Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #26:
David Elzey at the excelsior file

h1 May 21st, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

Whew, this interview was almost difficult to snag. When we asked David at the excelsior file if he wanted to be interviewed in our blogger interview series, his response was one of interest and excitement, but he then said, “I haven’t even been at this blogging stuff for a year (at least not with kidlit) and I still feel as though I’m poking my way through the dark . . . there are so many bloggers out there, maybe they deserve it more than me?” Now, we think the last thing David would want us to do is make him out to be some sort of meek-and-mild saint, but it’s true when we say he’s (obviously) terrifically humble, even though we’ve said time and again (and again) here at 7-Imp that he’s one of our top-five favorite bloggers (do a search here at 7-Imp of “the excelsior file” and there are all kinds of links to David’s reviews, since — as Jules has stated here repeatedly — his reviews are always spot-on).

(For the record, we see David’s point, too, about all the other bloggers out there who have done their thing way longer than he has, but to that we say: We’ll get to them. There are so many bloggers with whom we want to chat it up, not to mention that — as you’ve probably noticed — we do these interviews rather willy-nilly with no pre-determined order or criteria. Truly, we’re just wingin’ it and interviewing whom we want when we want to. And we just can’t hold off on the excelsior file any longer, ’cause it’s one of our very favorite blogs) . . .

As his blog will tell you, David is “a former teacher, theatre manager, radio DJ and film reviewer exploring the recovered memories of childhood while exploring my own second act through the world of kids books.” David’s reviews at his blog are excellent (but we’ll get to that in a minute); he reviews for The Horn Book Guide; and he’s a writer, currently writing a YA novel. As for his blog’s title, the excelsior file, if you’re a fan of the blog, you may wonder where it came from. Wonder no more. David told us:

When I was a kid I used to keep all kinds of loose pieces of paper –- clippings and pictures and whatnot –- in a brown paper accordion portfolio called “The Excelsior File.” It had the look of something that was really old and I liked the name of it. I thought the name best suited where I was heading with the blog, a place for keeping my various and assorted thoughts on children’s literature. So far only one person has tried to hazard a guess about the blog name –- they thought it might be a reference to Stan Lee, the Marvel Comics guru who used to sign off on his regular editorial column with the word “Excelsior!” While I may have once been a F.O.O.M. (in-joke for comic book nerds), Stan Lee was furthest from my mind when I named the blog.

At the risk of seeming irritatingly gimmicky, let’s handle this one in true 7-Imp style and ennumerate for you the Seven Reasons Why David’s Blog Is, Hands Down, One of The Best Out There:

  1. As already mentioned, his reviews are really, really good, meaning they are detailed, thoughtful, and incisive. If you want something beyond this book was good or this was a cute book (which we assume you do if you’re frequenting children’s lit blogs) — actually, if you want something miles beyond that — the excelsior file is for you. Even if you don’t agree with his commentary on the quality (or lack thereof) of a particular children’s title, you gotta respect the hell out of it, because he always speaks his mind and very obviously puts a great deal of thought and analysis into his review of a title (or a publishing trend — see points #3 and #4).
  2. In the cyber-world of The Kidlitosphere, lots of bloggers adhere to the I’ll-only-review-it-if-I-liked-it policy (whether a formal or informal policy). There are a myriad of reasons folks do so, and that’s perfectly acceptable (well, some people would argue that, but that’s another issue for another day). In fact, we here at 7-Imp, for the most part, follow that same guideline. But David does not — and refreshingly so. Never spiteful and never ostentatious, he simply pours a great deal of thought into his reviews and is perfectly candid about how he sums up a book’s worth. “I {include positive and negative reviews} because I feel it presents a more complete picture of my criticism and allows for healthy dialog among the community of bloggers, authors and publishers,” he writes at the blog.
  3. He will occasionally throw in some broader commentary on the current state of children’s book publishing or general commentary on current events (for lack of a better phrase), such as in this review from January of Utako Yamada’s Cherry the Pig. Or . . .
  4. . . . this post — “The Graphic Novel Question” from March — which just deserves to be its own ennumerated criterion. Responding to this post (back in March) at pixie stix kids pix (Kristen McLean’s wonderful blog), David shared his thoughts on what is increasingly being called a “trend” in children’s literature — wordless picture books and graphic novels. I mean, just go look. Really, take the time to read that (he takes us through decades of the comic book industry) and see how much work went into that (and then Kristen furthered the discussion a bit more; it was fun — and enlightening — to read these posts, bouncing from his blog to hers, from two people who know their stuff and have a passion for it).
  5. He has a distinct voice as a writer/reviewer, and his reviews (and even non-reviews, such as this trip down memory lane to memorable 4th grade books) are enjoyable to read, even when he admits, such as here, that “it’s going to take some easing into in order to find the groove for this review.” Taking the journey with him as he finds his groove often makes for a good read.
  6. 6. His wonderful Grimmoire series. “Right now . . . I am running through selected reviews of stories from the Brothers Grimm, a feature called ‘Grimmoire.’ I’m dedicating myself to reading a story a day (on average) and trying to get a review a week through the end of the year, hoping to finish the book this way before January 1, 2008. I don’t review all the stories, just the ones that spark an interest, and the Grimmoire number corresponds to the story numbers. For those following along, I’m using the 3rd revised Zipes translation.” It all began here in March, and here are just some examples of what he’s written: The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich; Cinderella; Hansel and Gretel; Rapunzel; The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs; and The Elves. Wonderful posts; go read them!
  7. His latest project: “At the moment, I am also feverishly putting together a five-week examination of alternative summer reading ideas. I hadn’t really thought this out as much before embarking, but that just makes it more interesting. By the time this interview runs, I’ll have Low Humor and Non-Fiction posted, with tentative upcoming suggestions for Short Stories, ‘Trash,’ and Periodicals.” This is an EXCELLENT idea (yes, we’re yelling that in all our enthusiasm)! If you agree with these, his thoughts on the matter, you don’t want to miss these Summer Reading posts:

