Michael Hoeye Discusses
How Time Stops For No One Got Written
One beautiful Saturday morning in the summer of 1997 my wife and I decided to
go out for breakfast at Café Lena on Hawthorne Boulevard in our hometown of
Portland, Oregon. On our way walking there we stopped at a garage sale and found
an old game similar to Scrabble.
You pick a set of letter pieces at random and then see what words you can make
When we got to the restaurant we made up a game to play while we drank coffee and waited for our food. The game went like this. After you got your letters, you had one minute to make up the name of an imaginary character and say something about who they were and what they did. I drew the letters that formed the name Hermux Tantamoq. And I immediately saw him as an ordinary, but likable, city mouse who was a watchmaker.
A week later I started writing about Hermux. And started getting a better feeling for who he is and the world he inhabits. I started accumulating bigger and bigger story fragments about him. On a weekend at the Oregon coast, I sat and watched the stormy ocean and wrote about him making a train trip to a small beach town. On a trip to Turkey that year I wrote about his arduous training at the Imperial School of Watchmaking in Istanbul. I wrote about a trip he made to his great-grandfather's home to repair the town clock.
I bought an expensive book about Ottoman timepieces in the Topkapi Museum. I thought it would be good inspiration for writing. By the time I got home the monumental scale of the task of writing a book had begun to make itself clear. The book on Ottoman clocks came in a sealed plastic casing. For the next year and a half I didn't have the nerve to even open it. Time passed. Occasionally I would think about Hermux. And the problems of the book. But I was busy and never seemed to get down to actually writing. Then two years later my wife Martha left for her annual buying trip of art and textiles in Southeast Asia. She would be gone for the next two months.
Thanks to internet cafes it's now possible for us to use e-mail to keep in touch while she travels. The day after she left I started an email to her. It was late January in the Pacific Northwest. There was no news of any real interest to tell her. My email read something like this: "It rained most of the day. Still pretty cold. There's another storm building off the coast so it's not likely to change. Everything's fine at home. Nothing much to report" It was pretty boring. There must be something more interesting to talk about than the weather. I looked around my office for inspiration and saw the notebook I'd used for my Hermux ideas. I opened it up and saw a paragraph I had written that began: "Oh my! Oh my!" murmured Hermux Tantamoq as he carefully examined the wristwatch."
I read it carefully. I imagined Hermux sitting in his shop on a ordinary day in his ordinary little city. Then I saw him look up. And there at his counter stood Linka Perflinger, Adventuress, Daredevil & Aviatrix. She wore no make-up. Just her natural fur. I knew I was in love. Six hours later I finished Chapter One and e-mailed it to my wife's hotel in Bangkok.
The next morning an e-mail from her was waiting for me. "What happens next?" she asked. I had no idea. As soon as I could I sat down and began writing again to find out. Late that night Chapter 2 finished and was on the way to Thailand. And so it went. A chapter every day if I possibly could.
They followed her up and down Thailand, over to Bali, on to Java, and back to Bali. By the first week of February I had written ten chapters. I had gone home with Hermux, met his neighbors, heard about his friends, found out what he did for fun, what his work was like, how the citizens of Pinchester behaved. It was a cozy, comfortable little world. But it was not without its problems. There was enough selfishness, vanity, and dishonesty to make life interesting. And enough goodness and courage to keep it "not too scary."
I decided that I would print what I had written, bind it and send it to Martha in Bali in time for Valentine's Day. That meant designing a book which I had never done. And doing it in a hurry. On Friday I sat down at my computer with my text, Quark, an exacto knife, and a stack of paper. I started making sketches. I tried different sizes and proportions. I experimented with typefaces. Saturday I spent running back and forth to Kinko's. Sunday I began assembling using a little punch and wire binders. On Monday I had a 30 page dummy in my hands. And it had a title, Time Stops For No Mouse. It had a color cover I printed and cut out by hand. I made twenty-five of them.
The next day one of them was on a plane to Ubud, Bali. I gave the remaining copies to friends. One of them was Gloria Olds who runs Broadway Books in Portland. She called me two days later and asked me to do a reading. "When will the book be finished?" she wanted to know. "What book?" I wanted to know.
