The Good Egg Q&A with Jory John
The Good Egg – a follow-up to the bestselling picture book, The Bad Seed – publishes today. To mark the occasion I talked with author Jory John about his creative process and snack preferences.
Travis: Hi Jory! Thanks for taking my questions.
Jory: Hi Travis! Thank you for taking my answers.
T: How do you approach writing a sequel? Is there a plan? Is it purely inspiration-based?
J: It really depends on the sequel. For the Goodnight Already! series—my collaboration with Benji Davies—I had it in the back of my mind that I’d really like to see Bear and Duck coexisting in all four seasons. It’s never stated in the books, necessarily, but I imagined Goodnight Already! taking place on a hot summer night (which is part of the reason that Duck can’t sleep), I Love You Already! taking place on a lovely spring morning, Come Home Already! taking place sometime in the fall, and the latest Bear/Duck book, All Right Already! taking place in the middle of winter, right after a big snowfall. Those (self-imposed) parameters helped me decide which types of stories to tell within those books. You really start to ask yourself questions like, “What would Bear be doing on a nice autumn day? Hmm. Why, he’d go fishing, of course!”
Recently, I had a book called Giraffe Problems come out, which is a companion book to my earlier collaboration with Lane Smith, Penguin Problems. It’s not exactly a sequel, but they obviously have similar titles and approaches, so my basic plan was to write about another complaining animal, while changing up the setting, the creatures we encounter, and the overall look of the book, which Lane did beautifully. I don’t think you need to read Penguin Problems to enjoy Giraffe Problems, but my hope is that you can read them back-to-back and get 100% of your daily serving of complaints, all in two books. It’s cathartic.
Next up comes The Good Egg, which you could also call a companion book to The Bad Seed,—both collaborations with the great Pete Oswald—in that they have similar titles and formats and the storytelling is on a parallel track. They’re both told entirely in the first-person and they’re both ultimately sagas about being OK with who you are, but also open to self-reflection and change, when necessary. Of course, you certainly discover things in the act of writing, too, so hopefully, if things are going well, there is plenty of inspiration as you go.
T: Your writing style feels very conversational, as if you’re talking to the reader. I’m wondering about how that plays out in your process. Do you read everything out loud? Do you workshop with kids?
J: Thanks and yes and sometimes. I think it’s important for my picture books to feel conversational and I really work hard at it to make them seem almost casual and off-the-cuff. Hopefully they’re also fun and funny to read out loud. And yes, I read them aloud during the writing process, sometimes to classrooms, sometimes to myself, sometimes to my wife, sometimes to my mirror, and sometimes to my cats. They all give different levels of feedback.
I really enjoy doing school visits and sometimes that gives me a chance to workshop manuscripts-in- progress. For instance, I remember reading Quit Calling Me a Monster!— a collaboration with the hilarious Bob Shea—to groups of unsuspecting children, in order to see which pages got laughs and which lines fell flat, etc. That can be really helpful. Also, the kids feel like they’re getting a special behind-the-scenes look at the writing process.
T: You’ve published a number of books now. What do you think was the most difficult thing you had to learn in order to write books for kids?
J: Well, one thing that I think I really had going for me was that I spent years and years and years working with children before I started writing for them. I think that was important. I was a tutor and a camp counselor and an education major in college (before switching to journalism) and, eventually, the programs director at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and educational center in San Francisco, where I worked firsthand with thousands of children over a six-year period.
I’ve always been kind of childlike—just in my approach to life and the way I see things—but I think having those jobs really helped me retain an idea of what it was like to be a kid and what kinds of things children enjoy reading. So I guess my advice, for anybody reading this who’s thinking about going into writing for children, is this: work for years and years and years as a tutor, camp counselor, and programs director at a nonprofit educational center in San Francisco. Oh, and take some classes in early-childhood education before switching to journalism. Got it? Now you have my formula.
And, to be honest, probably the most difficult thing to me, in re: writing for kids is just how long the entire process takes, from writing-to-publication. At the very minimum, it takes about two years from the time you turn in a manuscript to when you see it in the world. It’s a good test of anybody’s patience. I try to balance all of this out with projects that have quicker turnarounds and more immediate deadlines.
T: The Bad Seed is a sunflower seed. How dare you sully the name of one of the best snacks. What do you have to say for yourself?!
J: I like this question because it’s mostly just an accusation, which is a good interview technique. It’s important to have lots of tension between interviewer and interviewee. I really feel like I’m on “60 Minutes” here, which has been a lifelong dream. And—just so you have a visual of me right now—I’m currently flop-sweating and my eyes are darting around nervously, searching for my publicist, while I try to come up with a good answer.
So, let’s see. How about this: I’d say that The Bad Seed comes across as a lovely fellow by the conclusion of the book and you might have just revealed to me that you didn’t actually read it through to the end (Travis: Oh, I read it all right). Sure, he’s had a bit of a rough time in life, and sure, he was acting out in various ways, like always showing up late, never listening, being loud in the library, etc. etc. etc., but he’s also somebody who’s willing to try to act better, take it day-by-day, and give himself another chance. So really, I was celebrating the sunflower seed by making him a hero in a tale of redemption. I look forward to your response and/or attack via Twitter.
T: Well, my gut response is: “Who do you think you are???” but I’ll be drafting my official rebuke soon. Hey, speaking of snacks: what snack puts you in peak creativity mode?
J: Honestly, all things salty and savory. I love pickles, green olives, cheese, crackers, pickles again, mustard, olives again, and a lovely combination of all these aforementioned items on a serving device I have deemed a “Snack Plate.” I’m going to have a Snack Plate when I’m finished with this interview, in fact. I deserve it.
T: Thank you!
J: No Travis, thank you. Except for that direct attack, a couple questions ago, this has been an absolute joy.
Filed under: Authors
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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