John Jamison

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When you were my age (11), did you like to read?

I read a lot of books when I was really small, but when I got to grade school I mostly just read things like comic books, and loved the B.C. comic strips, but was not interested in reading “books (I think I believed I was too cool). Then, in sixth grade, I had to do a real ‘book report’…and boy did I dread that! I looked around the library for a nice, big, comic book, but the librarian handed me a HUGE hard-back book and said, “Why don’t you try this?” I smiled. Not because I was happy to see the HUGE book in my hands, but because I didn’t think I had any other choice. So, I just smiled and took the book home. When I went to bed that night, I picked up that HUGE book and stared at it. DREAD! I groaned, opened it up, and started reading. Three hours later my mom came in (for the 5th time) and demanded that I turn out the light and get to sleep. I told mom I would go to sleep, then found my flashlight and kept reading under the blankets. The book was “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and I was hooked.

What is a book that made an impact on you?

While Tom Sawyer was the first book that really hooked me, there was another book that convinced me to keep finding more books to read. One day I looked in dad’s suitcase and found a wrinkled-up paperback book that had a cool cover showing people running from some big, round, red thing. I started reading to see what it was, and WOW. It was my first, real, science-fiction story and after reading it I slept with the lights on for a week. That book was “The Big Eye”, by Max Ehrlich. I just found it again on Open Books and can’t wait to start reading it again tonight. I’ll let you know if I leave the lights on again.

Is it hard to come up with book ideas? 

My problem is that I have way too many ideas for books and stories. I try to keep a list of them, and the last time I looked at it, it was 37 pages long. Every time I turn around there is another idea staring at me. Hey! What if there was a girl who was always being chased by ideas. They were these little-bitty, fuzzy, creatures that all followed her around and wanted her to write about them. No matter what she did, they always…

See, that’s how it happens.

What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?

There are three things I wish someone would have suggested to me a long time ago:

The first is to just write. Write whatever your story voice tells you to write. Don’t worry if anyone will think it is any “good” or not. Don’t worry about spelling, and grammar, and those things you can take care of later if you decide too. Just write. Don’t think about writing. Just write. And when you are finished, write something else.

The second thing is to just read. Read anything. Read a silly story. Read a poem. Read a play. Read something serious. Read something you like. Read something you don’t like. Just read.

And the third thing is to play with words. Do crossword puzzles. Make-up puns and rhymes. Play word-games. Make-up songs. Every day try to find a new word you don’t know and keep using it over and over again to add it to your story voice’s brain. The more words you cram into your brain, the more toys your story voice has to play with.

And, oh, I’ll add one more that helps with finding ideas to write about. Spend lots of time asking, “What if?” Ask it all the time. What if…the sun came up green this morning? What if…butterflies were made out of butter? What if…someone changed the rules and put kids in charge and made adults go to school and have bedtimes? What if….over and over and over…

So, I guess there are four suggestions: Write. Read. Play with words. Ask “What if…”

As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?

I love hearing from someone who has read my stories. It is always great if they liked the story, but even if they didn’t like it all that much, I like to find out why so I can keep doing a better job.

One of the neatest experiences I have is when someone starts talking to me about one of my characters like they really know them, and maybe even have ideas about what that character would do next. But, the things that have made me the most excited and happy have been the times that someone has told me that reading my stories has gotten them excited about writing their own stories. That is simply awesome!

You are also an illustrator. What is that like?

I am honestly not a very good artist. I like to draw and paint and create things, but I need to spend a lot more time practicing. When I started writing my first Skwerdlock picture book, I was going to find a “real” illustrator to do the pictures. But, when the story was finished, the Skwerdlock insisted that I do the pictures myself. Skwerdlock said that he wanted readers to know they didn’t have to always be perfect, and if they sometimes made mistakes or colored outside the lines it was perfectly okay. In fact, as I drew those pictures, Skwerdlock made me throw away any of them that looked “too perfect”.

When I wrote my first book for older readers, “Arnie Dufner and the Purple Principal!”, I did find a “real” illustrator to do the pictures. It was a lot of fun to work with him and talk about ideas and then seem them come to life. But, I will keep doing the pictures for my Skwerdlock books. Skwerdlock told me I don’t have a choice.

If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?

This is a great question! And a really tough one for me. I liked the Harry Potter stories, but I don’t want to go and have to fight giant worms, and dragons, and things like that. I liked the Hobbit stories, but I don’t want to mess with Orcs. I liked Tom Sawyer, but I think I would miss watching movies. I guess if I HAD to choose a place, I would pick “The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”, and portal to the Hundred Acre Woods. I would REALLY like to meet Eeyore. But I would probably get pounced-on by Tigger, or chased by a Woozle, so I think I’ll just stay here and read about them.

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