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Author Tim Egan dissects all things 'Dodsworth'

DODSWORTH-IN-TOKYO

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There are children’s books that we, as parents, suffer through reading night after night. (I would gladly never revisit the ridiculous fairies Glimmer, Shimmer, and Shyne that one of my daughters wants to hear about the second the sun goes down.) And then there are the books that have so much wit, soul, and joy that we, as parents, might just keep reading even after our little ones have drifted into dreamland. Tim Egan is a writer and illustrator whose books fall squarely into that latter category. This week, Dodsworth in Tokyo, the latest installment in his series about a former pawn shop owner and his companion duck traveling around the world, comes out. So we called Egan at home to find out about our favorite mouse. If indeed that’s what he is.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dodsworth and the Duck have been to New York, Rome, London, Paris, and now Tokyo. How did you settle on Tokyo?
TIM EGAN: After Rome we discussed him coming back to the States. I was writing Dodsworth in San Francisco and my editor said, “Maybe we want to keep them out there and not have them come back.” So it seemed like it would be either Hong Kong or Tokyo. I hadn’t been to either place. I figured it wouldn’t work, but I worked on it for a couple of months anyway.

Do you already know where they will go next?
Athens. My wife and I are planning a trip to Greece so I could probably write off half the trip. I wonder how many trips I can write off before the IRS says he hasn’t published anything about those places.

But Athens is for real?
Yes. I haven’t submitted it yet, but I’ve been writing for a couple of months. I never know. It was either that or Madrid. I had them go to Pamplona, but it didn’t quite work, and Athens seems to be taking shape.

You wrote one of my absolute favorite children’s’ books, The Pink Refrigerator, which is, of course, about Dodsworth but before he sets out on his travels. Will you go back to writing about other characters or stick with Dodsworth’s story for now?
I’ll try to do both. Maybe because of the Internet, I could see Dodsworth going on for years, even if they don’t make it to the hard-bound publishing world. I can’t imagine abandoning it. Maybe they’ll go to random places like Teaneck, N.J. I don’t know about the sales potential.

Just think of the stories about their adventures in a kosher Chinese restaurant! I’ve heard Dodsworth described as various animals, but he’s a mouse, right?
I think he’s a mouse. I’ll never declare it. Publishers Weekly wrote he was a mole. I said the characters in Burnt Toast on Davenport Street were dogs, but they looked like bears. I had to flip their ears.

Dodsworth is a great name. How did you come up with it?
Dodsworth was actually Fred for about six months. I used to have a small designing firm in Pasadena, Calif., and I was jaywalking right in front of the Dodsworth Building. And it clicked.

My 5-year-old, almost as big a fan of the series as I am, wants me to ask you why the duck is so silly and why Dodsworth is so serious.
He actually has a great sense of humor, but it doesn’t come through. It’s evolving. In Tokyo, the duck tries his best to behave, it being the land of customs. I write Dodsworth like I hear him talking and I don’t know how you force humor into these guys. But he’s less serious in Athens.

She’ll be relieved to hear it.
I love the questions kids have. A girl once asked me how they’re affording the trip.

What do you read when you’re not writing and drawing?
I like non-fiction and I read a lot of autobiographical stuff. But when I sit down to read I think, “you should be writing.”  The last book I read was Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True. I read online constantly and I know more about strange people than I should confess.

Your children are grown now, but do you remember what your favorite books were to read to them when they were younger?
Go, Dog. Go! I loved it when I was little too. For whatever reason it has still stuck with me. There’s an energy and a cool, metro feel to it even though I’m not exactly sure what the story is.

Have you thought about turning Dodsworth into a series or are you too protective to hand him over to someone else?
WGBH in Boston did a proposal for Dodsworth last year, but I don’t know if they didn’t have the funding or what. I live in L.A. and I’m talking to someone. I’d be protective about certain things, for sure. I know how Hollywood is.

Like what?
The duck’s name. People have tried to name him before, but no name really sticks. He needs to just be the duck.

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