Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An Interview with Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson's professional books (Mechanically Inclined, Everyday Editing, 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, and Revision Decisions) have been influencing, guiding and teaching educators for years. 

Jeff Anderson

On August 4, Jeff's debut middle grade novel, Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth (Sterling Children's Books), will be released. I had the opportunity to receive an advance copy at ALA Midwinter. I found it to be a book that dealt with some serious issues in a very humorous way. Recently, I re-read it and while still funny and enjoyable, the importance of the social issues addressed were even more apparent.

Cover by Tad Carpenter

I had the opportunity to interview Jeff. I hope that you enjoy!

KS:  You are a very successful author of several professional books for teachers/writers.  What made you decide to give middle grade fiction writing a try?

JA:  I am so lucky to write for and work with teachers, but the truth is my love of writing started with fiction. In my late 20s, the desire to write a novel for kids came on the tail end of my masters degree in Language and Literacy from UT Austin. Within the program, I  read around 100 children’s literature books. As a teacher of grades 4 and 5 at the time, I read many more. Even though it took awhile, I am so thrilled to have the chance to write a book that kids can actually hold in their hands or be read aloud to from. 

KS:  Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth tackles some important social issues.  What do you hope your readers will take away from it?

JA:  To tell the truth, I didn’t really want to write an issue book. I wanted to write something the students I taught would enjoy. However, I did note that sometimes the solutions to bullying were overly simplified. As a bullied child, I knew telling someone didn’t always stop it. It may send it underground. But it didn’t stop it. 

I do not solve the bullying problem in this book. Another social issue the book deals with is diversity.  The book is not about diversity, the book is humming with diverse characters that find a way to work together toward a common goal. These characters are like the kids I taught. This is a book I looked for as a teacher. A true middle grade book that wasn’t full of death, cursing, sex, and outer struggles. The inner struggles are always more interesting to me. And the inner struggles are the ones we have the most power over. 

I want my readers to take away the fact that our differences make us stronger as a group. We need to understand and relate to others' pain and joy. We have to be open and ready for change. We can’t expect everything to change all at once. But mostly I just want readers to laugh, think,  and pick up another book. 
Illustration by Andrea Miller

KS:  How did your work as a former teacher help you create the characters and shape the storyline of this book?

JA:  As a teacher of grade 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 for over 20 years, my experiences with and around students and school couldn’t help but feed the characters, dialogue, cadences, plot points, and more. But I also used my own experiences as a kid and the ones I watched kids of this age go through over and over. I believe I grew along with all the characters in the book.

KS:   In the story, Zack is in sixth grade.  How is sixth grade Zack Delacruz like sixth grade Jeff Anderson?

JA:  Oh, my! Believe it or not, like Zack,  I’m  shy and don’t like standing out. My presenter public persona most people know is different than how I am when I go to a party or a conference where I don’t know people. I need to have permission to be wild and funny and get attention. If you show up to hear me speak, you are giving permission. If I meet you at a party, I have to know you’re enjoying me before I let loose. Taking on another persona who has permission  is how I got beyond being painfully shy and withdrawn as a result of severe bullying in grades 3-6. In seventh grade, I found drama. Being someone else gave me permission to stand out. I went on to win regional awards as best actor in high school and began college on a theater and drama scholarship.

Oh, and I overeat peanut butter when under great stress.

Sixth Grade Jeff

KS:  Will we see more of Zack Delacruz in the future?  If so, can you share what is next for him?  

JA:  Great question, Kurt. The final cover has a ONE on the binding to show that Zack Delacruz will be a series. Right now, book two is in the revision stages. Let me tell you that Zack's still observing and commenting. Janie shines even more, a few new characters enter and El Pollo Loco is still El Pollo Loco. The second book is still set in 6th grade a few weeks after the Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth book ends.

Zack's Peanut Butter Coma
Illustration by Andrea Miller

KS:  I love to share author interviews with my students.  What advice would you share with young writers?

JA:    Write. Write what you want. Get a journal or writer’s notebook. Write your thoughts, dreams, stories, observations, and life. Write as often as you can. Share your writing with people who will enjoy it.

And when someone asks you to write something you don’t want to write, find an angle or a way of addressing the topic that you are interested in. Tell the truth. Even when it’s scary. And like my friend Katie Wood Ray says, read a lot of books that are like what you want to write. I’m still reading and loving middle grade humorous fiction.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today.  I look forward to seeing Zack Delacruz officially "out in the world" very soon.  It is going to make many young readers very happy!

Thanks for sharing my work with the people, Mr. Stroh Reads!

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth, published by Sterling Children's Books, will be available on August 4, 2015!

You can find Jeff on Twitter (@writeguyjeff)  or on his website (