Saturday, October 27, 2012

Getting to Know Markus Zusak

Of course my dream would have been to interview the subject of this week's celebration himself, or to have him list his five favorite books for me, or to have him write a guest post. But I wasn't sure how to go about that, my one attempt went unheeded and I didn't want to publicly bug him on Twitter.

So instead, for this final post of MZ Week, I've decided to browse the internet for interviews other people have done and list some of the most interesting answers and facts here. And let me just say.. there's TONS more out there now than there was a few years ago when I was combing the web for info on him!

I've simplified original questions, but I've left the answers the same. At the bottom, I will list all the sites where this info comes from and so hopefully I won't get in any sort of trouble!

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I read some books that were the right books for me. I read them and I didn't even notice turning the pages anymore. I thought, “That’s what I want to do with my life.” There are two magic acts I want to pull off when I write. One is creating a feeling that when you’re inside a book, you believe everything you’re reading even when you know it’s not true. And the second is an extension of that, which is you know it’s not true, you know it’s not real, but you believe it anyway. And it’s that believing of the story that isn't real that attracted me to writing and storytelling in general.

I was sixteen when I tried to write my first book. And it could easily be entered into a competition for the worst book ever written. I only wrote eight pages. That’s what happens every time I write a book now. I write eight pages that aren't very good at all. Then I go through it the next time and the next time, pull the gems out and start again.

Who's your favorite character, and is it based on a real person?

I think Rudy is my favourite character (from The Book Thief). I loved him from the moment he painted himself black and pretended to be Jesse Owens. I cried the most for Rudy as I was writing. He is 80% fiction, with a few splashes of my father. For example, my dad stopped going to Hitler Youth, the same way Rudy did. He was also hand-picked to join a selective school for Nazis and his father was sent to war for refusing to hand him over.

From a more comedic angle, I feel like the best reason for I am the Messenger existing is because of The Doorman. I loved that old dog who wouldn't move from the door.

What were your favorite books as a teenager? 

 My Brother Jack (an Australian classic by George Johnston) and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Peter Hedges).

What was your inspiration for Liesel and how did you write from a girl's point of view so well?

The first thing I should say is that I still cheated. I still didn't write from Liesel’s point of view…but it was actually a natural thing to have a female lead character. The luckiest part about my childhood was to have two parents with amazing stories who both happened to be great storytellers on top of it. With no disrespect to my dad, it was my mum’s world at the outskirts of Munich that had the greatest influence on me. That’s why I chose Liesel. Of course, the instant I fictionalized something, it wasn't her anymore. Liesel ceased being my mother on page eight or nine and became herself, even when I borrowed from my mother’s life story.

What does Death look like, in your head?

To be honest, when I think of Death, I hear the voice, and then I see the sky, the earth, the trees and all of us. It’s why I wanted Death to talk about those things in terms of “who,” like “the sky who was wide and blue and magnificent.” I wanted Death to talk about all of those things as if they were colleagues—all part of the same thing. Maybe I see Death as the part of us that knows all the time that we’re going to die, reminding us to live properly. Then again, sometimes I do like to see the old Grim Reaper, just for a bit of a laugh…

Are you a reader? What do you read?

It’s insane to be a writer and not be a reader. When I’m writing I’m more likely to be reading four or five books at once, just in bits and pieces rather than subjecting myself to a really brilliant book and thinking, “Well what’s the point of me writing anything?” I’m more likely to read a book through when I take a break from writing.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I loved a strange character called Grug. It was a whole series. Grug and the Big Red Apple, Grug and the Rainbow, Grug and the Green Paint, all by Ted Prior. I could describe him in more detail... Actually, I can't. Grug pretty much defies belief.

Have your parents read The Book Thief?

My parents became insufferable while I was writing the book, because it kept getting longer and longer. They kept asking, “When’s the book going to be finished?” Finally I just had to banish the discussion. Now, my mum’s read the book three times. She’s listened to the audio as well. When my dad read it he swore at me and said, “You made me cry.” I couldn't say anything but thank you.

You said you didn't think anyone would read The Book Thief, now that it's a bestseller, how do you feel?

