At last, and with no further ado, here are Jim’s answers to your questions. Some of them had to do with his book, IN A BLUE ROOM, some had to do with his process and some were just plain fun which will really give you some sense of what Jim is like in person. Thank you to everyone who asked such terrific questions!
First off, the winning question that Jim chose as his favorite.
If all of your art supplies became magically edible, which would you eat, and why? What do you think it would taste like? (come on. we both know you’ve been eyeing the crimson pencil. Raspberry maybe?)
My Prismacolor pencils are without doubt the most appetizing. Each one would be a different flavor, of course. The creamy titanium-white oil paint would be a delicious vanilla topping for the pastels. Actually, when I was a child of 2 or 3, I drank turpentine. My mom wouldn’t give me any Seven-Up that my older brother and 3 older sisters were drinking, so I mixed my own out of the pretty blue can they were using while doing an art project for school. I was always a self-sufficient child, if not very bright. A stomach-pumping visit to the hospital was the highlight of my mother’s day.
JIM’S THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK IN A BLUE MOON
What were you doing the moment you got the call that you had sold your book, and do you remember the first words out of your mouth?
I was at my house in the country writing. I don’t remember the words, but my feet did a little happy dance.
Did the moon ever follow you on a car trip at night? Where were you going? Tell us a little more.
It was 1969 and I was on the way back from a night of experimentation on the Berkeley campus. The moon not only followed me, it drove me home in a buggy pulled by 32 white rabbits and English vicar in a Richard Nixon mask. We stopped at White Castle’s on the way.
What are your favorite songs with MOON or BLUE or ROOM in the title (or playing a prominent role in the lyrics)? (I hope you are playing a mix of blue/moon/room songs for your book launch parties starting with Bob Dylan’s version of BLUE MOON, & Billie Holiday’s AM I BLUE? then John Mayall’s ROOM TO MOVE.) What songs might come next? What order would you prefer?
Blue Moon is a favorite song, though I prefer the version by Mel Tormé. And I’d have to include Blues in the Night as sung by Paula West.
Were you afraid of the dark when you were Alice’s age? What else were you afraid of at age 4? Age 7? Age 10-12 As a teen? Now?”
Yes. Leeches. Body Snatching Pods from Outer Space. Nuns. Sex. Nothing.
JIM ON WRITING
Which of your (picture book) writing tips would also be useful to those of us who are writing books for adult audiences?
If the problem is in the ending, the solution is in the beginning. I talk to a lot of writers who get stuck when they come to the end of the story, and they re-work the ending and re-work it and wonder why they can’t get it right. I usually think the answer is to re-work the beginning of the story. That’s where you need to fix things, change things, add things to make the ending work.
How do you deal with self doubt, or your inner critic?
I actually listen to my inner critic. The conversation usually goes something like this:
I.C. “That sentence stinks!”
Me “Oh yeah? Well, what do you suggest, Mr. Know-It-All?”
At this point the inner critique either offers something worthwhile or remains silent. If it offers something worthwhile, I replace the line. If silent, I change the font to another color, so I can spot the terrible line later on, and keep writing.
Self doubt is different than an inner critic. Self doubt comes from fear. When self doubt shows up, I spank it firmly and send it to bed.
What is the best piece of writing advice someone ever gave you?
Andrea Davis Pinkney says “Carry a notebook at all times.” She’s right. How many brilliant ideas have I lost for lack of something to write with or on?
What is your greatest fear?
I’ve done a great deal of work to bury all my fears, useless things that they are, deep deep down where they will never see the light of day. I think I’d like to leave them there.
When you write, do you think about what it is you want to offer the children in your audience? And what is it? Comfort, empathy, ideas, magic???
You know, I write to please the child inside of me. I don’t believe I think too much about the audience. I think if I did, I’d be paralyzed. I write things that delight, terrify, comfort, prod, excite, calm and move my inner child.
The ultimate pimp-out of a book is to be a selection in Oprah’s book club. Do you want us to start a campaign to get you time on the big O’s show, and if you got to sit with her, what questions would you want to/be willing to answer in front of Oprah on national television?
Oh, yes. If you can get me on Oprah, please feel free to do so. I’d like her to ask me “What does it feel like to be a Newbery-winning, New York Times best-selling, millionaire picture book writer?” I’d be willing to answer any question she can think to ask, but that would be the one I’d want to hear.
Jim with Linda and Dennis, the owners of the fabulous independent bookstore, Linden Tree, in Los Altos.
ON BEING JIM
You are what you eat. How did your dinner last night influence the man you have become today?
Last night was the launch party for my book, In a Blue Room. I had the party catered, so I ate polenta squares with artichoke puree and sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and almond stuffed dates, and chips with roasted garlic and pineapple spread. Then I washed it all down with champagne. This meal required me to spend an hour on the treadmill to become less of the man that I have become today.
What did you seek in the moon as a child? Man in the moon? Bunny? Cheese? Something else?
A bunny! I could never understand how anyone saw anything else. Oddly, when I look up at the moon as an adult I no longer see the bunny. Did they change it when I wasn’t looking?
Describe your sense of humor, what makes you laugh?
I don’t believe in laughing or humor. I maintain a strict policy of seriousness at all times. (And that, I hope, will give you your answer.)
What was your going to bed ritual when you were a kid?
I’d brush my teeth, then try valiantly to delay bedtime through the usual tactics: glasses of water, demands for stories, closet inspections, etc. My younger brother and I shared a room, so I’d torment him for a bit by telling ghost stories and rigging up scary props around the room that would be revealed when I pulled a string next to my headboard. My bed was next to the wall, and I remember that I would always push the mattress over a little so I could sleep in the crack between it and the wall. Hopefully, there are no child psychologists out there reading this. I’m sure there’s something diagnosable in there.
Alice and her mom obviously have a bedtime ritual that works for Alice. In your own life, what are your own must-do rituals?
The room must be 68 degrees or cooler. I crawl under my 750# fill down comforter, which I use year-round as I live in San Francisco, place all the pillows just so, and then read until the book falls out of my hands, at which time I turn out the light and go to sleep.
Do you dream in black and white or color–and if your dreams are colorful, what kind of palette do you remember on waking?
Definitely in color, but in the dreamworld, as in life, the palette chosen depends on the story unfolding.
What haven’t I asked that I should have asked?
That depends on what you want to know. Just don’t ask about my dog.