A few weeks ago, I was really, really stuck while writing ANTSY FLOATS, and I couldn’t figure out why.  I tried all my usual tricks to get past “writer’s cliff” and nothing was working, so I decided to do something different.  I decided to have a conversation with my main character.  Seriously.  I sat down and began to write to Antsy, and then switched roles, and let Antsy respond.  It was amazing!  I figured out the problem, and Antsy helped me come up with the solution.   I thought you all might like to have a glimpse into the creative process, so here it is – My entire “conversation” with Antsy!

ME: “Antsy, talk to me. I’m dyin’ here. I got no clue what to write. Usually, you’re right there talking in my ear, telling me your story. But lately, It’s been like pulling teeth getting you to talk. What gives?”

ANTSY: “What do you want from me? You put me on this crazy nutso cruise ship. Yeah, it’s cool, but I’m out of my normal element. I’m too dazzled by the thing to do anything but be distracted. It’s fun for me, but not for anyone reading.”

ME: “So the problem is that there is no problem. There’s too much vacation going on, not enough story, not enough character.”

ANTSY: “Yeah. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go lie out in the sun.”

ME: “That’s boring. I can’t let you do that.”

ANTSY: “Try and stop me.”

ME: “Ok, so I gotta throw a whole lot of random stuff at you to keep your vacation from being a vacation.”

ANTSY: “Nope. That’ll make it episodic.”

ME: “Ok. Maybe one major thing. But I already have one major thing coming your way. Maybe I need to introduce it sooner.”

ANTSY: “Yeah, I know… but it’s not major enough to keep me from hanging at the pool– because really, a stowaway? Why would I even care?  Not my problem.”

ME: “Ok. So I’ll make it your problem, and make it your problem fast.

ANTSY:  How?

ME: “Mmm…Maybe she has something on you? You two are bound from the beginning by something, maybe something wrong that you did that can get you into trouble. Like….  I’ve got it!  You forged Howie’s passport to get him on the ship! That ties right into the theme of the story.

ANTSY: “Great.  Thanks for ruining my vacation. I hope you’re happy.”

ME: “I’m not ruining it. I’m turning into a valuable learning experience.”

ANTSY: “Yeah.  Which I need like a hole in the head.”

ME: “You do, because you need these life lessons.  I fully expect you to be mayor of New York someday, Antsy.”

ANTSY: “Why would I want so much grief?”

ME: “Ok. So part of the problem is solved. I still have to figure out how to move the story along. Right now, you’re about to board the boat. You saw, or at least you thought you saw, some guy fall from a balcony. But for some reason, the story just dies the second I get you on the ship.”

ANTSY: “Yeah, like I told you, I’m too dazzled by the experience to do anything useful. All I do is explore.”

ME: “Exploring a giant cruise ship is fun, right?”

ANTSY: “Yeah, but it doesn’t move the story forward or develop character. It becomes like that porch light brainless bugs fly around. A distraction. What you gotta do is make the porch light important, like maybe somehow you gotta turn the light off ‘cause it’s gonna set fire to the house.”

ME: “Wait a second. Distraction. The idea of distraction. Trappings — traps we fall into as human beings. We’re so dazzled by the glitter of our lives that we ignore the unpleasant things: poverty, sickness. All the things in the world we find so easy to ignore because of the porch light.”

ANTSY: “You lost me.”

ME: “Of course I did. That’s because you still need to learn the lesson. And you will by the end of the book.  Can I use the whole porch light metaphor?  I like it.

ANTSY: “Be my guest.”

ME “Ok, so the focus of exploring the ship isn’t to just describe it, it’s the point out the concept of distractions.  So what do you find? What happens during this search that makes it poignant? Ah! The answer’s right there. You’re on a search. Not just an exploration, but what are you searching for?”

ANTSY: “How should I know? The purser’s desk? The skating rink?”

ME: “No, no, no. It’s gotta be something almost legendary. Or maybe something that may not be on the ship but you want to find it, and you will find it when it climaxes, when you’re not even looking for it anymore. Think — what would be worth the effort?”

ANTSY: “The nuclear core?”

ME: “Naah, too sci-fi.”

