Josh Lieb describes the traits he shares with the protagonist of his new book, “I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President.”
Question: Is the book autobiographical in any way?
Josh Lieb: I’d say, in my book, the mother character is lovable, but a complete dimwit. My mother is also lovable, but something of a genius. So, I want to put that right out there. And also makes a mean grilled cheese sandwich. My father is much more likeable, much, much, more likeable than the father in the book. It’s not autobiographical. And I don’t know, this is probably one of the most annoying things any writer gets asked. Is it autobiographical? Or, I see where that came from. And it really doesn’t come from anywhere. We’re good a making stuff up. Very few things I think that actually end up getting produced are in any way autobiographical. You might pick up a line here or there, I had an uncle I heard him at the dinner table once say, “Bettin the girls get on me for pickin my nose, but I gotta breathe.” Now, I couldn’t write that. Like that’s beautiful, that’s not only funny; it’s poetry. It’s just perfect. That could be a title of a book, that could be a chapter in a book, that’s just fantastic. But generally, when someone comes up to you and says, “I’ve got a great sketch for your show. A person who sells cemetery plots.” It’s not that interesting. And also, you’re not – generally, as a writer you’re not interested in stuff unless you think of it yourself. We’re selfish that way, and we’re narcissists that way. It’s like, if I think of it, it’s a good idea. And if someone else suggests it, I’m probably not going to like it as much.
Question: Were you ever class president?
Josh Lieb: I was never Class President. I was Secretary Treasurer which is the most useless of all useless Student Council positions. It means nothing. We didn’t have any money, there was nothing to transcribe, and it’s just that you are supposed to have a Secretary/Treasurer so you did it. And I got that position by insulting the two people who were running against me, in my speech. The next year I tried to run a serious campaign for Vice President, and that didn’t work at all.
Question: How does your 12-year-old billionaire protagonist reflect today’s society?
Josh Lieb: Today’s society—I can’t say that we’re more money obsessed now than ever, but we probably are. I mean, I haven’t been around forever, but it certainly seems like our culture is fixated on cash more than ever especially in the current economic climate people want money. People always want money, but people really want money now. I also, you know, it’s a standard child’s power fantasy of, ‘I’m powerless, I’m weak, but actually I have this superpower.’ But the superpower of this day and age seems to be a billion dollars.
Question: Why did you have a problem with children’s laughter?
Josh Lieb: Here again, it makes me sound like a horrible person. I do very much enjoy the laughter of children now, but when I was a kid, I remember being very annoyed, not at the laughter of children, but at the fact that they would laugh at anything. There was no discrimination. You could have a very funny joke and everyone would laugh, or somebody would drop a pencil in class, or fart, or drool on himself and everyone would laugh, and it really annoyed me because it wasn’t funny. And I’m not a lot like my lead character in the book, but that’s something we share in common.
Question: What else do you have in common with him?
Josh Lieb: We both like peanut butter, we both have dogs named lollipop, we both love our mothers, and actually we’re good boys. That’s about it. He’s from Omaha; I used to spend my summers working there at a grocery store. So we’re both familiar with Omaha, Nebraska.
Recorded on: October 9, 2009