At that point I knew I'd better sit down and figure out what I was doing. It was obviously turning out to be a mystery. Why? In 1992 I developed a graduate seminar for the M.B.A. program at Marylhurst University. It was a crash course in creativity for corporate managers. However, we didn't talk about creativity. We did it. Students executed a range of projects that required everything from writing poetry to designing and producing commercial products. They hit the ground running and worked nonstop for 12 weeks.
I used the modern mystery story and the detective as an important example of recognizing patterns within a complex field. It entails intentionally separating figure from ground. As far I'm concerned this is process is what underlies all creative activity. The enduring popularity of mysteries attests to the deep pleasure of reading in a highly alert state. To read a mystery is to pay attention to details. All details. However seemingly unimportant. To write a mystery is to tease the reader into continuing to read by providing an interesting world to explore. And by constructing an underlying logic that reconfigures our understanding of everyday reality. In a mystery, things are literally not what they seem to be.
"Okay!" I thought. "I'm down for a mystery!" But that meant doing some serious plot engineering to make it work. And that is exactly what I set about doing next.
Questions and Answers with Michael Hoeye
As a kid what did you dream of becoming?
I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a scientist, an architect, a writer, an artist. After a while, I just knew I wanted to make things. But I wasnt sure what.
What kind of books did you enjoy reading as a kid?
As a kid I enjoyed reading whatever I could get my hands on. I got my first library card in the 4th grade and blasted through the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in a summer. Then I moved on to adventure; Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson. Then to Edna Ferber. They had just filmed Giant in a town near where I lived in Texas. It was a huge deal. For better or worse the Ferber books are really basic to American mythologygrowth, conquest, and loss of innocence. From Ferber, I went to Willa Cather. From Willa Cather to James Michener. From there to Gone with the Wind, which is required reading in Texas. Then a sudden detour to St.-Exupéry and The Little Prince. And that was the end of childhood.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading now?
I didnt read most of the real classics of childrens literature until I was an adult. In college I started with Tolkien, which I have re-read every three to five years. I re-read Ursula LeGuins Earthsea Trilogy whenever I can. E.B.White, Roald Dahl, The Phantom Tollbooth. For adult literature Truman Capote, Italo Calvino, Dashiell Hammett, E.M. Forster, The Tale of Genji, Doris Lessing. Recent books that Ive loved include The God of Small Things. Cold Mountain. The Sixteen Pleasures. The Magicians Assistant. The Diamond Age. Ivan Doig. A.S. Byatt.
Describe your experience as a self-publisher?
Being a self-publisher is like being a washing machine on permanent spin cycle. There are always twelve things that should have been done yesterday. And a hundred more things before you go home for the day. Besides writing and designing my books, my favorite part was the people. I have such deep respect for booksellers as a profession. They play a critical role in society that seems to get overlooked. Giving new voices a chance. Rediscovering forgotten work. Keeping the classics alive. They are serious about writing and about ideas. And they usually have great senses of humor. It has been really fun to visit bookstores, exchange emails and phone calls. It has taught me a lot about the business of books and the challenges of selling them.
How has the deal with Penguin Putnam changed your life?
More people talk to me at cocktail parties.
How do you come up with the unique names for your characters?
Hermux Tantamoq, came to me during an impromptu game of Anagrams with my wife. After that, I developed a method when I commuted regularly by train between Portland and Seattle. I look around for elements of the landscape to use as my building blocks. I take parts of the words and recombine them. For instance, I see a boy in his front yard playing with a puppy and I think "Pup! Then the train rounds a corner, and I get a sudden view of a sailboat passing in the distance. And I think, "Sail, boat, boom, mast, anchor, rope, captain, schooner! How about Pup Schooner?" Hmmmm, it needs a little flip at the end. How about "Schoonerdrifting?" Too literal. "How about Schoonerglifting? What about Pup Schoonagliffen?" YES! And a new character is born with his name intact.
Why did you choose a mouse as the hero of the tale and subsequently a rodent world as the cast of characters?
