It is my pleasure to welcome funny man Tommy Greenwald to Inside the Writer’s Studio today. Tommy, a life-long reader, who as his day job creates ads for Broadway (Not a bad day job. There is a fun pic of him and Kelsey Grammar and teen heartthrob Corbin Blue on his website—go here to check it out!) of course has three boys who would give their lives NOT to be readers. Hence, Charlie Joe Jackson’s (His three son’s names? Charlie, Joe, and Jackson, of course.) Guide To Not Reading was born. Though the title may be tongue and cheek Charlie Joe Jackson’s plight is not. From the publisher (Roaringbrook):
Charlie Joe Jackson may be the most reluctant reader ever born. And so far, he’s managed to get through life without ever reading an entire book from cover to cover. But now that he’s in middle school, avoiding reading isn’t as easy as it used to be. And when his friend Timmy McGibney decides that he’s tired of covering for him, Charlie Joe finds himself resorting to desperate measures to keep his perfect record intact.
Know any reluctant readers out there? Then, this book is for them. Take my word—and the word of these accolades—they won’t be reluctant for long.
“In author Tommy Greenwald’s raucous debut…this comedy of comeuppance shows its true colors, and, irony of ironies, is impossible to put down!” --Disney's Family Fun
“This is a fun, fast-moving look at middle-school life through the eyes of a kid who would rather clean his room than pick up a book. Reluctant readers will be pleased.” --SLJ
"Kids who do peruse the book will enjoy Charlie Joe’s chuckleworthy tips on keeping reading at bay, even if they take exception to his list of “helpful oxymorons: 1. good book, 2. happy reader, 3. important author, 4. nice library, 5. favorite bookstore.” --BCCB
"Charlie Joe’s insider knowledge of the inner machinations of middle-school cliques will make younger readers smile in anticipation, and his direct address to readers makes make him feel like an older buddy showing the way…Slackers everywhere have a new, likable hero in Charlie Joe Jackson.” -- Kirkus Reviews
"Hilarious...This debut is filled with passages that beg to be shared...With its subversive humor and contemporary details drawn straight from kids’ worlds, this clever title should attract a wide following.” --Booklist, STARRED review
Thank you Tommy for being with us today. Let the laughs begin! On to the interview.
Is there a story behind Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading that you wish to share? (Ie: the ah-ha or lightning moment where the story inspiration struck)
I have three sons, Charlie, Joe and Jack. (Charlie Joe Jackson? Get it?) They’re teenagers now, but when they were middle-schoolers they hated to read. HATED it. They would rather stare at the wall than read. I could never get them to read a book. So one day on my train commute, I had the idea to write a book about a boy who hates to read. The first draft was a picture book, called THE BOY WHO HATED READING. I sent it to my friend Michele Rubin, who’s an agent at Writers’ House. She loved the idea but thought I should turn it into a middle-grade novel. I hit on the idea of Charlie Joe Jackson, and that was that.
How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.
I always dread writing. But I guess I dread not writing more. The guilt kills me. I’ve been a professional copywriter and creative director for twenty years, so I’m good with creating stuff that lasts about 30 seconds. I also wrote a couple of screenplays that were optioned, and one musical called JOHN & JEN that ran off-Broadway and still gets produced around the country. So even though I do have a few legit writing credentials, the act of writing itself is always a challenge for me. I’m lazy, and would rather be reading the paper or a book or watching TV. I will say that attacking Charlie Joe was a bit different, though, because once I found his voice, I really enjoyed becoming him. I actually looked forward to writing, which was definitely a first for me. As for the actual writing process, I commute from Connecticut to New York, which is about an hour train ride each way, so I do a lot of writing on the train. On weekends I’ll go to Barnes and Noble, grab a frozen lemonade from the café and start writing.
Theme can be seen as a dirty word but as writers I believe we all have something to say, something we want to share with the world. What is that something for you?
Sometimes I think I should write something deeper and more meaningful, and my musical was much more intense, but I think it turns out that as a children’s book writer my job is to be funny, entertaining and hopefully write characters that kids can relate to. Charlie Joe Jackson is a kid who’s smart but a bit lazy, and would rather spend his energy figuring out how to get out of doing work, rather than doing the work itself. It’s a sport for him, which will be expanded upon later in the series. (Right now we’re hoping for at least three or four books in the Charlie Joe Jackson series.) So I guess what I want to share with the world is that part of letting kids be kids is letting them do a bit of scheming and conniving – it’s a great way for them to use their imaginations, and can be just as much a harbinger of future success as straight A’s.
