Marty Kelley is currently a children’s author and illustrator but has, in the past, been a second grade teacher, a baker, a cartoonist, a newspaper art director, a drummer in a heavy metal band, a balloon delivery guy, an animator, and lots of other things. Some of his books are: Fall Is Not Easy; The Rules; Winter Woes; Summer Stinks Spring Goes Squish; Twelve Terrible Things; The Messiest Desk; and Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom. For more info, visit his website.
What company advertisements could you model for?
I could totally model for Victoria’s Secret. It would cause the immediate and complete financial collapse of the entire company, but I could, theoretically, do it.
What is your greatest phobia?
Heights. I’m totally, toe-crampingly terrified of heights.
If you ran a funeral home, what would your company slogan be?
We put the FUN In FUNeral.™
What is the messiest place in your home?
My studio, primarily because my long-suffering, ever-helpful wife no longer dares to venture in there to help me clean up. Actually, when I work in my studio I tend to work in frenzied bursts of energy with no thought to stopping the creative process in order to clean up. Typically, I clean up at the end of the day or in the morning before I start making a new day’s mess.
What random act of kindness have you done in the past year?
I make my wife’s coffee every day that I’m up before her. It’s really more an act of self-preservation than kindness, but don’t tell her that.
If had to smell like one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pizza. Because, seriously, yum.
What current product do you think will baffle people in 100 years?
Justin Bieber. And, yes, I consider him a product. He baffles me now, I can’t imagine what people will think in 100 years.
What do you often make fun of?
Justin Bieber – but so does everyone else, so that doesn’t count.
People who sit at restaurants as a couple–or worse, as a family–and spend the entire meal looking at their phones. I am saddened and disgusted by that in equal parts.
What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?
Arriving home afterward, heavily laden with free soap.
What is one thing you do with determination every day?
What would you title your autobiography?
Marty: The Secret Life of The World’s Worst Victoria’s Secret Model
Knowing what you know now, what would you change about your high school experience?
I’d lose the mullet. Other than that, I am one of the few people I know who really loved high school. I had amazing friends, many of whom I am still good friends with. I also enjoyed most of my classes and generally had a great time.
What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?
That person’s laugh, if they have one. If they don’t have a laugh, it’s usually a pretty short meeting.
What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?
It’s a real mixed bag with this. Most of my books have been reviewed very favorably and I can’t honestly say that that has done any good. A recent book was given a few bad reviews, however, and, while it has been very well received by the target audience, those few bad reviews over a 17 year career do seem to have made it more difficult to sell projects that were done in a similar style.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
I think truly creative people are not afraid of making mistakes. They are willing to takes risks and, if the risk fails, creative people learn from that mistake and improve themselves. Creative people succeed because of failure. Based on the number of mistakes I make, I should disappear in a blinding flash of perfection any day now.
Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?
Every time I open my $%^#* mouth. Honestly, I have a few adult book ideas that I’ve been working on and I’m very concerned about what they may do to my reputation as a children’s author and illustrator.
I also like kids to enjoy my work and kids often like things that adults think are gross or inappropriate. I often struggle trying to find a balance between what kids genuinely enjoy and what parents or teachers (or editors and marketing people) are willing to buy. It’s always a bit of a balancing act, but I tend to side with the kids because, let’s be honest, underpants, farts, and boogers ARE funny.
I actually gave an interview to a paper once and made reference to the fact that kids think all those things are funny. The newspaper casually edited out all references to kids, boogers and farts, leaving only the baffling, slightly alarming, and totally out of context comment, “I like underpants.”
I mean, I do, but that’s not the lingering impression I wanted to leave with people.
Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?
Like many other authors, I had those stable jobs. I taught second grade for several years. I liked that fact that, while it was a fairly stable job, each year was an entirely new experience. I’d go nuts if I had a job that was the same day after day after day. Now I’m in a children’s music band, I visit 50-75 schools each year and I write and illustrate. Every day is something totally new and I love it.
The things I’m drawn to: art; music; writing are inherently unstable, dynamic fields where you need to be creative and flexible. You need to be willing to test yourself and to fail often and spectacularly.
Who do you consider a literary genius?
P.G. Wodehouse. He’s absolutely my favorite author. He had a brilliant way with the language and was good enough to make his writing seem effortless, when it was certainly anything but. He was able to weave elaborate, complex plots around seemingly frivolous problems. I also love well written dialog in stories and Wodehouse was a master of hilarious exchanges between characters.
What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?
My biggest challenge as an illustrator has definitely been, and will likely continue to be, defining a style for myself that doesn’t become limiting. I work in a wide variety of styles, from photo-realistic portraits to wacky, cartoony illustrations. It seems that more and more, art directors want you to have a brand or style. Something that is immediately recognizable as YOU. I love trying new things and seeing what works. I don’t want to feel limited by having a style that I’m stuck with – to feel like I’m not free to experiment and grow as an artist.
How did you pick your writing genre?
I love funny books and that’s what I write. As an author, I spend so much time with my work, I need it to be something that I enjoy. The big test for me is if I can still laugh at something I wrote even after I’ve read it a half-dozen times. And, when a teacher came up to me after a presentation and scolded me because one of her first graders had laughed so hard that he had wet his pants. That was a fairly solid sign of literary success in my genre.
What life experiences have inspired your work?
Every fart joke I’ve every heard. Plus, every fart I’ve ever heard.