FLR: You’ve written elsewhere that early in your career you wanted to be like the late Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck. Which contemporary humor writers do you admire and read today?
DG: Me, read? Who's got time to read? I've got to pump out six books a year! To be honest, I don't read a lot of humor, and other than The New York Times I don't read a lot, period. When it comes to humor, I grew up on Mad Magazine, Laugh-in, Get Smart, National Lampoon, Woody Allen, and later Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, and Seinfeld. Now I watch Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, The Office, 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and a few kids' shows like I Carly.
FLR: Do you believe humor is still as viable a genre as it was in the days of Erma Bombeck? Why or why not?
DG: Funny is always hard for writers to sell, because everybody has a different sense of humor. And often the people who decide what gets published are, how can I put this gently, humor-impaired. After my initial failure to make a living by writing humorous essays, I gave up trying to write funny for many years. I switched to writing about computers (the opposite of funny!) and baseball. Then I had some success with books that had elements of humor in them (like The Kid Who Ran For President). And now I feel like I've come full circle, because My Weird School is just pure silliness from cover to cover. But I wouldn't want to write JUST humor, the same way I don't like to JUST about baseball. I like to write all kinds of stuff.
FLR: One of the most fascinating parts of your website is the section containing your rejection letters. Learning that Honus & Me was sent to seven different publishers before being at HarperCollins clearly provides motivation for young writers to continue on in the face of rejection. What reactions have students had after learning about this start to your career?
DG: It is usually the teachers who pull me aside at school visits and thank me for that. Kids see famous singers, athletes, and celebrities and it doesn't occur to them that these people may have struggled for years before they had any success at all. So I show kids my rejection letters and tell them that everybody encounters obstacles in their lives. But these obstacles can be overcome and you can be successful too. After I tell them that Honus & Me has become a ten-book series, a play, a TV movie, and was nominated for eleven state book awards, they get the point.
FLR: What was it like to coordinate with many different well-known children’s authors in Recycle This Book?
DG: It was a rush. I don't hang out with authors, and I've never been part of a critique group or anything like that. So it was really exciting tracking down all these big name authors—Jerry Spinelli, Andrew Clements, Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, people like that—and swapping emails with them. Just about all of them were excited by the idea of writing a short essay about how they save energy, reduce waste, or help the environment. The challenge for me was to make sure each author chose a different subject to write about and we didn't have ten people all talking about plastic bottles or composting their garbage.
FLR: Can you give us an idea of what your next Baseball Card Adventure will be about, after 2010’s Roberto & Me?
DG: I'm working on Ted & Me now, about Ted Williams. Baseball fans know that Williams missed nearly five years of his prime to serve in the military during Korea and World War II. Who knows how great he would have been if he had been playing during those years? My main character, Stosh, is going to travel back in time with the idea of talking Ted out of joining the Marines. But along the way, he will crash land a plane with Ted, play a role in his hitting .406 in 1941, and learn a thing or two about patriotism.
FLR: What's your favorite baseball team?
DG: I grew up in Northern New Jersey and lived in New York City for ten years. I am a lifelong Mets fan. But when my son Sam was born in 1990, my wife and I moved near Philadelphia and must confess my allegiance has shifted somewhat.
FLR: What book do you have planned for the future?
DG: After #12, My Weird School Dazewill morph into a new series called My Weirder School. (Don't ask me what will be different about it). After Ted & Me there will be another baseball card adventure. I'm thinking of writing about Bobby Thomson and his "shot heard 'round the world." But what I'm most excited about is a NEW series I'm starting for HarperCollins called The Genius Files. It's about a twin brother and sister who are traveling cross-country in an RV with their parents while a bunch of crazy people are trying to kill them. Fun! The first book comes out in January.
FLR: If you were a baseball player, what position would you play and why?
DG: I was a terrible baseball player as a kid. My Little league team was The Galante Giants, and we were sponsored by The Galante Funeral Home in Newark, New Jersey. It was one of the few teams to be sponsored by a funeral home. Anyway, I was the kid they stuck in left field in the 6th inning because the coach figured I would do the least damage out there. I never made a hit, and was thrilled if the pitcher would walk me.
FLR: Do you think you’ll ever write another book for adults?
DG: No! Never! No way! I started out writing for adults. I wrote six non-fiction books, mostly about baseball, and none of them were successful. They were are all out of print within a couple of years. That was one of the reasons I decided to try writing for kids (the other reason was that my son was born). As soon as I started writing for kids, I realized THIS is what I'm good at. Just the thought of writing for adults again brings back bad memories.
FLR: Do your fans ask for advice on writing about sports?
DG: They ask for advice about writing, not necessarily about sports. I tell them—don't try to write the next Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket. Find your own voice. Read your first draft out loud while pretending that you are somebody else. It's almost like seeing the writing through somebody else's eyes. That helps you make your writing better. And finally, I tell them to go to my web site (www.dangutman.com, plug plug!) and read the section on "Tips For Young Authors."
Browse our list of Dan Gutman's titles.