Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Super Star Interviews:Jarrett Lerner

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I'm thrilled to pieces to be catching up with the wildly talented middle grade children's book author-illustrator, Jarrett Lerner! Jarrett is the creator of the middle grade book series EngiNerds, Geeger the Robot and The Hunger Heroes as well as the activity books Give This Book a Title and Give This Book a Cover. In addition to writing, drawing and visiting schools & libraries, Jarrett co-founded and co-organizes the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. You can enjoy more of his books and artwork here!

Art is for Everyone? YES!!!

Q: You are a rock star of middle grade children’s books, having written and illustrated three successful series! Wowza! What unique considerations do you think are necessary when developing middle grade, especially when creating a series?

A: If you're hoping to write a series, I think it's really important to develop a strong cast of characters. And characters who you believe you can grow over the course of the series. I think that's what makes series so exciting for readers, and what keeps them coming back book after book. They want some of the same—a familiar world, a familiar energy, a familiar voice—but also to get something new, different, perhaps unexpected. For me, characters are the best and most successful thing to use to give them that.

So much fun to add to your BTR* pile! (*books to read)

Q: Your most recent release, Geeger the Robot Party Pal, hit shelves earlier this year! Congratulations! Give us the scoop on how this title came to be—initial ideas to sketches & story to final artwork.

A: I've been lucky enough to work with the same editor on nearly all my books. Sixteen of them, so far. We get along great, and have such complementary sensibilities. We always go back and forth a bit to get our titles just right. Usually I attach one to my drafts, and throw out a couple other variations or possibilities, then we go back and forth until something finally feels like it "snaps" into place.

Until almost the very end, this fourth book in the Geeger the Robot series was called Party Pooper—but then both my editor and I decided this was too much of a downer note to have in the title, and really, so much of the series is about Geeger learning how to be a good friend. So, it became Party Pal. And once we'd gotten to that point in the thought process, it seemed obvious—it felt like the perfect fit.

(Psst! You can get your own copy of Geeger the Robot Party Pal here:)

And all the robot fun begins...

Q: Beyond your books, you’ve created a whole world of resources—free activity sheets, book discussion questions, virtual & in-person author visits, free stories like Knights of the Kids Table, and MG Book Village—to connect with your readers and fans from kids & families to teachers & librarians. Dish with us a bit about this side of being a children’s book creator and how you balance these offerings with your book work.

A: One of my favorite things about the world we live in—this interconnected, internet-saturated existence—is that we can share so plentifully and so easily, and get reactions to what we share instantaneously. I've always been addicted to creating, and as I've grown and become more confident in myself and my creations and my creative process, I've become addicted to sharing what I create, and also devoted to trying to get others to explore and maybe share their creative selves as well. I see the creation of books as one branch of my work, but it often moves too slowly or is too narrowly focused for all of what I create. All the resources and content I share, it's just another avenue for sharing, along with my books. And in terms of encouraging others, helping others in their creative lives—that can be done so efficiently and productively using social media.

Ooo! Is your imagination taking off yet?!

Q: Virtual and in-person author visits to schools, libraries and book festivals are an amazing way to connect with readers! But for many author-illustrators this feels outside of their primary skill set of being a creative professional. What advice would you give fellow kid lit creators about: A) booking these kinds of events, B) what kind of content to present, and C) how to team up with booksellers?

A: I think my best advice for all of these things is to put yourself out there. On social media. In person, at events you attend as an attendee. At stores you visit. It can be uncomfortable, even scary, and I don't think this side of things comes naturally to many creators. But the more you do it, and the more you can detach your ego from it, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes.

Sometimes I'll go into a bookstore and offer to sign stock—and sometimes they don't carry any of my books. But almost always, the bookseller will then get some in. And that's a win. Putting a message out on social media about being available for school visits—maybe, at first, you won't get many bites. But the more you do it, the more you talk about it and put it out there, the more opportunities there'll be for people to see it, for things to happen. I really think that's the name of the game. Putting yourself out there—and doing it persistently, because you want to grow. Careers—especially in this business, I think—are built incrementally, in very small steps over a long period of time. And every day, you've got an opportunity to take a handful of those small steps, by putting yourself and your work out there in a variety of ways.

What a bright, happy studio space!

Q: What is a typical workday like for you? Set the scene (workspace, materials, accessories) and describe your responsibilities (art making, promotion, business stuff) and creative juju (rituals, inspiration, process).

A: I'm not sure I have any "typical" workdays—my life is pretty chaotic! I wake up early—sometimes VERY early—and so almost always have some time to work before my wife and kids get up. But then things are up in the air. My days are usually structured around my wife's and kids' schedules and my school visits. I've gotten very good at creating on demand, at sinking right down into a productive zone whether I've got five minutes to work or five hours. I think I thrive off of the fact that every day is different. Comfort and routines often kill my creativity.

A couple other things that help me, I think: I've gotten more in tune with my creativity over the years, and am always working on multiple projects at once. So I can usually tell, first thing in the morning, whether it's going to be a day I'll be productive drafting something new, or whether I'll be more productive inking line art, or whether I'd better just answer some emails, or whether I should quit my desk and go for a bike ride or do some reading.

Yes! I'm always ready for a snack! (Preferably, pretzels!)

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Wake up early after a good night's sleep. Do some drawing with a big cup of hot coffee, listening to a great episode of a podcast. Cook some breakfast with my wife and kids, eat, and then spend the day in the city—exploring, playing, eating some more. Maybe come home in time to take a little mid-afternoon power nap. Cook dinner and eat outside, then maybe end of the day with some ice cream and a movie. I feel really fortunate to say that I actually have a lot of days like that.

Thanks so much, Jarrett, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! You rock!