Photo by Matt Wilson, The Daily Show
Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. His other awards include a Stonewall Honor and the Green Earth Book Award. In addition to "Queer Ducks," he is also the author of "The Darkness Outside Us," "Endangered," and "Threatened." He lives with his husband in New York City, is on the faculty of the Hamline University and Fairleigh Dickinson University MFA in creative writing programs, and reviews books for USA Today. Visit him online at www.eliotschrefer.com.
Eliot is obviously a highly talented writer with a lively sense of humor, and a curious sensitivity that compels him to tell deeply emotional stories. He also has the ethical nature of a scientist, guided by a strong sense of integrity and a commitment to facts, even in his fictional works. In writing "Queer Ducks," he followed a rigorous research protocol. He interviewed every major scientist in the field of animal behavior, and travelled to the Congo to a bonobo refuge and spent time with the animals to verify first-hand the data he had collected.
Some excerpts From Eliot's own bio page on his website:
Schrefer’s first novel, Glamorous Disasters, was a somewhat autobiographical tale of a young man living in Harlem and paying off college debt while tutoring Fifth-Avenue families. After writing another novel for adults, he turned to young adult fiction with The School for Dangerous Girls, about a boarding school for criminal young ladies. That book was selected as a “Best of the Teen Age” by the New York Public Library, and his next novel, The Deadly Sister, earned a starred review from School Library Journal.
Endangered, his fifth novel, was a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature, one of NPR’s “Best of 2012,” and an editor’s choice in The New York Times, which called it “dazzling, big-hearted.” The book was also a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. Schrefer journeyed to the Democratic Republic of Congo while researching the novel, and has since traveled wider as he’s embarked on a quartet of novels about the great apes, one book for each primate, detailing a young person’s relationship with that animal. His follow-up, Threatened, was also a National Book Award Finalist, among other honors.
Perhaps the most fun and revealing insight into Eliot's endearing character is this humorous, somewhat self-deprecating interview he had with himself back in 2010:
A Q and A between Eliot and Eliot, circa 2010
ELIOT: We'd like to welcome Eliot Schrefer to the computer.
ELIOT (coughs): Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
ELIOT: Eliot, if I may call you Eliot, I'd like to start by asking you a few questions about what brought you to this point. I understand, for example, that you were born premature. A caesarean section, I believe.
ELIOT: Yes. Though I can't really see why--
ELIOT: It's hardly underdocumented that those who are smaller than their peers in early stages of their lives feel deep needs to exert their personalities later in life. In such desperate need of a caregiver as an infant, you learned to please others in order to survive. This drive develops to such an extent that producing work for the outside world becomes the most authentic way, paradoxically, of being yourself.
ELIOT: I was told that you'd start by asking me my favorite color.
ELIOT: I chose not to.
ELIOT: Clearly. I'm a bit thirsty. Would you mind...?
ELIOT: Of course not. Have a sip.
ELIOT: Thank you. It's yellow, by the way. My favorite color.
ELIOT: Now, Eliot. Let's continue with a couple more ice breakers. You're a Pisces, no?
ELIOT: A Sagittarius. But I don't believe in astrology.
ELIOT: Of course. That's in my notes somewhere, I'm sure. Tell us a bit about your childhood.
ELIOT: I was born in Chicago, during the blizzard of 1978. My mom's British, my dad's American. I've got both passports. We lived in Norwich and Cheshire, Connecticut, Santa Rosa, California, Columbia, Maryland, and Clearwater, Florida.
ELIOT: Quite a few places. Was your dad in the military?
ELIOT: Nope. He just wasn't very good at his job.
ELIOT: Awkward. You're aware that Michael Chabon grew up in Columbia, Maryland as well? He's written about it.
ELIOT: Yes. I just finished his essay on it. And I'm a big fan of his novels.
ELIOT: Whom else do you like?
ELIOT: My favorite writer for adults is E.M. Forster. Particularly Howard's End. His language is unpretentious, his plots engaging, and his paragraphs will crack open with these profound, unexpected insights. For similar reasons I'll also read anything by Lorrie Moore, Edith Wharton, Michael Cunningham, Julia Glass, Nicola Griffith, or Dorothy Parker. That would be some dinner party, wouldn't it?
