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  • June 15th, 2008 | 7:33 PM
Jim Averbeck interview!

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.    



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. 

What is your absolute favorite line from 
IN A BLUE ROOM and how long did it 
take to write/revise/tweak it?

“Alice yawns. Almost gone.” It took me as 
long to write it as it took you to read it. I never 
revised or tweaked it, but I did defend it during 
multiple assaults from folks who thought it 
should be removed. I also like “In a blue room, 
yellow bells on black strings chime softly in 
the window breeze.” 

Now...what’s your favorite line? 


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 “Really?”
I.C. “Unquestionably.”
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.

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.

There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 26 comments — Leave comment )
June 16th, 2008 11:29 am (UTC)
Great interview!

The bunny is still there.
June 16th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
LOL on the bunny. I always saw a dog.
June 16th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
In Africa they see a woman carrying a stack of wood. I lived there for 4 years and that might be why the bunny is less easy for me to see these days.
That and my old age need for glasses...
June 16th, 2008 11:42 am (UTC)
Great interview! Thanks!
June 16th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome. People asked terrific questions. I'm going to use this format next on Bonny Becker.
(Deleted comment)
June 16th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I did as well.
June 16th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
What an awesome talk ya'll had here! And I love the edible art supply question. Why didn't I think of that????
June 16th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
Wasn't that great? And you know what? Jim is just like this in person too.
June 16th, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC)
What great questions. Thoroughly enjoyed this! Thanks.
June 16th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it!
June 16th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
YAY! Great interview! YAY Susan! YAY Jim! And YAY IN A BLUE ROOM!
June 16th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
YAY NORCA writers!
June 16th, 2008 02:20 pm (UTC)
Fun Interview!
Thanks for posting the interview. =)
June 16th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Fun Interview!
You're very welcome.
June 16th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
Ok, this is a great interview, but how come nobody mentioned that he is HOT!!
June 16th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
I know...dreamy huh? And so sweet and kind. (And very taken but still it's nice to look. ) LOL
June 16th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
Oh...the lighting was just good that day !

Jim (blushing)
(Deleted comment)
June 16th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Amazing isn't it?
June 16th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Terrific interview, Susan! :)
June 16th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
Fun interview!!! Thanks!
June 16th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks all for the generous, kind words and to Susan for the chance to do the interview.
(Deleted comment)
June 17th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
I love this.
I'm intrigued by the book. Must pick up....
June 17th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
I predict you will love the book. :-)
June 20th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
Niiice interview. :)
( 26 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties."
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"As writers, we must be willing to feel our sadness, our anger, our terror, so we can reach in and find our sweet vulnerability that is just sitting there waiting for us to come back home."
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"Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I'm writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is."
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