Jon Scieszka interview: What he wishes he knew when he started (among other interesting things)

Oh, Jon Scieszka. So funny. So wise. And so thoughtful. Look at how he figures out what super power he'd most like to have:

And here he is, discussing his best quality (which, apparently, is not the way he dances the polka):

Oh, and look! He reads from Truckery Rhymes! (Poor Pat Pumper. We hope he had good medical insurance.)

Jon—whose last name rhymes with "Fresca" and is Polish for "path," according to the completely reliable Wikipedia—is the former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and author of far too many books to list (but include THE STINKY CHEESE MAN, the Spaceheadz series, ROBOT ZOT, and the aforementioned TRUCKERY RHYMES).

Jon Scieszka: he can also be winsomeHe kindly answered some Team Blog questions in advance of his appearance at the SCBWI LA National Conference.

(Have you registered yet? What are you waiting for? It's the 40th annual conference and features a lineup of some of the biggest and most unpronounceable names in children's literature. Learn more and sign up here.)

Without further ado, the interview:

It’s kind of hard to believe, but your career started out with rejections—your work was deemed “too dark” and “too sophisticated.” What made you persevere? 

I taught elementary school in NYC for 7 or 8 years before I started writing for kids.  So I knew that the stories I was trying to sell were not "too dark" or "too sophisticated".  I knew that the people who were rejecting the stories didn't understand kids.  Because kids, as we know, can be very dark creatures.

How has the business changed in the years you’ve been creating kids’ books?

My first book, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! came out in 1989.  Back in the late 80s, people had much bigger hair.  Jogging was also a relatively new thing.  We listened to music on new portable devices called Walkmen.  Barnes & Noble was a new store.  And libraries, school and public, had budgets that allowed them to actually buy books. 

The way stories are sold has changed drastically.

The stories that are sold have not really changed that much.

What are some ways interactive media and digital books will change the landscape for writers and illustrators?

The digital world offers all kinds of new ways to be a writer, an artist, a creator. Your story, your art can get directly from you to millions of people.

This same access has turned the business model of the book world upside down.  And things still haven't settled.

But I see all of this chaos and change as a great opportunity for us storytellers.  Writers and illustrators have the "content" that these new forms need.

And how can we be best prepared to thrive? 

Write write write.  Draw draw draw.  Produce stories, don't talk about them.  Your stories get shaped by being written.

How the stories get sold/delivered will change.  And some of the storytelling forms may even change.  But nothing happens without the creator of the stories.  Be the creator.

What are a couple of things you’ve learned about craft that you wish you had known when you started?

I really wish I had known that most picture books are 32 pages long, and that you only get 28 of them to tell your story.  That would have saved me the postage for submitting my 40-page double-spaced picture book manuscript.

I also wish I had known that Clarkson Potter printed mostly gardening books.  Could have saved more picture book postage.

I mostly wish I had known about the SCBWI back in the 80s.  They could have helped me know more about the business of kids' books. 

My kids love KNUCKLEHEADS (and were inspired to teach a class in outdoor urination to their cousins. Not everyone passed. So, thanks). Will you be writing any more memoir?

Now that I have just heard from your attorney, probably not. 

Please tell your children to skip the chapter on making home-made napalm with dry cleaning bags . . . and also the one on making your own M-80 rock-shooting mortar.

In my defense, I would like to mention that I did take out the chapter on learning cursive to write my name in the snow because printing in pee was so painful.

What was the question?

Thank you, Jon! (Next time, try peeing in cursive. We hear it hurts less.)

For a bit more of Jon Scieszka: