Friday, November 26, 2010

Interview with Author Ryan Jacobson

Hey guys!  Hope you all had a wonderful and coma-inducing Thanksgiving!  (and if you're not from the states, hope you had a lovely time eating a turkey because you love me!)

First of all- I wanted to remind you of my super contest going on!  Enter HERE to win a cool Harry Potter prize!!

Now, I have a fun interview from you from author Ryan Jacobson.  He's on a blog tour, and so I thought it'd be fun to interview him on my blog. He's got several middle grade books out, including a choose-your-own-adventure titled Lost in the Wild, and you can check his cool website out HERE.

1        Who or what inspired you to write middle grade novels?

I was a reluctant reader for much of my youth, so I feel like I didn’t really discover children’s books until college. (Believe it or not, I was 23 years old when I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia for the first time!) That’s probably why I became a children’s book author; I found such books at a time when I was still developing my interests, finding my voice and deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up.

As far as middle grade novels in particular, inspiration came mostly in the form of a business decision. I was visiting dozens of elementary schools each year—and selling plenty of early reader chapter books in grades K through 3—but I didn’t have anything for fourth and fifth graders. I needed something to talk with them about and something to sell, so I turned to the only books I read as a child: Choose Your Own Adventures. I decided on the story for Lost in the Wild because I had an “in” with a nature/outdoors publisher, and I felt confident they’d publish it.

That was the one time I wrote a book based more on what I could sell than on what I wanted to write—and it’s my best book to date. Go figure.

2        What is your typical day of writing like?  Do you write every day?

I have a full-time job and two boys under the age of five; finding time to write is something of a challenge. I think you can relate, Abby. And while I don’t get to write every single day, I certainly try. Yesterday was fairly typical. I woke up an hour early to get some writing in. I wrote a little bit during my lunch break at work. Later, I was last to leave the office, so I stayed an extra 20 minutes to enjoy some rare peace and quiet—and to write. I hung out with my family all evening, until we turned on the traditional cartoon-before-bed. That’s when I went upstairs and stole 22 more minutes of writing. I came down in time to read stories with our oldest, watched an hour of TV with my wife and ended my day with one final hour of writing.

3        When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

It’s surprising how much my life revolves around books. Even the people I spend time with now are pretty much all authors and illustrators. Other than that, I share your obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I’m plotting a story, I ask myself, “What would Whedon do?” (Hey, that should be a T-shirt!) I’m also a superhero junkie. I have a room full of comic books, superhero movies, artwork and toys. I’m a huge sports fan, although I’m not going to tell you I’m a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan because you’ll just make fun of me.

4        Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I used to be a pantser, but somewhere along the way—and I can’t remember which book—the illustrator was leaving the country and needed to get the artwork finished ASAP. I was forced to create an outline so that the illustrator knew what to draw. It made writing so much easier for me! I’ve never gone back. Of course, that’s not to say I don’t change my mind or think of something better halfway through a story. My outlines tend to change quite often.

5        What’s on your TBR pile?

I’m working my way through Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, but I’m just not into it. I know; it’s great. But as much as I want to like it, I don’t. I also have a copy of The Cat and the Canvas, which was written by my friend Deb Mercier. Another friend, Grant Gould, illustrated a trade paperback collection of web comics called Star Wars: Tales from the Clone Wars. I’m a Star Wars nut, so I’m really looking forward that. I’m reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules and can’t wait to start The Girl Who Played with Fire.

6        If you had one piece of advice to give aspiring authors, what would that be?

Just one piece? Yikes. Um . . . never give up? No, that’s too cliché. I guess the advice I wish someone would’ve given me was to think about your work from a marketing & sales point of view. If you’re writing 100% for the joy of it, then ignore this advice, but if you want to build a career as an author, you have to think about the marketability of your work. Let me use my first series of books, Santa Claus: Super Spy, as an example. I love these stories; I’m proud of them; I think they’re great. But they could’ve—and probably should’ve—been told without Santa as the main character. (I’ll take it all back if a Christmas special ever gets made.) By using Santa as the main character, I limited my sales in schools—because, right or wrong, some schools are shying away from all things Christmas. More importantly, I also limited my sales in general to pretty much one or two months out of the year. So to aspiring authors: Think about how your publisher and you will promote and sell your story to your target audience.

7        In your experience, what is the best way to promote your books?

The secret of my success is, quite simply, doing lots and lots of school visits. Another secret that’s becoming not so secret anymore is to be in places (ones that makes sense) where there are no other books for sale. If you sign at a bookstore, you’re competing against the Twilights and Shivers of the world. If you’re at a gift store or a craft fair or something like that, it’s your book or no book for the customer.

8        If you had to eat one piece of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Is this a trick question? Does “one piece of food” mean I have to pick something really big that won’t ever spoil so that I have enough to nibble on, one meal at a time, for the rest of my life? Hey, that sounds like the start of a good dystopian drama. Anyway, assuming this isn’t a trick question, I’d choose ribeye steak. It isn’t my favorite food (that’d be pizza), but it’d take me a lot longer to get sick of eating it.

9        How many books have you written, and how many are published?

I couldn’t begin to guess how many books I’ve written. Since most of my manuscripts are for picture books and chapter books, they probably number in the dozens. So far, I’m up to 14 published books, with six more coming out within the next six months. Admittedly, that may not be as impressive as it sounds, depending upon how you look at things. About half of those books are self-published.

10    And finally, link us to your blog, books, website, twitter etc!

You can find my books and my blog at

Thanks Abby, this was fun! And good luck with your novel. I can’t wait to read it some day soon!


Colene Murphy said...

Great interview Abby!

Copyboy said...

Yeah I second that. I love hearing what makes an Author's brain tick.

Maria McKenzie said...

Great interview, Abby! Ryan gave some great advice:).

Anne said...

I liked him up until "Vikings fan". But i'll refrain from from any smack talk. *ahem go packers* haha

Thanks for the great interview, Abby.

erica and christy said...

Anne, I was just about to post the exact same thing. (poor Aaron's defense lost it for him today, though, alas)

Good interview, Abby. My WIP is my first attempt at MG and I this info was great (sans Vikings, of course).

And Ryan - those numbers are impressive, don't sell yourself short. :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure growing up and have gotten my boys hooked, too. Thanks for this interview! I'll have to look Ryan's books up.