"I haven't taken any vacations in the last three years, except one trip to London to see a William Blake exhibition," says Maurice Sendak.
"Once in a while, I do some teaching or lecturing - I consider that part of my work. But producing a book has got to be a solitary occupation - my dogs and the phone and that's it.
"You begin to go bonkers after a while, of course. Teaching is a wonderful outlet. Otherwise, I talk to the television - it's so full of people I hate.Sometimes I just sit there screaming obscenities into the country night."
Sendak, 50 is one of America's most successful creators of childrens' books. Author of a dozen volumes and illustrator of more than 60 by others, winner of the 1964 Caldecott Award for his enormously popular "Where the Wild Things Are," he is now turning his strange imagination and surreal humor from books to opera.
The transition is not quite surprising to those who know the operatic world of Sendak's books: a flamboyant often violent place where great hairy creatures romp, where lions swallow little boys, where house hold routines can become suddenly fantastic and dangerous, and where Max, the hero of "Wild Things,' can (See SENDak, E4, Col.3) (SENDAK, From E1) yell at his mother, 'I'LL EAT YOU UP!'
"Wild Things" has been commissioned as the text for an opera in Brussels next year and Sendak is working out the libretto, sets and costumes. And for 1980, he is designing sets for the Houston Opera's production of The Magic Flute. In between, he hopes to finish the sequel in a trilogy begun by "Wild Things" and "In the Night Kitchen," as well as three other books.
Although he is becoming as sought after on stage as Edward Gorey (who has been associated with two shows playingon Broadway this season). Sendak still maintains a compulsive work schedule that dates back to his first book illustrations - done while he was in high school, for a physics teacher's book on atomic energy.
In his isolated bachelor home in southern Connecticut, he follows a clockwork schedule every day: up at 8:30 walking his three dogs for an hour, answering mail until lunch (which he eats while watching two favorite soap operas, "Search for Tomorrow" and "All My Children"), work from 1 to 4:30, another outing with the dogs a nap from 5:30 to 6:30, dinner with the television news (John Chancellor) and then more work "until the end of the Dick Cavett show." In the afternoons and again in the evenings until about 10, he listens to Mozart on his hi-fi system while he works.
The tensions of his work sometimes become overwhelming, he says. "A lot of people think, if you're successful, you never do a bad drawing - just like when I was a kid, I used to think Joan Crawford and Bette Davis never went to the bathroom. It doesn't work that way.
"I remeber when I was illustrating Grimm's Fairy Tales, I built up this big problem in my mind about Snow White -everybody has done illustrations for Snow White and it had to be something special. I overdid one drawing, overloaded it with details, and when I saw it wasn't going to work I lost my temper.
"I crushed the paper into a ball in my hand, threw it away, rushed out into my yard and yelled as loud as I could, F - you, Snow White." The dogs all hid under chairs.
"When I went back into the house, the phone was ringing - a nice lady who lives about half a mile away was calling. She said she had heard a scream and wanted to know if everything was all right."
Most of the people Sendak herars from are quite a bit younger, and not always as pleasant in their communications, Sendak says.
"Kids don't care about prizes or best'seller lists or whether or not you are a celebrity. Sometimes they write you letters that say. 'I loved your book and I hope I grow up to be like you,' but others write, 'Why did you don't write any more.' You can't ask for more honest Critics."
His own exposure to children's literature began as a child when his father used to tell him stories, "strange, frightening stories that wen on night after night. He made up most of them, but sometimes he revised other people's material like the Book of Genesis.
"I was so proud in the first grade that I was the only kid who knew it, but he got me in touble because I didn't know it was his private version: Adam was a nice Jewish boy who moved into a bad nieghborhood and met a woman who got him in touble. There was quite a reaction when I told the class that Eve was a whore."
In 1970, the last year of his father's life, they returned to those early days when the old man began writing a long story to pass the time. It became "in Grandpa's House," completed while his father was dying of cancer. Sendak's publisher, Harper, was so impressed that it bought the rights to the book - though the deitor had some trouble convincing the seior Sendak that the company wasn't being nice to him.
Sendak hopes to finish work on the book, which he says needs some polishing, and then illustrate it; but first he wil have to come to terms with his father's death, he says.
In town for a lecture at the Smithsonian, the writer wondered what Halloween surprises might be turning up back home and recalled the higlight of last year's Holloween.
"A little girl knocked on the door dressed like Rosie, who is one of my favorite characters from my books - a long dress, big hat and about nine pounds of rouge. Before I could give her any candy, she broke into a song and dance. 'I'm Really Rosie.' and then she ran back down the walk and rode away in a big car. I never knew who she really was."