Tom Angleberger is the author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, its sequels, Darth Paper Strikes Back, The Secret of the Fortune Wookie, and some other books that do not involve Star Wars references and folded paper. I purchased Origami Yoda for a public school library where I volunteered shortly after it came out. The students adored it, and I enjoyed it as well.
As I typically do with books that don’t suck, I reviewed it online, in an essay where I diagnosed a (fictional) character with an autism spectrum disorder. As occasionally happens to people who post a lot of book reviews online, the author sent me an email, corroborating my suspicion and thanking me for my review. I asked for an interview, which he kindly granted me. However, at the time, my webmaster (i.e. my brother) was moving his family across the country and I didn’t want to impose on him during the transition. So this interview has languished in my inbox, while Angleberger published two more Origami Yoda books. I have been remiss in keeping this document from the public all this time.
10 Questions for Tom
Monica Friedman: You mention [personal correspondence] that many reviewers of Origami Yoda seemed to not understand that Dwight’s character was the result of a legitimate medical diagnosis, but rather thought of him as a sort of punch line to a silly book. How do you think this lack of understanding affects kids like Dwight, and other kids who simply see the world differently, and thus behave in ways that seem inexplicable to others?
Tom Angleberger: In many ways I feel like the kids that read the book are understanding Dwight, even if they don’t realize exactly what his condition is.
In fact, a lot of kids identify with Dwight, rather than Tommy, which really pleases me.
It is a bit frustrating when a reviewer thinks the book was fluff, when in fact it is my heart and mind laid out for all to see. (But maybe my heart and mind are fluffy.)
MF: Thirty years ago, there was no such thing as ASD: a kid was either too “special” for mainstream or else just weird. How does an Asperger’s diagnosis change things for weird kids like Dwight? How would you project his long-term prognosis?
TA: Well, Dwight
has NOT been diagnosed in the story. Not yet, at least. I know that
he’s an Aspie, just like I know I am. But neither of us has been
Long-term...Dwight is awesome and will be just fine...unless Harvey and Darth Paper foul things up.
MF: Do you know many ASD kids? How did they affect your writing? How did you research or create such an unusual and compelling character?
TA: No it’s not research, it’s just me and my experiences, observations, and Aspergerianism.
MF: Can we talk about the discrepancy between Dwight’s behavior and Origami Yoda’s wisdom? When Tommy asks Dwight to consult Origami Yoda about whether or not a joke is funny, Origami Yoda says, “Funny it is not,” but Dwight persists with the joke. Is his behavior a deliberate choice? His risk-taking pays off in the long term, but it’s usually detrimental in the short term. How smart is this kid, anyway?
TA: THAT WOULD BE TELLING...
MF: In your interview with Madelyn Rosenberg you discussed the difficulty you had in getting permission from LucasFilms to use the licensed character of Yoda in this book. At what point do you feel that an idea or character should be considered public domain? Should Star Wars characters eventually be treated like characters from the Bible or Greek mythology (since they arguably serve the same purpose in our society)? Did you have to pay George Lucas?
TA: In truth, there wasn’t much difficulty. We feared there might be, but Lucasfilm was totally awesome! And they continue to be incredibly supportive.
No, I don’t think Star Wars characters should be public domain yet. Lucasfilm deserves both remuneration and control over its creations. (That said, Lucasfilm seems pretty willing to let fans have fun with the characters.)
MF: You have also mentioned that, when you were afraid that you wouldn’t get permission to use the Yoda character, that you considered other origami figures, such as an origami Albert Einstein. What is it about Yoda that has made him the modern vessel for the archetype of wisdom? What does it say that a puppet (Frank Oz’s, rather than the paper one in your novel) has supplanted the father of modern physics as the iconic wise man for this generation?
TA: Well, Einstein is awesome and all, but Yoda is Yoda! There is just so much more that I can do with Yoda—and the rest of Star Wars—than would have been possible with Einstein.
And Yoda is not a puppet any more than, say, Harry Potter is ink on a page or an actor with glasses. That's why the kids in the book sometimes refer to the REAL Yoda...
MF: My stepdaughter (who can not yet read) was amazed and delighted by the cover of your book. How much do you feel the book’s reception was influenced by your reinterpretation of a popular character? Would /The Strange Case of Origami Einstein/ have sold as many copies?
TA: No way! And it goes farther than that. The Star Wars mythology has shaped my story. This is especially true of Darth Paper Strikes Back. Over and over again, the movies have inspired me, from little jokes to the big, big stuff that drives the books. Einstein never would have done that.
MF: What’s your writing routine? Do you have a particular schedule or routine? Can you write on the fly—say, in an airport or a doctor’s office—or do you require solitude?
TA: No routine, I write when I have motive and opportunity. I have been able to write in a noisy library before, but I prefer home—on the porch if possible.
MF: What’s your editing process? You mention that your wife edits your work (and vice versa). Do you have other trusted readers? How do you evaluate feedback? How does the editing process differ from the writing process for you?
TA: Yes, my wife, Cece Bell, is a great sounding board for ideas. (Many of which fizzle and burn after she fails to show interest in them.) My agent and editor are the only others who read my books early one. They both have incredible instincts.
Re-writing and editing can be hard and frustrating and sometimes I do it grudgingly...but I would NEVER NEVER go back to the old version if my editor gave me the option.
MF: How do you feed your muse? What inspires you?
TA: Books, observing people and a constant burning desire to think of the next thing for my readers.
Read my review of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda