Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on children’s book author Jack Gantos. Jack is the author of fifty books for children from the Rotten Ralph picture books, collections of Jack Henry short stories, upper elementary and middle school Joey Pigza and Norvelt novels, to middle school and young adult books—Love Curse Of The Rumbaughs, Desire Lines, Hole In My Life and The Trouble In Me. His work can lead readers from the cradle to the grave.
Mr. Gantos was a professor at Emerson College where he developed the Master’s Degree Program in Children’s Literature, Writing and Publishing. He now spends his time writing and is an active speaker at book and literacy conferences, schools and libraries. His works have received numerous awards, including a Newbery Award.
His highly regarded book on writing for young writers is titled: Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories. In September of 2018 an Original Audible book, The Dented Head Of Joey Pigza, was released. A Pain In The Pigza, also an Original Audible, will be released in the spring of 2019.
Thanks for answering all these questions for us, Jack. The first one is, where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester –though they should totally check here first!)
My books are available at most book stores—especially those that serve young-to-teen readers, and on line.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
If you go onto http://www.jackgantos.com you can find all my titles, and materials on my books and contact information for school visits. I live in Boston so am easily available in New England.
What kind of research went into writing your books? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into a book, but you loved discovering?
The five volumes of Jack Henry short stories (4th, 5th,6th,7th, 8th grades) are family stories from those early years of my life—stories that capture a range of humorous and testy events—and a lot of craziness.
When I wrote Dead End In Norvelt I read a lot of US and World History in order for Ms. Volker to write all of her “This Day in History” entries for the newspaper which then matched up with the obituary section, that when a person died in town she could trace their history.
When I wrote the Joey Pigza novels I had to research ADHD in kids—had to go live in his town (Lancaster, PA) for a while in order to fully duplicate his world into words in a book.
Hole In My Life, The Trouble In Me, Love Curse Of The Rumbaughs and Desire Lines are all YA/Middle school titles that entirely reveal events of my life that happened directly to me, or reveal events I know about through my life.
What was the inspiration for Joey Pigza? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
I’m writing three Joey Pigza Original Audible books, for Audible. I then record them for Audible and for a while they will be on the Audible list (the first two are finished and the third one I am writing). Eventually they will then also come out as printed Joey Pigza books.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out Joey Pigza? How did you overcome that challenge?
The challenge with writing a book is most always the same. Start with a scrap of an idea and work it day in and day out and be unrelenting. Get the characters, setting, problems/plots, rising actions, crisis, resolutions and make sure there is great physical detailing and emotional depth. I always figure 50 to 100 drafts per book.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
I don’t hate my characters. Even Mr. Spizz, who is a pain in the neck, is lovable to me. Gary Pagoda was a bully, but he was charismatic and masterful. The Rumbaugh twins were enigmatic, odd, perverse, but they captured me. It is hard for me to both create and hate a character.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I write mostly realistic fiction. Readers who find engagement in the deep depths of the real world—the humor and pathos—usually they like my work. I’m not a fantasy writer.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
I’ve published over fifty books. The lessons I’ve learned have overlapped a number of times. What I do know is that readers like great characters, terrific sentences, a story line that is engaging, and language that paints their imaginations, and creates a theater of the mind when they read.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Expect to work hard. Set up writing habits and meet them. Be unrelenting with yourself. Don’t slack off. Read more books than you write.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Nothing I do is exceptional—the books themselves are a vault of well organized words. I’m just a writer trying with intent to carve out a story from the vast imaginary possibilities of language.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask you, and what would the
I think they should ask what they want and I try to answer as best I can. Writing is a hard job, and should not be confused with working a Ouija board all day.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Books that fewer people like right away, but then through the reading they fall in love with them—the books cast a spell on a reader who is willing to be captured by the story and language.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
Mostly it is family, cats, friends, writing, reading, and just remaining open to ideas that are not always obviously great at first glance
What are some of your writing-related hobbies, crafts, addictions?
Collecting some books. But I’m getting out of the business of more is more. I’m now on the less is more side of the mountain.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
I write in the library. Neo Classic. Quiet. No cell phones. No talking. Good books. Smart librarians. That covers it for me.
What is one thing that most people don’t realize about you?
I wouldn’t know. I’m so obscure to myself.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
A very thorough tour of the Library of Congress
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
I frequently wear headphones and depending on my mood. I listen to Bruckner or Amy Winehouse.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
No furry friends to help. I have cats. They may pay attention at times, but like anyone smart, watching a writer work is like watching paint dry, so they would rather sleep than be bored.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
A lot of drinks must be avoided while working—all the after 5pm types. Water and tea and coffee during the writing hours.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
I’m always looking to be excited by the extraordinary possibilities of the work. But its not always possible to be excited about it every day.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
That other people’s opinions rarely move me and so I don’t share my work as I
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
I don’t belong to any but I’m sure there are many groups that are vastly helpful.
Jack, thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions! We hope to see you at our store sometime in the near future.