It felt more like the mouse chose me. The story started out as a game for me to entertain my wife while she was traveling. The first surprise for me was how easy it was to enter into the lives of Pinchesters characters. For some reason it is the right scale and the right distance for my imagination to function well. The second surprise was that the world of Pinchester provokes other peoples imagination as well. Its a particular kind of fantasy that is common to folk tales, fairy tales, and a broad range of childrens literature.
I think it one of our most endearing qualities as human beings that we can imagine ourselves so intensely into the animal world. In doing so, we allow ourselves an emotional vulnerability and an innocence that is hard to achieve in the complex and often dangerous human world.
Did you have to do extensive research on watches and watchmaking?
I read as much as I could about the history of clocks and watches. I ordered videotapes on watch repair from the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute. They were very helpful.
How do you feel about Hermux being compared to Stuart Little?
Hermux should be so lucky as to be compared to Stuart Little. Stuart Little is one of the revolutionary characters of human imagination. When E.B. White put Stuart in his car and let him drive off the end of the page in search of Margalo the bird, he changed the world of possibilities for childrens literature to comemaybe for all literature.
Michael Hoeye's Advice For Kids - Get Creative
Play outside. Play in the grass. Play in the mud. Play in the park. Play with dolls. Play with puppets. Play with your dog. Play with little cars. Play make-believe. Play dress-up. Play hide and seek. Video games dont count. A simple rule of thumb for playing: if you get a score for doing it, its not play. Its a kind of work. Play is something you do just for the fun of it. You dont earn a number. There arent any winners, and there arent any losers. If there are winners and losers, youre talking about work. And theres nothing wrong with work. But youll have plenty of time for work when you grow up. Now is the time to play.
Make all kinds of things. Make a mess, but remember to clean it up. Make something useful. Make something for your Mom or Dad. Make something for yourself. Make something silly. Make something out of clay. Out of wood. Out of paper. Make something green. Make something blue. Make something to give to your best friend. Make a trophy for your favorite Teacher. Make a hat for your cat, but make sure he wants to wear it before you put it on.
Find out how things work. Find out where things come from. Find out what theyre used for. Find out what people do for a living. Ask them what they do for fun. Ask grownups what they enjoyed doing when they were little. Ask them what they do when theyre bored.
Notice whats going on around you. What does the sky look like today? Whats happening across the street? What does that squirrel have in his mouth? Where would he get a walnut in your neighborhood? What kind of bugs are flying around? Where are they going anyway?
Follow Your Curiosity
Go to the library. Go to the museum. Look at a picture. Look at a magazine. Read the newspaper. Open a book. Get out the encyclopedia. Go see a play. Put on a play yourself. Listen to some music. Dance around the living room. Stay off the couch and dont knock over the lamp.
Suggestions for Parents and Teachers
Talk about the things you love. Share them. If you dont know what you love, figure it out. It matters. Many young people go through life without seeing adults really caring about the world around them. Creativity is not a passive state. It takes commitment and hard work. Nobody does the work unless theyre pursuing something they care about.
Make Stuff with Them
It doesnt matter what. Make a pie. Make a shirt. Make a birdhouse. Make a garden. Make a scrapbook. Make a bulletin board. Set yourselves a goal and make it come true. Start small. Start really small. Then let it grow. Youll make a big difference.
Set an Example
Get out and do things. Check out the museum. Check out your community theater. Hit the bookstore. Go to the zoo. Go to the movies. Dont just drop off the kids. Sit down and watch. See if any factories in your town offer tours. Look around you. Drive around the neighborhood. Find stuff to do with your kids. But find some stuff for you too. If youre not stimulated, how are you going to stimulate them?
Play along. Take part in the hijinks. Watch the Marx Brothers. Dont take yourself so seriously.
Its your most valuable commodity. Be lavish with your praise. Praise is cheap. Be a big spender. Lay it on. Be a fan. But dont turn it into work. You dont need Mozart. If you get a genius, youve got a whole different set of problems. Remember, youre doing it for them. Theyre not doing it for you.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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