ww.jarrettlerner.com and @Jarrett_Lerner (Twitter)
I live in Medford, Massachusetts, just a few miles outside of Boston, with my wife, my daughter, and a cat. Besides writing, I love to read, run, cook, and eat. I’m extremely lucky to get to spend so much of my time traveling around (both virtually, via Skype and Google Hangouts, and physically) to classrooms all across the country and up in Canada. Connecting with young readers and creators has become one of the most important – not to mention fun! — parts of my life.
When you were my age, did you like to read?
I loved it. But I had a lot of other interests, too. I played a lot of baseball, and then became obsessed with skateboarding, and then got really into playing guitar. Throughout it all, though, I was always reading.
Early on in my life, thanks to my parents, my siblings, and a handful of wonderful teachers, I learned the value of books. I knew I could go to them for entertainment and escape, inspiration and insight, knowledge and comfort and countless other things besides. Because of that, I was always in the middle of reading something or other, and rarely went anywhere without a book in tow.
What was your favorite story?
I had lots of favorites, but if I had to single out one book from all of the many I loved, it’d be Louis Sachar’s There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. There’s something about Sachar’s mix of humor and heart – and in that book especially – that really spoke to me as a kid, and still does. Every year or so, I sit down and reread Bradley Chalker’s story. Somehow, it gets better every time.
How do you get your ideas?
I don’t know where ideas come from – if I did, I’d be there right now, scooping up as many of them as I could! What I do know, however, is that my best ideas always come to me when I’m doing three things:
The first thing is Reading. The best way to get your brain looking for ideas of its own is to expose it to the ideas of others, and books are an amazing place to find other people’s ideas – usually it’s where they put their best ones.
The second thing is Exploring. By that, I don’t mean you have to go on a trip to a faraway land or have some sort of dangerous adventure. You can explore every second of every day, even if you’re just walking to school or eating dinner with your family, simply by being present and observant. Pay attention to how the world works, how people interact within it. Collect experiences. Hoard them. If something in particular interests or confuses or irks or excites you, write it down – make sure to remember it.
The third thing is Dreaming, and that’s when you let your ideas and your experiences dance to the unique tune of your own imagination. It’s when you sit around and just let your mind wander and wonder and ask “What if? What if? What if?” These questions – along with their answers, of course – are the building blocks of stories.
Do those three things – Read, Explore, and Dream – and soon enough you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with.
Is it hard to write a book?
Some parts of writing a book comes easy, and other parts are downright tough. But even the tough parts are, at the end of the day, beneficial, and often enjoyable. I love storytelling and the craft of writing. By challenging myself, by working through the harder parts of writing a book, I become a more skilled, versatile, and confident writer. That, to me, makes it all worthwhile.
What author do you really like right now?
There are way, way too many to name! But a few that I’ve been really excited about lately are Kat Shepherd, Saadia Faruqi, and Eric Bell. If you take a look at my goodreads page or, better yet, follow me on Twitter, you’ll find that I’m constantly talking about authors and books I like and am excited about. It’s pretty much all I do!
Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?
One of my all-time favorite authors is a guy by the name of Daniel Pinkwater. He’s published tons of books, and is still publishing today. But a lot of kids don’t know of him. I think that’s a shame. He’s hilarious, and his books are so, so fun. Reading them makes my head feel fizzy, like my imagination just chugged a couple gallons of soda.
I found out about your books via Multicultural Children’s Book day. Why do you think Multicultural books are important for kids?
Our world is increasingly interconnected. More and more it’s true that, in addition to our local communities, we all belong to one big global community. As such, it’s essential to understand our community’s members — our neighbors, whether they’re living in the house next door or somewhere halfway around the world. Books that are written by individuals from cultures other than our own and/or that are based in cultures other than our own teach us about different ways of life, making us more sensitive to other ways of doing things both basic and complex, and also making us more thoughtful and constructively critical about the ways in which we do them. Perhaps even more important than highlighting our differences, however, multicultural books reveal our sameness. They speak to the humanity in all of us, no matter where we’re from or how we grew up or what we believe – they tug at that common thread that runs through all seven-some-odd billion of us here on Earth. Such stories are invaluable, for all of us – kids and adults, too.
What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?
Read and read and read and write and write and write, then read some more and write some more and then do it all over again. But also make sure to share your stories with others, and find and befriend people who write the sorts of things you do, and reach out to authors to learn what they did in order to get their stories made into books.
Becoming a published author requires talent, certainly – but more than that, it requires a tremendous amount of hard work and persistence. You simply cannot give up, and cannot let a bad day, some negative feedback, or a rejection (or dozens and dozens of them) knock you down. Every success, big and small, is built upon a mountain (or at least a sizeable hill) of missteps, mistakes, and outright failures.
As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?
I do, and it’s one of my most favorite things. I’ve kept every piece of mail a reader has ever sent to me, and I look through them often. I’ve got some of the drawings kids have made me hanging up in my study, and I keep the comic books I’ve been given by them on my bookshelves. I like getting such mail for a number of reasons. One is that, hearing from readers, I know I’ve succeeded — I’ve reached a kid, convinced them to pick up my book and read it from front to back. I’ve made them smile, maybe even laugh, and made them wonder and think. And that is exactly why I do what I do every day!
Another reason I love receiving mail from readers: it inspires me enormously. I am constantly blown away by kids. Their thoughtfulness, their wisdom, their artistic talent, their brilliant ideas, the bigness and boldness of their imaginations — it has all, on countless occasions, literally made my jaw drop. That gets me excited. It gets my own imagination fired up. It leaves me far more energized than I would be otherwise the next time I sit down to write.
One last reason: getting mail from readers, hearing what they like and don’t like, what they got out of my book — all of that makes me a better writer. It’s the best and most important feedback I could get. I learn what I’m doing right and what I might be able to do better. As I said before, I love the craft of writing, and am constantly striving to become better at it. One of the best ways to do that is to pay attention to what your readers have to say. For all of these reasons, I am so very grateful whenever a reader takes the time to send me a letter, a drawing, or a story of their own.