Jack Gantos is author of over forty books for children from the ROTTEN RALPH picture books, collections of JACK HENRY short stories, upper elementary and middle school JOEY PIGZA novels, young adult novels—LOVE CURSE OF THE RUMBAUGHS, DESIRE LINES, and a memoir, HOLE IN MY LIFE. His work can lead readers from the cradle to the grave.
Mr. Gantos was a professor at Emerson College where he developed the Masters 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 a Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, National Book Award Finalist honor and he is the 2010 recipient of the NCTE/ALAN AWARD for his contribution to the field of Young Adult and Children’s Literature. His most recent novel is DEAD END IN NORVELT, due out the fall of 2011. Check out the video trailer. For more information on Jack Gantos, visit his website.
Let the conversation begin!
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
It would be difficult to choose between Meville’s MOBY DICK and, say, Cormac MacCarthy’s THE BORDER TRILOGY, BLOOD MERIDIAN, and THE ROAD. Regardless, quality is the standard.
If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?
I cannot fully tell you because I plan to write the book. But I’m hoping that the very last book I publish will be titled HOW TO KILL AN AUTHOR: Stories from what went wrong on the road.
Do you begin with character or plot?
Character is my first stab at the paper. It is what I prefer to set first in the book. The plot and themes can be adjusted by the characters many background features.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I can’t do that either, except to say that it is in the red ink stage of gestation.
Describe your perfect day.
I get up at 5 and feed the cats. I drink a cup of coffee and go to the gym. I have good energy and while working out kick over a few clever notions for my novel. Go home. Shower. Walk to theBostonAthenaeum. Sit down at a desk on the fifth floor and knock out three thousand words. Find a good book to read. Walk home. Everyone is happy to see me. I drink a beer. I go on the roof and grill fish. The Red Sox are playing at Fenway. When a homerun is hit the cheer drifts across the city and I hear it.
What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend?
I had a horrid weekend. My cats fought with each other with an intensity I had never seen. It was very upsetting. I’ve had to keep them separated. Resolving their acrimony has consumed me. I did work on my article for the Horn Book and polished up some outlandish ideas.
Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?
I’d say I chart my course by reading books. All I want to do is write a good book. My inspiration arrives by the back door. Its called fear of writing junk.
Where do you get your ideas?
Reading mostly. Paying attention. Being a good listener. And then not listening at all. And then when I write I do about a hundred rewrites and that is where most of my ideas come from. Layer after layer of second guessing myself.
What advice would you give young writers?
Read more poetry and non-fiction. Prose is reverie meets inspiration. Set up good daily writing habits.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Don’t remind me. I think it was someone’s pet.
What do you consider to be the most valuable thing you own?
What is my Rosebud? (I’m thinking about it)
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Make sure the reader is part of the story.
What one word describes you? Why?
Most embarrassing moment?
Wearing the Rotten Ralph cat suit that was too tight in the crotch.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Half hour on the rowing machine followed by four hours of reading.
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
HOLE IN MY LIFE was both.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
Both in turns as necessary.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
I’d hire someone who was exactly like me only smarter.
How long do you take to write a book?
One to three years per novel.
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A criminal with a great girlfriend.
Easier to write before or after you were published?
Both sides of that equation are a slippery slope. But I’d rather be published.
Earliest childhood memory?
My sister wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
What is your secret talent?
I’m an excellent liar.
What’s one rule you’re dying to break?
I want to repeal the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?
Try not to wake up to it.
What initially drew you to writing?
If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be?
Graham Greene, Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson
Daily word count?
The question is ‘how much do you dislike yourself at the end of the day.’ Fortunately I have thick skin.