“I did not get the dream I set out for but I got one that’s better.”
The second author presentation that we saw was Jeff Kinney, that author of 9 Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. These books (and the movies which were filmed in Canada) have been very popular at our house over the years and have appeal for both adults and kids. Brendan has been our most recent reader of these books and was excited to get the latest release of The Long Haul. As a parent who has taken our children on 17 hour road trips to Myrtle Beach, I too am looking forward to reading the adventures of the Heffley family!
Kinney shared a little bit about himself – he grew up in Washington, DC and now lives in South Massachusetts with his wife and 2 sons. He shared his father’s love of comics. Following his dream to be a newspaper cartoonist, he made his own cartoon character in college named Igdoof. He told the audience that he admired the Big Nate books and wrote to this author who not only returned his letter but gave guidance about what he could do better. The Big Nate author even included a drawing of Igdoof in one of his Washington Post cartoons alongside an image of Garfield and Bart Simpson. Kinney graduated with a Criminal Justice degree and has worked in many different roles including newspaper design, medical softwaree, online educational games and currently his Poptropica website. He sent out his cartoons and got many rejection letters so he decided to “masquerade as a kid drawing cartoons”, wrote down everything funny from when he was a kid in a sketchbook and then took 8 years to write his first draft. After dealing with previous rejections, he took a sample pack to the New York Comic Convention and met a publisher who said that this was exactly what they were looking for.
It was very interesting to learn about his writing process:
January – Kinney always starts a new book in January and needs to come up with 350 ideas for his writing. He showed a picture of wood blocks that he uses to keep track of the number of ideas he has come up with and to motivate him to keep going. He shared that when he thinks of an idea he needs to “write it down right away or it will be gone” and that he has moved away from his physical sketch books to using technology including his iPad or phone so that his ideas go to the cloud.
After six months of coming up with ideas, he starts working on the cover. He drafts the picture and gets paint chips to decide on the exact colour (incidentally, the exact colour of his books matches the exact colour of his tour bus). After deciding on the exact shade, he comes up with his title. I found it quite interesting that he had decided on the cover and title before he had even written the text.
July – He starts working on the manuscript using the ideas that he has come up with in the first half of the year. While his children are outside enjoying the summer vacation, he said that he is stuck inside with his dog Thunder writing until he has exactly 217 pages. When asked why his books are all exactly this length, he said that the first one was by accident and he decided to follow this pattern for all books as it is “fun to make them the same size and they look good on the shelf.”
August – This is the month of drawing. He completes 320 drawings using a computer tablet and program called Flash. Each drawing takes an hour and he showed the audience examples of how he does his drawings.
September – He has finished all the drawings and “forgets the book for a while“. He shared that he always feels a bit surprised when he gets the book in the mail and the first thing he does is puts it on his book shelf with the other books to see how they all look together and then heads out on his tour bus with built in bunk beds on a book tour. He showed a picture of this year’s bus. not only was it a vibrant orange but it had cartoons including the discarded cover picture that was not used.
Kinney was very inspiring and his presentation was geared to both the eager children and to their parents who brought them to the book fair. He encouraged the kids to be persistent, referencing Canadian Author Malcolm Gladwell’s book, the Outliers which talked about working for 10000 hours to become successful. He told the kids:
“If you have a dream, really nurture it and let it grow.”
After the presentation, the kids lined up for book signing. Despite the large line ups and expectation of signing books for 100 children in an hour, he spoke to my kids individually. Brendan asked if he would draw a picture in his book and Kinney not only signed his book but also drew a quick sketch of the character, Greg, while telling him that it takes a long time to make the movies. We are certainly looking forward to reading this book!