The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Adam Wallace
I hope you all see Jerry.
Remember to – "See what others don’t see.
See what others choose not to see."
~ Adam Wallace, quoting Patch Adams
Adam Wallace is “a New York Times Bestselling author who loves writing stories that make children laugh and get excited about reading and drawing and writing and naps and music. As in he like naps and music. The books don't make kids excited about naps and music.
He now has over 60 books published and out in the world and love each one as if it were his child ... except if that child is like really naughty and always breaks his favourite things and writes bad words on the walls of our house.” Adam lives in Australia.
Adam’s most recent picture book, Invisible Jerry, was released in November 2018.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
ADAM: Well then, they are all excellent questions! Now for some excellent answers! I hope.
I write literally anywhere. From my computer in my living room to on a train to out on my deck to the couch to a café to scrambling down notes on shopping dockets in my car at traffic lights (please don’t tell the police) [Ha! Since you're in Australia, I think you might be safe from most of my readers!].
I don’t have a set place. I just love to write, so will do it whenever I get the chance. Like now! I have been writing for around 20 years and have been a published author for 15 of those, after initially self-publishing in 2004.
I don’t really have a favourite type of book to work on, as just writing a book gets me excited, but if I were to just sit down and write whatever came out, it would generally be a middle grade chapter book, I reckon. Or an adult horror. One of the two.
That makes even more curious about Invisible Jerry. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I am not a very good singer … oh. Wait. Lots of people know that. Okay, so, ummm, I am a terrible handyman!
Good to know. Would you say there is a common thread in your 60 published books?
Nope, well yes, humour would be the thread. From chapter books to picture books to rhyming books to instructional books to books with a message, I always try and instill humour into the books. This makes it more fun for me, and I believe also makes it more fun for the readers, adults and children alike.
Given your answers so far, I think humor is just part of your soul. How did you get started with the How To Catch series? There are currently ten books. Are there any others in the works? [I caught a couple in one spot, missing are Mermaid, Dinosaur, Monster, Turkey, Dragon, & Tooth fairy.]
This was really interesting … basically, I had worked for a publishing company here in Australia, Hinkler Books, and one of the managing editors I worked for, Karen Shapiro, messaged me after I hadn’t heard from her for a few years. It turned out she was living in America and working for Sourcebooks publishing, and she asked if I would be interested in writing a book about a leprechaun that caused chaos on St Patrick’s Day eve. I said yes, she said great, I said great, and we went from there!
There are more books to come, yes! How to Catch a Dragon is coming out later this year, and perhaps one other, and I just finished writing How to Catch a Yeti!
What fun. I suppose at some point you'd run out of things to catch. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I loved books as a kid, from Roald Dahl to Dr Seuss to sports books to whatever. But my favourite author/illustrator was Bill Peet. He was amazing. Check his website out, it’s awesome.
Being very different from your other books, what was your inspiration for Invisible Jerry?
It is different, yes! In fact, one of the few I have written that doesn’t contain a lot of humour in the words, although I love the little quirks in the illustrations. It was an amazing experience actually.
My niece had talked about how people hadn’t passed the ball to her in a basketball game, and that was that. I went away a few days later on a school visit tour, and was in the hotel, and I had no paper, so I took out my phone and I wrote Invisible Jerry in about half an hour. It just flowed out, partly I think because it was me writing about me as a child. I had many friends and was involved in lots of things, but in other ways I was an invisible child.
Wow! 30 minutes, on a phone. Impressive. Did any of Giuseppe Poli’s illustrations surprise you?
No. Giuseppe is a genius. I think the only surprise was how much he got it. He got that story like I got it, and it was beautiful to see it come to life.
His illustrations are so poignant and really expand the story. What is the hardest thing for you about writing children’s books?
This sounds weird, but often it is too many ideas. I start one project then something else pops into my head and I am desperate to work on that one and then more come in. At one stage, I had over an A4 [basically 8.3 x 11.7] page of ideas to work on for the year, and that just got bigger as others came in. I’m very lucky though, in that I can work quite quickly, so that is a bonus!
I bet many have fallen victim to the lure of shiny, new idea. Do you have a favorite spread in Invisible Jerry? Which one?
Hmmmmm. I really like the playground scene, and the scene looking from the bridge.
I love how everyone, you and Giuseppe included, has a different favorite spread. What's something you want your readers to know about Invisible Jerry?
About it? I think in terms of being a writer, let the story flow. Get out of the way and see what comes out.