    Why are we molding children as young as 8 to accept that summer is a time to “get ahead?” Won’t they get enough of this pressure come high school? And why does the material always need to pass some bar of appropriateness, not just for reading level but for content? Is there no room for “play” in summer reading? . . . {I}f we expect to have well-rounded, culturally alert, hyper-literate children then we need to honor and encourage the notion that reading for fun and pleasure has a place.

    (Can someone give us an “amen!”?)

D’oh! That’s seven . . . but there’s more. Two more quick things and then we’ll shut our word holes and chat with him: David has a whole heapin’ ton of integrity. We hope he’s not blushing somewhere, but it’s just flat-out true. Jules (who modestly and boldly would like to consider him a friend) can vouch for this (as he’s actually even emailed her some unassuming and for-what-it’s-worth parenting advice before when she’s asked). When publishers first contacted him to ask about sending review copies, he really pondered the ethics of it all, and even the Note to Publishers and Authors policy he wrote as a result is attentive and reflective — not to mention it shows you that ethical principles in blogging and reviewing are critical to him. (Let us be sure to note that all the bloggers we respect are this way, further showing that we aren’t all ooh-boy-free-books! about this entire blogging endeavor).

Yeah, David’s probably really blushing right now (and perhaps cursing our names for all the attention-his-way and praise, but, hey, we take our chances), so quickly then will we note the last thing we like about his blog: He reviews old titles, too, which is also rather rare in the kidlitosphere. Here’s one example. In fact, it seems David reviews whatever he wants whenever he wants to, no matter when it was published.

Whew. Have we convinced you to make the excelsior file part of your daily reading habits if you don’t already? Hope so. We think it makes the kidlitosphere a better place. Without further ado, here’s David . . .

* * * * * * *
7-Imp: What do you do for a living?

David: Currently I work as a bookseller for a children’s book store in Massachusetts. I also write book reviews for The Horn Book Guide.

7-Imp: How long have you been blogging?

David: I’ve had the excelsior file up since October of 2006, but I have been kicking around a couple other general interest blogs since 2004.

7-Imp: Why did you start blogging? Why do you continue to do it?

David: I started blogging as a way to keep myself immersed in writing, and in writing about books. As with writing, I can’t imagine not blogging. In fact, back in the early 1990s I was sending out emails of my life and observations to any and all who would take them that were, in essence, blog posts. I’m not saying I invented blogging, but people have told me that I seemed to have been born to blog. I’m not sure whether that’s a compliment or not.

7-Imp: Which blog or site would you take to the prom to show off and you love it so much you could marry it?

David: Ooo, this is too difficult. I never went to the prom, and I’m already married to another blogger . . .

7-Imp: What are your other favorite things to do, other than reading and blogging?

David: I’m comfortable in the kitchen and sometimes actually find the process of cooking meditative. I also really like shopping for books, especially used books, almost as much as actually reading them.

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

David: That I had a mildly halting stammer as a boy. It usually manifested itself when I was nervous or insecure, and I eventually learned how to cover it by talking a lot and by talking faster. On a rare occasion, the stammer still pops up, but most people assume I’m pausing to think (or losing my train of thought) and not frozen with the inability to get the word out.