ANTSY: “The movie theater? The bowling alley? The indoor pool, central park a pumpkin patch?”

ME: “Pumpkin patch?”

ANTSY: “I’m brainstorming here. Good ideas won’t come if you don’t let the bad ones come first.”

ME: “Why don’t we ask Howie.”

ANTSY: “Howie? What does he know?”

ME: “He’s generally absurd. I think he could come up with a perfect absurd thing to look for.”

ANTSY: “Fine. I’ll ask him… (long pause)… Howie says we should look for the laser cannons they built in to ward off modern day pirates.”

ME: “Really? I didn’t think Howie had an imagination.”

ANTSY: “Well, he doesn’t. He read it somewhere. He also says it may have to do with food or gold, he’s not sure yet. Or maybe it’s sports related. Hey, what if there’s a basketball court?”

ME: “Naah. Ships already have basketball courts. Something bigger?”

ANTSY: “Football field?”

ME: “Nah. Too hard to believe. It’s got to be borderline believable and really cool. I’d say wave pool, but the real ships already have those. So what doesn’t a ship already have  that would be hard to believe but believable enough to tweak the imagination?”

ANTSY: “Howie also says there’s a morgue where they keep all the people who croak in the previous cruise. Maybe I want to go there to see if the guy who fell off the balcony is there.”

ME: “Maybe it should tie into the themes of the story: poverty verses wealth, ignorance verses worldliness, is dishonesty and breaking the law ever justified?”

ANTSY: “Wait a second. Howie just told me something. It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if I believe it. Lemme whisper it to you.”

ME: “I’m listening…. (whisper whisper)… Yeah. Oh, that’s good!  Do you  think it’s true?”

ANTSY: “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.  Of course it won’t be easy to find, but I’m going to go searching for it.”

ME: “Go for it!”   🙂


25 Responses to “MY DINNER WITH ANTSY”

  1. Johnathon Mann Says:

    OMG!!!!!! I read “The Schwa was Here” last year in my school book club, and that got me interested in reading “Antsy Does Time” and then the Skinjacker Trilogy(still waiting on EVERFOUND by the way…)and Uwind, and Full Tilt, and OMG!!!!!!! don’t get me started

  2. Kathryn Says:

    Great post! I just finished BRUISER and I have to say that I am now respectively one of your biggest fans! Great stuff. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of you until now. My life was very incomplete. Now I am at peace and totally inspired to make my MS more awesome because of you.

    PS. I just posted about BRUISER on my blog today. I want everyone to read it!

    • Elliot Neski Says:

      Hello Mr. Shusterman. If I am not your number one fan, then I am vying hard for the position. The low point of my entire life was missing your visit to my high school, WAMOGO, in April of 2009. I have finished my second book in collaboration with my father, and we are currently looking for a publisher. It is your stories that have inspired me to write- YOU ROCK!

  3. Amy Says:

    HAHA this is brilliant! Super excited for this book now…I’ve only read all your other works excluding the Antsy series, so this has just convinced me I had better start reading these! 😀

  4. Jacquie Says:

    Hello Mr Shusterman

    Just wanted to let you know how much my Year 9 English class enjoyed studying your novel ‘Unwind’. Many of my students asked if it had been made into a film and that it would indeed make an excellent movie so good luck with your attempts to get it made 🙂 On a personal note, it was such a refreshing change to find a book to study that: fit the unit theme; was a genuinely absorbing read and had substantial ideas for the students to ponder.

    Discussing novels can be like pulling teeth (minus anesthetic), but my students were eager to answer the *cough* 90 questions I had them answer about ‘Unwind’ (what can I say? The book was great and I got carried away). Some students (quaintly referred to as “reluctant readers” but more commonly known as “lazy buggers”) actually asked if they could keep reading and stop answering questions because they were really enjoying the book. Trust me, those are the kids who would rather be unwound than force their eyes to read so please consider that a MASSIVE compliment.

    It’s always a nice moment when students offer up something you didn’t expect them to say and mine did this frequently because your book really engaged their minds. We were discussing the Morlock reference and what links it had with the Unwind society and one girl said “I thought it had to do with the Unwinds being kept as cattle like the Eloi”. That was just one of many impressive ideas they came up with and it’s testament to the richness of the story that you crafted so thank you.

