I connect with readers through stories. It might sound obvious, but it’s no small thing. My favorite days are when I’m sitting on my porch writing a scene that makes me laugh out loud. I figure if I’m laughing when I write it, there’s a good chance somebody might laugh when they read it. It’s one of the coolest things about being a writer – you’re connecting with someone you might never meet, thousands of miles away, through a funny or emotional scene. But it’s also deceptively simple, not much different than a kid telling a friend at his locker about his weekend – first THIS happened, then THAT happened. It’s human nature to find out what comes next. We learn how to be our best selves through stories; they’re in our DNA.
If I visited your school, I guarantee you would not be texting your friends during our time together. I run around the room, talking about a writer’s life, telling you how I came up with ideas for my books, giving you my top secret methods of editing and revising. I would also tell you how amazingly cool doing research could be – but only if you do it right. You would also get to meet my fabulous son, Jake, who illustrated MY LIFE AS A BOOK and MY LIFE AS A STUNTBOY. He’s a teenager who’s been drawing cartoons since he was little. We’ve been doing school visits together all around the country and kids literally fight over the drawings he does with them. He’s a rock star.
My readers often ask about TRU CONFESSIONS. A lot of them have seen the Disney TV movie (with a young Shia LaBeouf) and they want to know how a book gets turned into a movie. TRU CONFESSIONS was my first book; I wrote it in Jack Gantos’s class when I was getting my MFA at Emerson College. Jack is a great mentor and friend, as well as a wonderful teacher. After the book came out, a producer loved the story of a girl and her twin with special needs. She took it to Disney, which did a great job. But it has a special place in my heart for another reason too: Trudy and Eddie are characters I’m really proud of. There are a few scenes in the book I still can’t read out loud because I get so choked up.
MY LIFE AS A BOOK and MY LIFE AS A STUNTBOY are my two most personal novels. When my son and his friends were little, they LOVED reading: Calvin and Hobbies, Garfield, Get Fuzzy – they couldn’t get enough. But suddenly there were summer reading lists and chapter books and Jake and all his friends would run through the house as if on fire when you mentioned reading. Jake did Lindamood Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing and Maryanne Wolf’s RAVE-O, both top-notch reading programs. But Jake’s reading began to improve when he started drawing his vocabulary words. At the same time, librarians and teachers were asking me on school visits how to reach reluctant readers. I’m such a practical Mom, I decided there was no way just one kid was getting the benefit of all that tutoring so I embedded those reading techniques in the text of my books to help other kids with their reading too. My goal was to take the energy, humor, and visual support of a Calvin and Hobbes strip and turn it into a novel. We dedicated MY LIFE AS A BOOK to Bill Watterson; he’s taught more boys to read than anyone I know.
Jake Tashjian’s illustrations make me so proud to be his mom. Some of them are downright hilarious – two guys on a chain gang for COLLEAGUE? No grown-up would ever think of that. And some – like FIASCO or OVERWHELMED – made me almost burst into tears when I first saw them. It’s incredible how he gets such emotion out of a stick figure. Just today – literally! – we finished the rewrite for MY LIFE AS A CARTOONIST. Jake handed in almost 200 illustrations with the manuscript but after our editor went through them, he had to do several revisions, probably 30%। I knew Jake would be great in the creative end of illustrating a book – coming up with fun ideas and drawing them – but I never could’ve predicted how incredibly professional he’d be in the editing process. He works really hard to get every drawing right. He’s my hero.
Reading is one of the most constant and comfortable parts of my life, like a best friend you grew up with whom you still see all the time. When I was young, I read everything I could get my hands on, driving the librarian in my small elementary school crazy. I used to get more excited about a new Nancy Drew book in my Easter basket than candy. When I traveled around the world after college, no matter what country I was in, I scoured local shops to find books in English. As an adult, I still read everywhere I go – in waiting rooms, on the beach, and in bed every single night. I average at least three books a week; nothing makes me happier than sharing a good book with a friend. Whenever I visit a new city, I always stop at the local library and bookstores. As much as I define myself as a writer, I define myself as a reader too. I can’t imagine living in a world without books.
Mr. Schu, you should’ve asked me about popsicles!! I’m obsessed with them this summer. When I’m not writing, I’m making up recipes for frozen treats, pureeing fruit concoctions, and pouring them into popsicle molds. My favorites so far: peanut butter and jelly, root beer float, watermelon and rosemary, strawberry and balsamic vinegar, peach ginger, corn blackberry, raspberry lime rickey, grapefruit tarragon, French toast, mango coconut…need I go on?? The Tashjian kitchen is THE place to be this summer; I kid you not.