7-Imp: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?

David: Okay, so I just loaded The Complete Stax-Volt Singles Volume 2: 1968 – 1971 onto the pod and I’m working my way through that. Generally, when I’m writing (not blogging but actually working on my YA novel) I’m listening to “comfort music,” which is essentially the classic rock of my youth: Jethro Tull, Santana, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, Aerosmith, Boston — to name the top seven there. The seven most recently played is probably a better cross section: Redd Kross, Quincy Jones, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, Elliott Smith, Aretha Franklin, 5ive Style, and They Might Be Giants. Sorry, no CVB or Cracker recently.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

David: In a post-Vonnegut world, this question loses any real punch for me. Would they need to be all at once? I have a couple questions for J.D.Salinger; I’d like to think I was hip enough to hold my own with Francesca Lia Block; and maybe William Goldman.

The Pivot Questionnaire:

7-Imp: What is your favorite word? What is your least favorite word?

David: I don’t know that I have a favorite word, but every year a single annoying word tends to try and force itself into the forefront. They pop up when I begin to edit and until I recognize them I don’t realize they’re there. Currently, the word is “just” and every time I write it now I cringe. Last year the word was “basically.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

David: Pretty much anything can spark something creative. I’ve got so many notes, plans and projects lined up that I need a dozen more lifetimes to execute them all. What turns me on emotionally? Brains. Girls with brains. I live in a house full of girls with brains.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

David: Organized religion of all stripes; willfully ignorant people; politically ignorant citizens; advertising; sensationalist media masquerading as news; bad children’s poetry; cold soups.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word?

David: My wife insists that the one I favor is “Bastages!” (always with the exclamation point), which is my gender-neutral response to idiots on the road and telemarketers and the like, a combination of “bastard” and “a-hole” in its spirit.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

David: Water. Rain. Rivers. Oceans. Alternately, the non-sound I love is the silence that comes with falling snow. It’s like rain on mute.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

David: Whining and out-of-control screaming, particularly from children who are doing it for effect.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

David: I’ve still got a world of things I’m hoping to try in this lifetime, so — aside from being a published author — I wouldn’t mind making a go at photography or painting.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

David: Until and unless there is a radical shift in our national thinking, there is no way in the world would I want to be a politician.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

David: Namaste! Would you like to see the highlight reel of your recent life, or would you like to spin the big wheel and start off on your next one?”

8 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #26:
David Elzey at the excelsior file

  1. hey, jules. You could make a fence post talk, I swear.

    Of course, I love the excelsior file posts on fairy tales (sometimes David’s opinions make me think of Rapunzel’s riffs in my book) but did you see that I had found (last month) the post you call “a trip down memory lane”? I just loved that one.

    And I like the summer reading series. I wanted to add to the “Non-fiction Ideas” Camilla Gryski’s books on how to make string figures. But I couldn’t find the comments link. So I’m doing it here. Some of the string figures come with built-in stories to tell as you make them. My favorite is The Yam Thief, where you can yank a whole set of knots off your hand like magic.

    And yeah for “girls with brains!”

  2. I’m with David on most of the things that turn him off. I have eaten some tasty cold soups, though. Like David–I most certainly have a distaste for bad children’s poetry!

  3. Another great interview, Jules and Eisha. It’s great to learn more about David (love his reviews too).

    Bummed I missed 7 kicks yesterday. It was a CRAZY busy day (not bad, just CRAZY).

  4. I can take no credit at all for this one – Jules did it all! I told her to take full credit as post author, but noooo – sometimes she’s as modest as David.

    I love that “girls with brains” line too. What’s cooler than a man who loves girls with brains?

  5. Wow. What a great interview. I loved the “girls with brains” too. And of course now I’m wondering which blogger he’s married to…

  6. Thought I’d just check in and say that despite my misgivings (mostly that I didn’t think I was worthy of inclusion at so fine a blog) I’m glad I did it.

    sara, are you suggesting I’m am akin to a fence post? 😉

    vivian, my wife and keep a firewall between our blogs in order to keep her profile low — she’s able to speak more freely and anonymously about her work that way. Her blog is about law, far from anything kidlit. Believe me, we’d like to link to each other’s blogs but we cannot.

    btw, my girls think the “girls with brains” line was pretty cool. That was a nice thing because I always try to write things they’ll like. Not that it isn’t true…

    Oh, heck. I’m gonna shut up now.

  7. Forgive my ommisions and grammar issues. I really am too tired, I really shouldn’t be typing anymore…

  8. Hey David, I have a book for you to review! I wrote it. I’m glad to see you are writing. Let’s catch up.

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