    My kids really loved the Happy Jack harvest camp (can you believe none of them knew what a lumberjack was? I feel ancient), especially the nail biting climax.

    We did agree that we wished you’d included an epilogue. Although the book ends on a hopeful note and suggests that society’s attitude towards unwinding is starting to change, we did wish for a more substantial conclusion. Connor, Risa, Lev and the others went through so much to survive, knowing their eventual fates- what became of their adult lives and the Bill of Life, would have been good.

    I was wondering if you could offer any insights into what you believed would have become of them and the Bill of Life a decade on? Would Risa have walked again? Did she marry Connor? Did Unwinding become outlawed eventually? If you do, please let me- and my twenty-eight students know? We’d really appreciate it.

    The class are currently writing their essays on the novel; I have never had a year 9 class so well acquainted with a novel and so aware of its ideas and messages. Thanks for making my job easier and vastly more rewarding.

    Kind Regards

    Jacquie Franconi

    Western Australia

  5. mollie Says:

    OMG ansty floats sounds like a really great book so far wats a morge though ?????????

  6. Rae Thompson Says:

    Okay. When I read this I kind of laughed. Talking to the character via paper sounded silly, considering you must have a relationship with the characters anyway, to an author they’re just like a real person, so why not ask them questions face to face. Then I thought it over and realized that would solve nothing, it’s just as bad as talking to yourself and going in circles. I had been having trouble deciding what to do with Shawn, he’s the character for the book I’m currently plotting before launching into writing. He’s also like my baby boy. So I decided, maybe this would work for me, maybe talking to Shawnster was a good idea to decide what POV to write from, where to launch into the story, and other details.
    Turns out Shawn gave me answers that he wouldn’t have even if I had asked him straight up. With some additional information that makes his story just that more intense.
    Shawn and I both thank you for helping us decide how to bring the public a story worth remembering (:

    much thanks, love your work, Rae.

  7. Caitie Says:

    haha very cute! I haven’t read this series of yours, but i just might 🙂

  8. David Says:

    Well it’s about time! haha. I own all of your books (god that sounds creepy) but it’s true. And i’m proud to say i’ve got all of my friends and family members addicted to your books. I purposed the idea of bringing you to our school for your auther tour thing, but sadly it was turned down due to large buget cuts in the school. But I’m glad to see that the new Antsy book is comming. Who knew schizophrenia could help write a book! Well i look forward to reading more work from you.

  9. Lillian Says:

    Yay! I’m so excited for this new Antsy book! The Schwa was Here is my favorite book! I have read it so many times I know every word by heart and the binding is breaking! Antsy Does Time is amazing, too! When I found out you were doing another one, I literally screamed! Maybe more of a squeal, but still I’m so excited! I love all the characters! I just think they are so easy to connect to and love. I’m so glad that I accidently knocked The Schwa was Here off the shelf at Border’s! It’s like it was meant to be, ha-ha! Anyway, I can’t wait for this new book!

  10. Eve Says:

    Hey Neal,
    Mind if I call you that??
    Too bad.
    Mk, so I have to tell you to keep writing Antys stories.
    If you dont I will cry.
    He is my favorite:)
    And for God’s Sake make them good. I hate those books that I hold every other book up to, and then just one more comes out and its sloppy.
    It completly ruins it for me:)
    I adore your work.
    You inspire me.

  11. LaurleenaTodd/Eily Cogan Says:

    We Read Tomorrow’s your birthday! HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY ……. WE LOVE YOUR BOOKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We love unwind, Ever Lost And The Shadow Club

  12. Jennifer Says:

    Hey, Neal!

    I love your work. I love Antsy Does Time because it was the first book I read that was yours. I loved it by the way. I’ve read all your books.Like ALL of them. Downsiders,Unwind,What Daddy Did, Full tilt, Bruiser, Dread Locks, Skinjacker Triology, The Shwa was here,I love all of them! Thanks for being great at what you do! We need more people like you in the world! 😀

  13. Traci Schmidt Says:

    Clever post! I would be interested in a new project that you could write of conversations with all our favorite characters! Connor, Risa, Lev, Bruiser, Tennyson & Bronte, Allie, Mikey, Lindsay, Talon, and many more! Or better yet…on Glee they have the music “mash-ups”… what about a character mash-up? What would happen if all these characters encountered one another? Fun! 🙂 Whatever you do, Neal, keep writing!

