"If my book inspires just one kid to become a reader ... that's one too many." Charlie Joe Jackson.
Okay I LOVED this book! Seriously, I breezed through it in a day and had to read parts of it aloud to my husband. Let me just tell you a little about Charlie Joe: he's a middle grade student who's smart and has a lot of spunk ... and he's this HUGE Beatles fan (which I think is so super cool), BUT ..... he hates to read. Matter of fact, people consider him the most reluctant reader ever born. Sound familiar?? Yep, I've got one of those at home too ...
This book is a MUST READ for any non-reader. Told in first person in Charlie Joe's clever voice, this story has everything a fun contemporary kid book should. And for the non-readers, the chapters are especially short ... sometimes half a page, just because Charlie Joe understands how annoying really long chapters are. Really, this book is super cute and witty and I can't recommend it enough. But don't just take it from me.... read on for my interview with author Tommy Greenwald, and you'll see what I mean.
Thanks for being here today, Tommy!
** Your MG book, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading, is about a boy who hates reading. He tries everything possible to avoid books. What gave you the idea for this story?
I took the old expression “write what you know” to the extreme, and turned it into “write what you breed.” My three boys, Charlie, Joe and Jack, all hated to read when they were middle-schoolers. I wanted to write a book that even they could love – a book for kids who hate books, figuring that kids who already like books would like it too. I hit upon the idea of Charlie Joe Jackson, the most reluctant reader ever born, and off I went.
2. ** How long did it take you to write the original draft?
About three months I’d say, if by “first draft” you mean the draft that my agent ended up submitting to editors. Then once it was sold, I did a bunch more drafts.
3. ** You got the name for the book from your three sons, but does your character Charlie Joe resemble one of your sons more than the other(s)?
I’ve asked my kids that, and they all seem to agree that he most resembles Jack, my youngest. Jack was truly allergic to reading. I have a trailer out for the book (which you can see at tommygreenwald.com), in which a bunch of kids talk about all the horrible, boring things they’d rather do than read. One of the kids says, “Can I stare at the wall? Is that an option?” My son Jack used to say that all the time, for real.
*PK thought* lol... the trailer is hilarious! You guys have to check it out!
4. ** Your voice throughout the story is witty and loveable, was it a collective of all tween boys you’ve encountered? Or even perhaps your own tween self?
I’m not sure where the voice comes from. When I came up with the character, it just kind of started writing itself. I’d have to say it comes from my boys though, and somehow seeped into my subconscious during 15 years of listening to them fight, cajole, beg, annoy, and generally be hilarious.
** So who's the real life Beatles fan? Or is it just a trait you made up for Charlie Joe?
I'm a huge fan, and I brainwashed my kids into loving the Beatles too.
*PK thought* And what's not to love?! Truth is, i went to middle school with a girl who dressed all in black and was in love with the Beatles. This was back in the 80s when The Beatles weren't hip anymore. Now they're retro-hip, so it's cool again. Reading this about CJJ I could totally relate to it and immediately thought of this girl!
5. ** How many times did you revise before you felt ready to send the ms out?
My editor, Michele Rubin of Writer’s House, was a great sounding board to me as I worked on the first draft. She helped me fix stuff along the way. I revised a lot as I went.
6. ** Did you have beta readers? If so, how many?
My whole family – wife, three boys – read the first draft, although obviously I had to beg my kids to read it. I have a sister-in-law and a niece who are 4th and 6th grade teachers, respectively, and they read the manuscript to their classes, which yielded lots of awesome feedback (“Don’t call girls ‘hot.’”). And my dogs, Moose and Coco, absolutely loved it.
7. ** Is the published story very different from your original draft?
My amazing editor, Nan Mercado at Roaring Brook, bought it and then told me to change it pretty drastically. And she was completely right, of course. The first draft was way too complicated, too many plots, too many characters, too many everything. She helped me streamline the storytelling all the way down to one main plot, one main subplot, and one theme running throughout the whole thing.
8. ** Tell us about your path to publication? Did you query for an agent? If so how long did you query before finding your agent?
This is the part where you hate me. My agent, Michele, is an old friend from high school who’s been trying to get me to write a book for years. She’s mainly an adult lit agent, though, and she thought I would write an adult novel, but when I finally was ready, it was this idea. She loved it and decided to take on her first kidlit client: Me. So no querying. Please don’t hold it against me.
