying her to massage your fragile ego, so if you don’t like it, you can step the fuck off.
See, just talking about her, I slip into her POV. She’s probably my favorite character to write, ever.
DV: What’s next for Arabella?
MY: I don’t want to give away too much, because the plot of book two is actually kind of a spoiler for the last page of book one. But it’s less “beloved children’s fairy tale,” like the Oz book, and more “men’s adventure story.” The plan is to keep robbing the corpses of long-dead authors and sending Arabella adventuring through various public domain classics. I have two more books planned, and after that, if people like them, who knows?
DV: What’s next for Matt Youngmark?
MY: Right now (like literally as soon as I finish typing this) I’m working on some writing for a new tarot-based storytelling game called Weave (http://www.weave.game/), which I’m really excited about. And then a couple more Arabella books—after that, I’m not sure. But I’m kind of in love with this whole writing a book in a couple of months instead of a couple of years thing. So, probably more books?