In terms of the story, everyone has a little bit of Jerry or Molly in them, and if you’re a Jerry, then don’t worry. Your people will find you. They are out there, and if you feel alone, when it feels so hard, that’s when they are going to start coming towards you. So, don’t lose heart or give up. They will find you, and they will let you know you aren’t alone.
Well said. But now my giggles are exchanged for tears. I think everyone, at some point, has felt like Jerry. That's why it touches so. Do you have a favorite book? (We promise NOT to tell the others) Perhaps one that was the most gratifying to write? One that means the most you or your family? Or one that tickled your funny bone the most?
Hahaha oh man, this is such a hard question! I love so much every book I’ve done, but I think three stand out.
The Incredible Journey of Pete McGee. This was my first long book, and I wrote it with no idea what I was doing, and it has a certain magic about it I can’t explain. Even now, when I am re-editing it and getting it ready for a re-release, reading it makes me laugh and cry and I relate to Pete more than any other character I have ever written.
Jamie Brown is NOT Rich. This was the first book I wrote and illustrated, and it almost killed me, but I loved every second as well, and I think for a long time it was the funniest book I had written.
Cowboy and Birdbrain. This is now, to me, the funniest book I’ve written. It was also the best process, as I started from scratch with James Hart, the illustrator and one of my very best friends, and it has just been the best!
You're amazing. Those are all such diverse books. How did you get started with the 12 How to Draw A … books? Are they self-published on Amazon for Kindle?
The How to Draw books! These changed everything! Seriously. I started writing these after I worked in a before and after care at Mont Albert P.S. One day, looking for something to do, I taught myself a couple of cartoons off the internet, and then taught the kids how to draw them. It was so much fun, and as we did it we started telling stories. I was off and away, my brain was racing.
I did the 12 little individual ones, and now there are 6 compilations available. They are self-published on Amazon (the little ones) and through Lightning Source as print on demand as well (the compilations).
Being able to go into schools and teach writing and drawing has been the best, and it was because of these books that my career started to take off, in directions I never dreamed of.
Wow. What an interesting way to get started. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)
This is a tricky one. I totally get inspired by other writers here in Australia, like Andy Griffiths, Michael Wagner, George Ivanoff, Leigh Hobbs, Serena Geddes, Sally Rippin and more. It is the most amazing and generous and talented community.
I also get inspired by the children I see. Every time they get excited about one of my books it makes me want to write more. Every time they don’t get excited, it makes me want to write more to get them excited haha! [Ha! Perfect philosophy!]
I also love shows like The Simpsons, and the way they cater to so many different audiences at once, which is incredibly important as a children’s author.
If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
Be you. And if you have something you want to go for, go for it. I missed out on so many opportunities when I was younger because I was too scared, or too worried, or too fail, or too shy.
And in terms of writing, write what you love, what you would love to read. Don’t worry about anything else at first other than entertaining yourself.
Oh my gosh, what great advice. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I am currently working on … that’s it. That was your tidbit. [Ha!]
Just kidding. I am working on lots! There is a chapter book called Hatman, I am writing the third book in the Cowboy and Birdbrain series, I have another series I am planning out, and I am writing songs for Hooray Heroes, the wonderful company I do personalized books with!
You weren't kidding about having tons of ideas! Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or are glad that you did not know?
Basically, that getting in among the community and meeting other authors and illustrators and publishers is the best way to fast track your skills and your career. I worked alone for a long time, as a lot of authors and illustrators do. Once I started going to book launches, events, get-togethers, and talks, suddenly, just from speaking to other people, getting advice (freely given, which was so wonderful), and getting excited and working more, my writing improved in leaps and bounds.
Also, getting to know publishers has been the key to getting my books picked up and published. I have never had a cold submission accepted. Ever. As in, over 200 rejections!
Connections are important. And now you're giving back as a mentor with Jason Colon's #PBChat Mentorships. What is your favorite animal? Or maybe a current animal you are enamored with. Why?
Monkeys and dogs. And I love gorillas as well. And sharks. And dolphins are cool. I also really like cats.
But monkeys and dogs, for sure.
Glad you could narrow it down. Thank you so much, Adam for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat and laugh with you.
Thank you for having me!
Be sure to stop by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Invisible Jerry.
To find out more about Adam Wallace, or get in touch with him:
If you missed it on Monday, be sure to check out my interview with the illustrator, Giuseppe Poli’s (here).