Gary Urey is the author of Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell, which Kirkus called in its starred review “…a winner, especially for reluctant readers.” Gary is also a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City where he has portrayed everything from a Shakespearean messenger to a mime trapped in a box on the subway. He puts his professional theatre training to good use every time he sits down to write funny stories for kids. Besides being an actor, Gary spent several years in the city as a theatre reviewer and script reader. He now lives and writes in Portland, Maine with his wife and two daughters, and has just finished the next installment of the Super Schnoz saga. For more info, visit his website.
Favorite TV show?
Hong Kong Phooey! It was a 1970s cartoon featuring the voice of Scatman Crothers. Hong Kong Phooey was the secret alter ego of Penrod Pooch, a dog who worked at a police station as a “mild-mannered” janitor. He then transformed himself into Hong Kong Phooey by running head first into a filing cabinet. You can watch every gut-splitting episode on You Tube.
Have you been told you look like someone famous?
Besides the obvious comparisons to Fabio, someone recently told me I looked like Martin Short.
What has been one of your most interesting jobs?
I once worked in a graveyard as the caretaker’s assistant. One day I accidently knocked over a HUGE tombstone with a riding mower. The slab of granite was so heavy they had to bring out a small crane to lift it upright again.
If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?
There would be a large picture of me sitting on my riding mower from the graveyard with the words: Stay in school, kids.
If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?
I would definitely be the Human Cannonball.
If you could bring one character to life from your favorite book, who would it be?
Maniac Magee because I’d want to see if he could really hit a telephone pole with a stone sixty-one times in a row from twenty paces away.
Who’s your favorite fictional villain?
Environmental Clean Up, the evil corporation from my own book, Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell!
What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?
My original goal in life was to be an actor, not a writer. A few years after high school, I moved to NYC and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. My roommate at the time was an artist who got an assignment illustrating a series of easy-reader books about historic figures. I took one look at the manuscript on his drawing table and something magical clicked in my brain. I decided right then and there that I wanted to write children’s books.
What books are you reading right now?
NERDS by Michael Buckley, EAT TO LIVE by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and R. Crumb’s KAFKA
Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?
It took me fifteen years to sell a book. After year ten, I had serious doubts about ever publishing one of my stories. But within that dark time some magical, serendipitous things happened to me. For example, I became friends with a woman named Roxanne Hsu Feldman who was a children’s librarian with the New York City Public Library. Roxanne later became a member of the Newbery Award Committee. One afternoon I popped into a sushi place on Park Avenue South to get lunch and struck up a conversation with an older gentleman. He turned out to be Richard Jackson, the legendary children’s book editor. I figured those chance encounters were signs from the universe to keep on writing and eventually IT would happen.
What’s your favorite writing quote?
“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”
I’m a proud pantser. Every time I tried to plot out a book in advance it was a disaster. My best writing comes from just sitting down and flailing away at the keyboard without any preconceived notions. I write humor/action and adventure, and the funniest situations are instinctive and spontaneous.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t keep rewriting one book. I know many potentially good writers who write one book and then spend the next ten years tinkering with their masterpiece. Write your darn book and then get to work on the next one. And when that next book is finished, get started on another. You become a better writer by writing, not rewriting the same manuscript repeatedly. Also, beware the pitfalls of self-publishing. If you can’t find a legit publisher or agent for your book after sending it out dozens of times, it’s probably not good enough. Keep writing and you’ll eventually find the perfect publisher for your work.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I’ll tell you what inspired my first published book. SUPER SCHNOZ AND THE GATES OF SMELL is about a boy with a giant-sized nose who becomes the unlikely hero when a criminal organization plots to destroy his school. The story is a perfect brew of my love of super hero comics and the fact I was born into a family of big noses. Seriously, my family reunion is like nose convention. If you were a Rhinoplasty surgeon and showed up at our party, you’d think you died and went to heaven.
What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.
Humor and wacky situations. I’m a funny and outrageous person (much to the embarrassment of my tween daughters) and it comes out in my writing. Funny is in the genes, I believe, and I come from a family of goofy, nasally challenged, comical people. My mother is sixty-eight years old and still makes prank phone calls to strangers.
What books have most influenced your life?
MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli, the HATCHET series by Gary Paulsen, and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS by Dav Pilkey.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
The only thing I would change is my name of the Russian city Nizhnevartovsk. If I could do it all over again I would call the city Hoc, the Russian word for nose.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have a lot of favorite authors, but Jerry Spinelli holds a special place in my writer’s heart. The way he blends humor, action, and poignancy is a thing of beauty.