Each year I receive many e-mails with questions about my books. It is difficult for me to answer each question individually. Since questions often repeat from student to student and e-mail to e-mail, I have decided to list the common questions and answers here.
If you cannot find the answer to your question here, please e-mail me again so that I can answer it.
MORTON RHUE — GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT MY BOOKS
Why do you use the penname Morton Rhue and not your real name?
In 1981 I had two books coming out at the same time and my publisher asked that one be under a pen name. Todd in German is similar to the word for dead. Strasser in German means street. Dead Street in French is ….. Mort Rue.
Why do you write books specially for young people?
I have written books for people of all ages, but the ones I’ve written for middle-graders and young adults have been the best received.
Did you read some literature before writing these books? What kind of books?
If you mean, books related to the subjects I wrote about, the answer is yes. I also tend to do a lot of reading of other media as well, such a newspaper reports, magazine articles, on information on the Web.
Do you think that some of your books may still be some kind of risk, for example, to unstable kids who cannot talk to their parents about their problems? Thus, they may like and adopt the idea of living on the street or dealing violently with someone else.
I hope that my books would not be a risk. The messages should not encourage
students to do these things.
Do you think that these prefaces are sufficient to prevent or do you think that it´s better to read the books accompanied by teachers or parents?
I try to write the books so that they can stand alone. However, reading them with a teacher or parent would certainly enrich the experience.
You visited schools in Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado. Pretend that this fictitious project becomes reality: Could you imagine visiting a school in Germany?
I have visited many schools in Germany.
What do you intend to be the most important thing that the teenagers shall learn from your books, such as Asphalt Tribe and Give a boy a gun – for example: moral education, foreign understanding, identity development, responsibility, aspects of literature – and in which way?
That’s a very big question. I think one of the most difficult parts of being a young person these days is being faced with choices that they have not developed the judgment or had the experience to understand. In my books, I try to present young people facing these choices, and then show what making certain decision might lead to.
I read that you were a street musician to earn money. Is that right?
Yes, for a while when I lived in Copenhagen I was a street musician.
QUESTIONS ABOUT ASPHALT TRIBE
Why did you write a book about street kids?
They interest me. I often write about the plight of outsiders
What inspired you to write the novel?
I was out in Colorado speaking and my host asked if I’d mind stopping at a homeless shelter while she dropped off some food. I was surprised that it was a shelter for teens.
How did you come up with the names of the characters?
Some names were made up. Some were inspired by research
You seem to know a lot about New York City. Did you grow up in New York City?
I grew up nearby, and lived there in my 20s and 30s
Were you ever homeless or did you know any homeless people?
No, although I did spend some time hitch hiking around the US and met some homeless kids that way.
Wherefrom did you take the idea/experience of how the children (or the street kids from Asphalt Tribe) in your books talk, behave and ‘live’. Did you study them or did you visit some organizations?
Yes, I both studied them and visited a homeless shelter for teens. I also found some websites with narratives by homeless teens. These were very helpful.
What message did you want to send with this book?
Living on the streets is dangerous and not cool
How long did it take you to write this book?
About 10 months, including research
Is the history of the book a pure fiction or reality?
This book is a work of fiction, based on reality
Do you fear that kids could adopt the language used in the book Asphalt Tribe?
If you are referring to the German-language version, I can’t answer, as I do not read German.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE WAVE
Your novel is based on the teleplay by Johnny Dawkins (which is based on the article by Ron Jones from 1972). Was the movie already broadcasted when you started writing the novel?
No. I worked from the 45-page screenplay, the essay, and from my imagination.
Is the story of The Wave really true?
I have been asked this question many times. The answer is that I have no way of actually knowing, since I worked only from the essay by Ron Jones and from a short film about the experiment. I certainly believe that the experiment took place.
Do you know how to contact Ron Jones?
I have no contact info regarding Ron Jones. I believe he is the author of a book called The Acorn People. Whoever published that book might know how to find him.
Who engaged you to write the novel in 1981?
How long did it take you to write the novel?
4 – 5 months.
Can you provide a way to gain access to the article by Ron Jones that inspired the book?
Please go to toddstrasser.com. There’s a link to the original article on the home page near the bottom
What do you think of Ben Ross, the teacher, and of his idea ?
Given the memorable impact my book has had on so many millions of readers over the past 27 years, I have to be grateful that he had that idea!
Is this idea one of the best to make students understand what is Nazism ?
I can’t judge where it stands compared to other ideas, but I do believe it is surely one good way.
QUESTIONS ABOUT ICH KNALL OUCH AB! (GIVE A BOY A GUN)
Did you get the idea for this book from Columbine or another real life situation?
The book is based on a number of real school shootings that occurred in the 1990s.
What was your purpose for writing the book? We’ve considered it a cautionary tale, to open up discussions about important topics such as bullying and gun control.
That is certainly part of the reason I wrote the book.
What inspired you to write it?
Many things. One big reason was because my kids were in middle school at the time and I think it is insane when parents have to worry that their kids may be killed in school.
The book has been out for ten years. Are you aware of any similar situations, where a student has made a threat, and the family wanted to hold the availability of the book responsible for the student’s actions? If so, has this happened often?
I’ve never heard of this happening. With all the violence in the media, I’ve always felt that any student who did something like this would have been motivated by something more immediate and graphic. However, Millions of students are exposed to this type of media without resorting to threats. I believe that media alone cannot be responsible for these actions.
Are there any examples of positive outcomes from students reading the book that could be shared, to counter the argument that it promotes guns and school violence?
I do believe that one problem is that there are so many guns available in the US and around the world. To stop the violence children must be taught non-violent ways to settle problems at an early age.
Over the years I have received many, many e-mails and letters from students who found comfort in learning that they were not alone in being bullied, as well as a few e-mails from “bullying types” who,. after reading the book, expressed contrition for their actions.
Three things, I hope: 1) That we must continue to try to limit the number of guns that get into the hands of private citizens. 2) That we must make efforts to teach young people to separate the “pretend” violence of media entertainment from the reality of the lives we actually live. 3) That we must teach young people to respect human differences and try not to tease, taunt or bully those who are different or weaker.
By the way, my research for the book was entirely from secondary sources such as newspapers, news magazine, books and government studies and statistics. I realized very early that these rampage-shooting incidents were so sensational, and so well covered by the media, that any question I could have thought of had probably already been asked. Therefore I formulated a long list of questions I needed answers to, and hired a professional researcher to go through the existing stories to find these answers. Also I believe my own experience as a picked-on and alienated teen helped me to understand what might drive a young man to such a desperate act. In that sense, there is no more direct research than experience.
QUESTIONS ABOUT BOOT CAMP
Does Lake Harmony Boot Camp really exist?
I made it up, but it is based on real boot camps.