Interview with Award-Winning Author Janet Wong

JanetGet to know Janet…

Janet S. Wong is the author of more than two dozen books for children and teens. She has been honored with the Claremont Stone Center Recognition of Merit, the IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, and her appointment to the NCTE Commission on Literature and the NCTE Excellence in Children’s Poetry award committee; she also is the current chair of the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society committee. A featured speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, Wong has performed at the White House and has been featured on CNN, Fine Living’s Radical Sabbatical, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

If you could invent a weight loss program, what would you name it?

The Unbelievable Potato Chip Diet. I wrote about my potato chip “expertise” in The Horn Book Magazine (Nov/Dec 2006), in an essay entitled “Alien Bunny Bots.”

If someone spied on you, what embarrassing fact would they discover?

At home I usually forget to drink my coffee until 1-2 hours after I’ve made it—especially if I’m feeling extra sleepy that day.

If you owned a professional sports team, what would be your team name?

It would be a basketball team called “The Shorties” and I would recruit short but amazing 3-point shooters. Which reminds me of a story. When I was in 8th grade, I was elected to be one of the ten basketball team captains in our P.E. class. As I stood up there with the other captains, choosing players one at a time, I wanted to choose the best athletes—but I knew that I had to choose the terribly nonathletic short friends who had just voted for me and would be “last pickings” if I didn’t choose them. So, loyal me, I picked all the worst players. Maybe camaraderie would help us win! Well, camaraderie was out the window by the time we argued over and settled on a team name, which was something like The Shorties. At the end of the season (the P.E. unit), we had the worst record of all the teams and we were furious with each other over our crummy skills. Funny how memories can resurface over a prompt as simple as “team name”!

At the end of your Chinese meal, what would you like your fortune to read?

What you ate was just a dream. You can eat your real meal now. (And yes, I have been known to eat two dinners. When you’re at a conference with a bunch of old friends who are eating early and you also get a publisher’s invitation for a late dinner, how can you skip either one?) 

Janet 1Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

I was at a one-day workshop on how to write and get published. Poet Myra Cohn Livingston was introduced. I wasn’t interested; I hated poetry starting in 4th grade. Then she read and spoke—and after 45 minutes I knew I wanted to study with her. I thought I’d study poetry just to sharpen my prose—but Myra sold my first book for me, a collection of poems, and so I became a poet.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Be flexible with your dreams. Try traditional publishing with the big houses first, if that’s what “success” is to you—but if that doesn’t work out to your satisfaction, don’t be afraid to try a different model, whether that means a smaller traditional house or artisanal publishing or self-publishing. Read Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur; in 3 hours it will teach you what it took me 20 years to learn. Study the business of writing in addition to the craft.

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is about using non-obvious approaches and finding fresh solutions, making something work with “whatever you can find.” Tinkering all day in a garage with Grandpa or a bunch of friends, building things from junk scraps and nuts and bolts and lots of duct tape—that is, in my opinion, the ultimate in creativity. I wrote about this in The Dumpster Diver and also in my poem “Tinker Time” from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science.

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

Creative people are comfortable with the uncertain, with feeling lost. When regular people get lost, they’ll whip out a map or scrutinize the directions or try some alternate search on the GPS. A creative person who is lost will drive around in circles, look for some clue, follow a promising sign, turn around at the dead end, pull into a Starbucks (just to ask), get a cup of coffee (since there were only three people in line), hop back into the car, drive on instinct down an alley, and—somehow—pull right up to the hidden VIP door.

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