It still astonishes me. It’s really ridiculous in a sweet way when people line up to get the book signed and they want to get a photo. The fact that there are people who really want to read this book and have loved it is really humbling and makes me want to write a better book next time. People say to me, “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself; you don’t have to write a better book. It just has to be a different book.“ And I say, “Every time I wrote a book previously I thought I had to write a better book so why not this time as well?”

Did you put something of yourself into the main character, Ed, from I Am The Messenger?

It’s unavoidable I guess when you write anything. There’s probably a piece of me in Liesel and a piece of me in Death. If you look at Ed or even at Cameron Wolfe, the protagonist of my first two books, there’s definitely a lot of me in them. I think I was a lot like Ed. I lacked confidence severely for a long time, and that was a fundamental part of Ed’s character. Underneath it all I wanted Ed to be like a superhero, but without superhero powers. I think that’s when you find out who you really are. What if you had to do amazing things and you had to reach into your humanness for that? That’s what Ed is doing in that book.

Do you find writing easy?

I find writing extremely difficult. I usually have to drag myself to my desk, mainly because I doubt myself. And it's getting harder because I want to improve with every book. Sometimes I guess it's best just to forget there's an audience and just write like no one will ever read it at all.

What makes you write now?

To me the question is always this: if a ray of light came out of the sky and said, "Your next book will never be published - would you still write it?" If the answer is yes, the book is worth writing.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Don't be afraid to fail. I fail every day. I failed thousands of times writing The Book Thief, and that book now means everything to me. Of course, I have many doubts and fears about that book, too, but some of what I feel are the best ideas in it came to me when I was working away for apparently no result. Failure has been my best friend as a writer. It tests you, to see if you have what it takes to see it through.

What do you do when not writing?

I live near the beach, and a great park. If I’m not at either of these places, I’m in the backyard.
Or doing the dishes.
Also I’ll read.
After all, that’s why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.

Tell us about your next book.

My new book is called Bridge of Clay. It’s different again from what I've done before, and I hope it will be better than the last book…

I've changed in just about every way since I started writing. I’m both less patient and more patient, more and less confident…The only thing that hasn't changed is that I still end up at the desk somehow. I have a lot of days where I’m plagued by doubt and have trouble with the work, but I always come back. Maybe that’s just because I’m not qualified to do anything else, but I’m not so sure.

Where do you get your ideas?

I used to lie about this, but now I actually know –
I started writing when I was sixteen. I’m well into my thirties now. I get my ideas from twenty years of thinking about it.

What made you decide to become a writer?

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a house painter like my father, but I was always screwing up when I went to work with him. I had a talent for knocking over paint and painting myself into corners. I also realized fairly quickly that painting bored me. When I was a teenager, I read some books that brought me totally into their worlds. One was The Old Man and the Sea and another was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I was also inspired by S.E Hinton’s novels – The Outsiders at the start, but as time went on, more so by Rumble Fish. When I read those books, I thought, That’s what I want to do with my life. After many rejection letters, it took seven years to get published, and there were countless daily failures along they way as well. I’m glad those failures and rejections happened, though, because they made me realize that what I was writing just wasn't good enough – I had to push myself to improve.

Links for the original interviews:

Politics and Prose Bookstore:

Chicago Public Library:

Mother Daughter Book Club:

The Guardian:

Markus Zusak's Tumblr:

Random House:

Links for following Markus Zusak:


I hope you've had fun this week! I know I've had a blast. And I hope, more than anything else, that if you haven't read one of his books, you now have the desire, you'll wait no longer and you'll just do it!


  1. That was just as fun as the real thing! I didn't know a lot of this.

  2. Such fun to read! He's so humble. What a nice way to cap off Markus Zusak week. I had a lovely time reading everything. I hope you do it again sometime.

  3. I love the collection of questions and answers. The one about his parents' reaction to The Books Thief is incredible. Thank you for hosting this whole week!

  4. Almost as good as the real thing - wish you'd had better luck contacting him :( Great Zusak celebration, though!

  5. Rats, I wish I had known about this event before. I've only read one of his books (The Book Thief) but I'd love to read more and know more about him!

  6. I loved his answer about Death - so interesting that he thinks of Death as part of the sky and the earth around us.



Related Posts with Thumbnails