Heather Sammons, Director of Alumni Engagement chatted Avery Monsen ’02, actor, comedian, and author, about his new book coming out in early February, I Am The Longest Dog.
You graduated from MA in 2002 and went on to Oberlin College. What came next for you?
Well, immediately after graduating from Oberlin, I came back to San Francisco and acted in some plays with MA theater teachers David Sinaiko and Rob Melrose. (If you get a chance to work professionally with your former teachers, I absolutely recommend it, if only for the teacher gossip.) Then I panicked and moved to New York, where it was cold. I hung out there for a few years, doing comedy stuff at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Then I panicked again and moved to LA, where it’s warmer. All the while, I’ve been acting in TV shows and commercials and writing and illustrating silly books. I should probably get a real job soon.
And now you’ve got a new book coming out - I Am The Longest Dog. Tell us about it.
Yep! I’ve written a number of books, including All My Friends Are Dead, which was a national bestseller, and some others, which were, uh, not. But I Am The Longest Dog is my first picture book for kids! I’m really excited about it! It’s about a very long dog whose body continues as you turn the pages. She stretches all over the world and gets tangled up in stuff, but the whole time she’s really positive about her crazy body. It’s very silly and sort of bizarre, but it has this unspoken message of body-positivity that hopefully kids will pick up on without it being too heavy-handed. You can see more info about it at www.longestdog.com.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
It was a lucky combination of three things that were swirling around in my head for a while. Piece Number 1: I thought it would be fun to have a character that was so big that they couldn’t fit on one page, so kids could trace the body with their fingers and see all the places they go. It seemed like a cool way to make reading a book with kids more interactive. This idea was sitting in a notebook for almost a year, and it was originally a very long snake. But then, Piece Number 2: my wife and I adopted a very sweet rescue dog named Lucy whose body is just ... extremely long. We have no idea what kind of dog she is, but every time we take her out for a walk, people ask about her. So I thought, hey, maybe the book could be about her!
I tried to put myself in her head and think about how she’d feel about her body. Dogs are so positive and optimistic. And so funny. Man, they’re just the best! Can we just make this a Q&A about dogs, in general? No? Okay. Back to the book. Piece Number 3, The Final Piece: when I was a kid, I was pretty self-conscious about my body. I remember often wearing a huge t-shirt into the water when I went swimming because I was embarrassed that other kids my age had armpit hair and I didn’t. This seems ridiculous now (I currently have perfectly normal armpit hair, thank you for your concern) but I really wish I had known at the time that it definitely wasn’t worth worrying about. So I thought, what if we have this dog with an insane, unwieldy body, spilling over all the pages of the book, but she’s totally content with it? Bam! That’s a book! I Am The Longest Dog! (Now I just needed to write it. And illustrate it. And purchase the vanity URL longestdog.com.)
What’s next for you?
I've got another picture book coming out next year called Chester Van Chime Who Forgot How To Rhyme. It’s about a little boy who wakes up one day unable to rhyme, and it’s written in Dr. Seuss-style meter, but at the end of every page, where it should rhyme, the word is slightly wrong. And hopefully kids will be able to guess what the word should’ve been. For example:
Chester tried not to panic. He played it real cool
And picked up his backpack and walked to his ... learning place with teachers and stuff.
You get the idea. I think it’s going to be fun. (Please don’t steal this idea and publish it in the next 9 months.) Otherwise, I’m just cracking away, trying to come up with the next project to work on.
If there was one thing you wanted to share with your former MA teachers and the alumni community, what would it be?
Haha, I’m not sure I’m the person to give any wisdom to anybody, but I can tell you some advice I often give myself: DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL, STAY CURIOUS, and FOLLOW THE FUN. Our lives are incredibly short; there’s not enough time to waste on things that aren’t bringing you (or someone else) happiness. Also, your armpit hair is fine; don’t worry about it.
Thank you Avery for sharing your story (and humor) with us. If you want to read more about Avery, please visit his website where you can see his other work as well. Heather was honored to get a sneak peek at the book and shares her personal review: “As a dog lover and a parent of littles, “I Am The Longest Dog” is a cute, funny, and silly book with a good message that both kids and adults will enjoy reading, even on repeat!” The book will be available in early February so make sure to get it!
What are you up to? If you’re a MA alum and would like to be interviewed, please reach out to Heather Sammons at firstname.lastname@example.org.