  14. ruqayah Says:

    OMG i absolutely love the antsy series the conversations was creative cant wait to read antsy floats i also love the dark fusion trilogy and full tilt and the shadow club was my all time favourites
    PS: hope schwa comes some time in the antsy series just to see how he”s been we’ve all been curious

  15. jewlia Says:

    i love your books they are my favorite and i just cant wait till everfound comes out. everwild just left me hangin wishin that everfound were already out.a coment on unwind: it would have been nice to have found out if the letter that conner wrote got sent to his parents. (i love the name conner). as of now i am reading full tilt. its really good. concider me your number one fan. the chocolate ogre sound like some good eats:b

  16. Lily Says:

    holy crap, i love your books! i did a spazzy dance when i got antsy does time. i plan on reading more of them. i can’t wait for this antsy book to come out! (!!!) the schwa was here is going to be a movie? AWESOME!!! i will so see it the first day it’s in the theaters, even if i have to light my hair on fire. please keep writing antsy books, and any books. i love how your books have different endings from what the reader thinks. can i have dinner with antsy sometime? PLEASE???

  17. ED (EDDY) ((Elody)) Says:

    i have a question, and i hope you dont get offended or anything, because i love ya and everything but:
    when are ya gonna make another post? im getting kinda antsy over here. lol, did ya catch the joke? antsy, like Antsy Floats??
    lol, i crack myself up.

  18. Maddie Markley Says:

    Dear Mr. Shusterman,

    I find your “brainstorming”/”writing process” VERY unique and intriguing! I read the Skinjacker trilogy, and I’m SO in love.
    Reading this blog post made me completely interested in your books too! You have a great way of telling stories with such an art, that I can’t compare it to any other books I’ve read!
    You are my favorite author, truly gifted (:

    Maddie Markley

  19. Sebastian Says:

    Wow! That’s the most unique way of brainstorming and getting through the writer’s brick walls that I have ever seen! I seriously need to try it once I’m having a bit of trouble with my main book… I’ve gotten through the brick walls but in usual types of ways, so this idea seems grand, thanks, and you’re my favorite author, Mr.Shusternman, because your brain exceeds the limits of imagination further than what a blazing shower of falling stars could reach! =D

  20. Makynsee Says:

    Okay, well first of all I love your books. They are amazing!
    Second of all I am currently writing a book and tried out your little method here. I glad to say it turned out pretty well. Regie and I had plenty of one on one time. She was able to tell me her story even more better than she ever could before! THanks for posting!

  21. catslikebooks2 Says:

    I WANT TO KNOW THE RUMOR!!! Uhg, I hate not knowing things! Morgue, morgue, must think of shiny objects in a morgue. Or maybe a rumor about the dead guy! Something that makes him important, or shinier than than a basketball court………. basket ball courts are pretty shiny. Maybe a relative is important? winner of American idol! secret spy?……… those don’t sound right.I will find out eventually! best one I came up with is relative of a famous person, or at least the most likely. Maybe the relative died? was the death mysterious? NOW I HAVE TO GET THE BOOK WHEN IT COMES OUT BECAUSE I WANT TO KNOW!!!! But that will take a long time 😦 You make me think too much.
    MAWHAHAHAHAHA! catslikebooks2 strikes again!
    what am I striking?……….. I’m not sure.

  22. Rose GreenRose Green Says:

    I love it!! I’ve been a fan of your books for a number of years, and now that my boys are old enough to appreciate them, they are, too. (In fact, they have been known to look up publication dates and log them on the calendar in anticipation). We’re really looking forward to another book about Antsy!

  23. Heather Says:


  24. Talon Blood Heart Says:

    Hi Mr.S,
    I like to write 2! i am working on a story but every time i try to write there are so many ideas trapped in my head i get sidetracked thinking about those things and never end up writing anything at all. What do you do if you ever have that problem?

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