*PK's thought*(How about that, eh? Having an agent ask you to write a book for them to sell???)
9. ** Did your kids love the story when they first read it? Was that your clue that you were on to something, or do they really not like reading?
Yup they read it, and they say they loved it, but did they really have a choice? I paid for their Xbox, after all.
10 **. How long did it take from signing with Macmillan to holding your arc in your hand? And what was it like finally getting to hold it for the first time?
Signed if Feb ’10. ARC in about September ‘10. Actual hardcover books any second. Pub date TODAY! Whole thing feels crazy.
11.** Did you always know you’d be a writer?
I always did write, but no, I can’t say I always knew. I’ve been writing in a variety of ways most of my adult life, and make my living as a writer and creative director of advertising for Broadway shows. I wrote a musical called John & Jen that’s been produced quite a bit in NYC and around the country, and wrote one screenplay that was optioned but never produced. But never in a million years would I have guessed that I’d become a children’s book author – even if you asked me as recently as three years ago.
12.** What pitfalls, if any, did you run into during your path to publication?
Not many, really. One editor basically made an offer, and then had to rescind, because it turned out her house had a high-profile author developing a male middle-grade humorous novel that was on the same timeline as mine. That was pretty painful for a couple of weeks. But then Nan made the offer, and it was obviously all for the best, because she’s a goddess of editing.
13. ** What fiction has inspired you? What were your fave stories growing up?
I have a bad memory so this is a tough one. I loved the Matt Christopher sports books. I loved the Little Big Books, novels based on famous cartoons or movies, in tiny hardcovers with pictures on the left and text on the right. Archie Comics were a constant companion. And I must have read the picture book ARE YOU MY MOTHER? about sixty zillion times.
*PK thought* LOVE Archie comics! Used to read them ALL the time as a kid.
** ** What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
I used to think I didn’t have to outline a plot, but I was wrong. Know where you’re going, map it out generally, so you don’t have a sense of dread as you go. Things might change along the way, which is fine, as long as you basically know how it starts, how it ends, and one big thing that happens in the middle. And if you’re writing a humorous book, make sure you make yourself chuckle at least once a page.
15. ** As the father to three boys, do you notice any trends they’re particularly drawn to? Since there seems to be a decline in teen boys reading once they hit fifteen, is there any advice you have in regards to writing for teen boys?
I wish I had advice. I wish someone had given me advice when my kids were a little younger (they’re mid-teens now). I think kids are born either readers, non-readers, or eventual readers. Readers are awesome. Non-readers better have some other serious skills. And eventual readers kind of find their way to books on their own, as long as they come into contact with a book that strikes their fancy. My goal in writing for boys is to pass the milkshake test. Meaning, there are basically no books they’ll agree to read without an incentive. But there are SOME books that they’ll agree to read if you give them a milkshake afterwards. I hope CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING is a milkshake book.
16**. Your story deals some with cliques in middle school. Did you write the story intent on sending a message, or was it the natural flow of the story that led you to tackle that issue?
Natural flow. The last thing I wanted to do was write a message book about how cliques are bad, and I hope it doesn’t come off at all heavy-handed. It’s really more of a device than a message. What Hitchcock called a McGuffin.
17**. Plotter or panster or both?
Plots make me plotz. But I’m kinda bald, so I’m definitely not a hairy plotter.
18.** What’s in store for you? Any new stories in the works?
Well, CHARLIE JOE is projected as a five-book series, and the second, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO EXTRA CREDIT, is now in copy edits, for a spring ’12 release. But the next thing I’m working on is a non-Charlie Joe story. It’s a fun idea, and I need to test myself and see if I can write another middle-grade funny boy book with a different voice.
*PK cheers for more CJJ books*
19.** Any big plans for release day?
Not really, but I’ve got some fun launch events happening in NYC and CT (where I live) right around then. Check http://tommygreenwald.com/ for details. You’re all invited! Free cupcakes!! See you there.
Yep! We're celebrating here too, Tommy!
And to all my lovely readers, please drop by Tommy's blog (from the link right above) and read up on his funny posts. You can watch the CJJ trailer, and learn more about Tommy and Charlie Joe!
But that's not all ... Act now, and one of you will win a copy of Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by leaving a comment RIGHT HERE! What are you waiting for? Show Tommy and Charlie Joe some book love!
Happy *not* Reading!! :)