Dan Gutman is the author of the “My Weird School” series, the baseball card adventure series, “The Genius Files” series, “The Kid Who Ran For President,” “The Homework Machine,” and many other books for young readers. Dan lives in New Jersey with his wife Nina and their two children. I had the honor of meeting Dan at a SCBWI conference.
For what age audience do you write?
I really write for all ages, anywhere from K through 7th grade. Adults read my stuff too. I don’t like to get pinned down to genres. I’ve written sports fiction, humor, mystery, historical fiction, non-fiction, and more. In my book “Nightmare At The Book Fair,” every chapter is a different genre.
Henry: You’re like the Leonardo da Vinci of kidlit! Every chapter a different genre? That’s literary ADD.
Tell us about your latest book.
After ten years, the first “My Weird School” special has come out. It’s called “My Weird Writing Tips.” This will be followed by specials on Halloween, Christmas, Back to School, and Valentine’s Day.
Henry: Amazon helpfully adds, “The ability to put thoughts into writing is an essential skill vital to success in school—from elementary school through college. Bestselling author Dan Gutman helps kids master this important skill with his fun, informative writing guide, My Weird Writing Tips.
Dan offers tricks for spelling hard words, understanding the difference between similar words like “its” and “it’s,” and conquering grammar stumbling blocks like commas and apostrophes. He also teaches readers how to write an engaging story, in line with the grades 2–5 Common Core goals for writing a narrative.”
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I usually don’t try to “teach” in my books. I only want to entertain the reader. But I had been receiving a lot of emails from kids with just HORRIBLE spelling, grammar, and punctuation in them. I mentioned this to my editor at HarperCollins, and she suggested I show the readers how to improve their writing. So that’s what I hope to do with “My Weird Writing Tips.”
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
You have to be a good juggler in this business. Most of us don’t have assistants or secretaries, so we have to do everything ourselves. That means not just writing our books, but also researching, answering reader mail, managing school visits and bookstore appearances, keeping track of money, and all the other things that go into running your own business. That’s very challenging, especially when you have children and elderly parents to take care of at the same time.
Henry: True indeed. We could all use a few minions.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
I’ve learned how powerful a bunch of silly words on a page can be. I didn’t get into this field to save the world or anything, but I get incredible emails from parents, teachers, and librarians telling me how their child or student hated to read, but then they picked up one of my books and it changed their life. What a wonderful feeling that is. On the other hand, sometimes those silly words on the page make people very angry. I get a lot of hostile emails from people who feel my books are inappropriate and teach bad lessons. They have even tried to get my books banned from their school libraries. So you never know how people will react.
Henry: Hostile emails!? Well, my son loved ‘Getting Air’, and it never occurred to me to email you to stop encouraging kids to skateboard.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Years back, I was invited to visit a school in Egypt. I took my wife and son along. I not only got to spend three days with the kids at their school, but I also got to go inside the pyramids and to see the treasures of King Tut at the Cairo Museum. Very cool.
Henry: Were you offered a free sample?
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Get a real job. I have enough competition as it is! But if you insist, I’d say don’t take rejection letters seriously. I have been rejected hundreds of times. I put my rejection letters on my web site. Dr. Seuss’s first book was turned down by 27 publishers. Harry Potter was rejected. They’re not rejecting you, they’re just rejecting some words on a page. And what do they know, anyway?
Henry: Good advice. Until you become a very well established writer, a day job keeps the rent paid.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.” –William Safire
Henry: Nice. I also like “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I have noticed that I use the word “the” a lot. See, I just used it in the last sentence. And that one too. It’s almost an obsession with me. I’m trying to beat this addiction and write a book without the word “the” in it. Oh, man, I just used it again.
Henry: I see a wordless picture book in your future.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would love to be able to read people’s minds. I’m pretty sure that what we think and what we say out loud are very different, and I’d bet that the thinking part is a lot more interesting.
Henry: To my mind (hah), that would be a two-edged sword. Some thoughts are better left unheard.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Can’t we go out instead? I’m not much of a cook. I’d pick Woody Allen, Mark Twain, and Paul McCartney. Because they are heroes of mine. But come to think of it, forget it. If I was with those three guys, I would be totally intimidated and have nothing to say.
Henry: You can ask them challenging questions. And pick up the check.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Eat watermelon, throw a frisbee, ride my bike, and play ping pong. Not all at the same time.
Henry: You do realize that someone somewhere will now try to do that, right?
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Don’t bother looking down here. Dan was cremated.
Henry: I just got burned.
Where can readers find your work?
Mostly, strewn all over my office. Otherwise, any bookstore or online bookseller should have them.
Henry: Do NOT visit his office, but you can visit Dan’s Facebook fan page, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @dangutmanbooks. To find out more about Dan and his books, go to http://www.dangutman.com
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.