ELIOT: I don't follow.
ELIOT: No bother. Continue.
ELIOT: Where do you live?
ELIOT: In New York City. The Upper West Side, near the Museum of Natural History.
ELIOT: When did you start writing?
ELIOT: I wrote a fantasy novel when I was in eighth grade, which featured loads of glowing blue swords, archers in green leather, and monsters rearing in anguish. Then I wrote some plays in high school, many of which are terrible and one of which is still produced to this day. During college I didn't really write. Which was good, because it took me a few years afterwards to purge enough academic self-awareness to be able to create readable fiction.
ELIOT: Your first novel, Glamorous Disasters, was about a young man from the South who becomes an SAT tutor to the scions of Park Avenue. You also happen to be a young man from the South who became a Manhattan SAT tutor. Coincidence?ELIOT: Not really a coincidence. But I will say my real students are a lot sweeter than the ones in the book.
ELIOT: Did you work for a company? How did they feel about your writing Glamorous Disasters?
ELIOT: I either quit or got fired, to this day I'm not sure. I work for myself, now.
ELIOT: I'll put you down as "fired."
ELIOT: Sweet of you.
ELIOT: And your second book?
ELIOT: I sublet my apartment in the summers, pack a big backpack and wander around sleeping on friends' couches. I was in Barcelona when I wrote The New Kid.
ELIOT: It was quite a departure from your first book. Much darker fare.
ELIOT: Any swords?
ELIOT: No. But monsters did rear in pain, I guess.
ELIOT: Your third book is an SAT guide called Hack the SAT?
ELIOT: That's right. It was a finalist for the National Book Award.
ELIOT: That's a joke, right?
ELIOT: You're on the cover.
ELIOT: Sort of. We hired a manga-style artist to sketch me. Since we sent her my author photo, which goes down only to my shoulders, she didn't know how tall to make me. That guy on the cover is, oh, half a foot taller than I really am. You know how people have "dream jeans" they hope to fit into someday? That guy's the "dream me."
ELIOT: I see we're back to the short thing. How short are you?
ELIOT: That's more "average" than "short."
ELIOT: Eh, I was a short kid. It sticks.
ELIOT: And now we have The School for Dangerous Girls. How did that come about?
ELIOT: I went to lunch with my friend, David Levithan, a great author who also happens to be an editor at Scholastic. He said he had a killer title for a book, and wondered if I'd write it. So I did. It was a perfect setup, really. I'm terrible at titles (case in point being The New Kid, many would argue), and I got to start with a title that works and build the novel from there.
ELIOT: What's next?
ELIOT: I'm working on another young adult novel for Scholastic.
ELIOT: What's this one about?
ELIOT: It's not totally formed yet, so I'd rather not say. But you could call it a spiritual successor to The School for Dangerous Girls.
ELIOT: Are you planning on writing more adult fiction?
ELIOT: Yes. I'm halfway into a book that might end up being called The Nephew Season. It's about a young man who grew up in rural France in the 1870s, showed tremendous aptitude for the piano, was the toast of Parisian high society, then offended the wrong man and disappeared from history at the age of 19. He was supposed to become France's Mozart, but he just vanished. He was an actual person. I spent last summer at the French archives doing research. Really heartbreaking story.
ELIOT: A cautionary tale, perhaps?
ELIOT: I'm terrible at piano.
ELIOT: We just don't understand each other, do we, you and I?
ELIOT: That's the key of writing, I guess, isn't it? Constantly building bridges, both to reach the minds outside and to connect the parts within.
ELIOT: Stop being so pretentious.
ELIOT: I don't think I was. I was just trying to answer your question.
ELIOT: People wonder why, since you're a writer, you don't brood more.
ELIOT: I really like my life. I feel really lucky. There's not much cause to brood.
ELIOT: Eliot, thanks for stopping by.
ELIOT: Always a pleasure.