Is there anything that you are afraid/worried/concerned of tackling in your work? Genre-wise? Audience-wise? Topic-wise?
Not really. CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING has obvious appeal to reluctant readers, especially boy reluctant readers, but I’m hopeful that everyone – boys, girls, readers and non-readers alike – will find something to enjoy in his adventures.
What were some of the challenges you encountered when working on this novel/picture book? How did you overcome those challenges?
Well, when your main character is someone who hates to read, you get a little nervous about biting the hand that feeds you. Would any publisher publish a book in which the goal of the main character is to help everyone else avoid books? Would the booksellers be mad? How about the librarians? But then I realized, this is who Charlie Joe Jackson is. While encouraging other kids how to avoid reading, he’s actually getting kids who hate books to read a book! So I decided to embrace Charlie Joe’s subversiveness all the way.
How important is voice in your work? How does “voice” come to you?
Voice is everything. I haven’t had any formal training as any kind of writer, much less as a children’s book writer, so the only thing I really feel confident tackling is trying to write the way a middle-grade boy might speak. If I can nail that, than hopefully things like character, plot and pacing will fall in line. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t – but if you can get the voice right, the other things are a lot easier, believe me. I think I got the voice of Charlie Joe by raising three boys. There are definitely parts of Charlie, Joe and Jack in Charlie Joe Jackson.
I once heard Deb Caletti say when asked how her life has changed since becoming a published author that she feels she is living the life she is meant to live. How has your life changed since you became a published author? Has it? What lessons have you learned that you’d care to share since becoming published?
Well, my book has just come out so my life hasn’t really changed much in any external ways. You can bet I’m hoping to supplement my income with a few bucks from Charlie Joe, which would sure help put three kids through college! But enough about that… internally, I do feel great about being published, for sure, but I also feel a lot of pressure. Writing the next books in the Charlie Joe Jackson series will be a daunting task, not because it will take forever, but because whenever I start again, I have a deep flash of insecurity. Will it be as good as the last one? Will I be a one-book wonder? Can I do it again? It can get to you if you let it. And also, with my full-time job, trying to churn out book after book is freakin’ tiring. I think I’m more tired than I’ve ever been in my life.
Writers love books; we love reading. What book do you turn to over and over again and why do you love it?
I’m not one who reads books over and over again. Too many new books to read. And becoming a writer has really cut into my reading, believe it or not. But there are certain authors I turn to over and over again, knowing that they’ll deliver the goods: Carl Hiaasen, Curtis Sittenfeld, Thomas Hardy come to mind.
Which character of yours do you hope your readers most relate to? And why?
Well, for the boys it’s definitely Charlie Joe Jackson, because he’s my main guy, and if readers don’t relate to him, I’m sunk! But hopefully his sense of humor, creativity and inherent laziness will appeal to the typical middle-school male. As for girls, I’m hoping Katie Friedman jumps out as someone whose intelligence and warmth make her the type of girl other girls would want to be friends with.
Inspired by the Actor’s Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?
I love white noise at night to help me sleep. But I HATE the sound of the alarm clock in the morning.
Describe your main characters favorite meal? And why do they love it?
Charlie Joe Jackson is definitely a cheeseburger, fries and shake kind of kid. And also, sugary cereal for any occasion!
Be brave. Share a paragraph from a WIP.
Here is the very beginning of the next book in the series, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO EXTRA CREDIT.
How I ended up trying out for the school play is actually a pretty funny story.
Because if you know anything about me at all, you know I’m not exactly a
‘school play’ kind of guy.
In fact, I’m the exact opposite of a ‘school play’ kind of guy.
Which made the fact that I was standing there on the stage of our middle school auditorium, singing a song about paper towels, all the more ridiculous.
In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my latest novel Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.
In my professional life I’m known as Tom Greenwald. But my family and friends outside of work have called me Tommy all my life. So when I became an author, I decided that since it was a very personal project, my name should reflect that. Thus, Tommy Greenwald.
Check out the book trailer.
Thanks Tommy for being here! And, please comment and list your top tip for NOT reading to win an ARC of Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading. TWO winners will be drawn on October 3rd.