Richard Lederer is the author of more than 40 books about language, history, and humor, including his best-selling Anguished English series and his current books, ‘The Gift of Age’, ‘A Tribute to Teachers’, ‘American Trivia’, ‘Amazing Words’, ‘Lederer on Language’, and ‘Hilarious Holiday Humor’. He has won San Diego Book Awards the past two years.
Dr. Lederer’s syndicated column, “Lederer on Language,” appears in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States, including the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has been named International Punster of the Year and Toastmasters International’s Golden Gavel winner.
For what age audience do you write?
In addition to my work for adults, I write language fun and skill for children 8 years old to 13 years old. Aside from Young Adult Fiction, not many authors address this age group, in part, I believe, because around third grade is when parents stop taking their children to book stores. But children 8-to-13 are alive to the possibilities of language, and that is the audience for my children’s books.
Tell us about your latest children’s book.
Why does New Year’s Day happen on January 1? Who was Saint Valentine? Who brought the jack-o’-lantern and Santa Claus to America for Halloween and Christmas celebrations? In Hilarious Holiday Humor, Stan Kegel, my co-author, and I tell the fascinating stories of the origins and customs of our major holidays, including Easter, Passover, Cinco de Mayo, Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We’ve written this book in a ‘tweener style that we think works for both grownups and children.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
A sense of history as they learn about the origins of each holiday and a sense of delight from the classic jokes about each holiday.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Matching content and style as spot on as possible with the audience.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
What a thrill to know that readers out there are sharing what I have made. I marvel that, as they pass your eyes over my words, they experience ideas and emotions similar to what I was thinking and feeling when, in another place and another time, I struck the symbols on my keyboard.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Eldridge Cleaver once said, “I write to untangle the snarled web of my mind.” How true. Exploring various subjects beyond language, including American history, seniors, dogs, cats, and teachers, I have learned sooo much, and, in the process, have become the person best suited to tell the particular story of each book. And as a performer who presents his books to so many different audiences, I have entered worlds I would never have otherwise inhabited.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Discover what kind of writer you are. Long ago, I discovered that I would never become the Great American Novelist. I stink at cobbling characters, dialogue, episode, and setting. You won’t find much of that fictional stuff in my books, unless the story serves the ideas I am trying to communicate. A writer has to find out what kind of writer he or she is, and I somehow got born an English teacher with an ability to illuminate language and literature. In my work, ideas, not characters, are the heroes.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
No. I write at any time of day or night, in a silent or chaotically noisy room.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To embellish the world’s verbal abilities so that everyone could enjoy language and literature.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
William Shakespeare, who essentially invented modern English and whose language is the most felicitous ever written; Emily Dickinson, who turned her Amherst garden into a universe of poetry; and John Steinbeck, who was the first writer to inspire me to become one.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Argos, the dog who waited twenty years for his master Odysseus’s return. Such loyalty!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Reading for information, watching films, playing poker and tennis.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
“His was a life well lived and well loved. He outreached and touched many minds and hearts.”
Where can readers find your work?
In book stores, on Amazon, and on www.verbivore.com.
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.