by Phyllis Palamaro
Our first interview for the 2013 conference is with GLVWG member and YA author, Jon Gibbs. Not only does Jon write fun characters and exciting adventures, he is a skilled and humorous presenter.
Phyllis Palamaro contacted Jon and asked him these questions.
How did you become involved in writing?
I started in 2003, about a year before I moved here from England. I used to make up stories for my son as we walked to school. One day, I decided to have a bash at writing a novel. I have no idea why, because up until then, I hadn’t written a word of fiction since leaving school in the 1970s…unless you count tax returns.
What age group are you targeting with your book, Fur-Face and its sequel, Barnum’s Revenge?
Officially, they’re aimed at boys aged 10-13, but I wrote them for anyone with a slightly twisted sense of humor.
Why Middle Grade?
I like to write about quirky, unusual characters in strange situations. The older Middle Grade genre (often referred to as the Tween market), seems like the perfect fit.
What caused you to found the New Jersey Author’s Network (NJAN)?
I got the idea back in 2008. A writing group I joined had just put out an anthology. I wanted to help them sell more copies. When a writing group hosts a guest presenter, I often buy his/her book afterward – especially if I enjoyed the talk. I thought, why not put on meetings ourselves, only hold them at other venues?
I’d seen the panel/Q&A format at the Write Stuff conference earlier that year. It seemed a perfect approach, since it puts less pressure on the speakers and makes the events themselves more appealing to potential attendees (and hosts). From there, it was a small leap to the idea of making the system open to any published writer. As for venues, libraries have proved to be great partners. We put on dozens of events each year, as well as providing speakers for book clubs and even literary luncheons.
You are a delightful and interesting speaker. Does public speaking come easily to you?
Thank you. These days, I love giving presentations and workshops, but when I started, the thought of public speaking terrified me. I remember my first ever presentation (a talk on blogging at a GLVWG meeting, back in November, 2010). I spent the 80-minute drive there imaging every possible thing which might go wrong. By the time I arrived I was a mess.
I sat in the parking lot outside Palmer Library, trying to think of a good excuse to back out. Then I imagined my old gran, talking to me from the back seat. ‘Fine, go home if you want, but if you quit, know your ancestors will be ashamed of you…again.’
It gave me the motivation I needed. As it turned out, once the initial panic died down, I was fine. The talk itself went well – leastways, nobody threw anything, which is usually a good sign.
How did you get involved in school visits?
After Fur-Face came out, I knew I needed something to help me reach my target audience, so I developed Fun with Fiction (a series of classroom sessions for kids in grades 3 and up). I’ve been very lucky so far, because schools contact me, rather than the other way around, either because someone involved has been to one of my other writing workshops, or the person responsible for organizing visits found me online somehow.
What do you tell the kids about writing when you visit them at their schools?
When I give my school assembly talks, I show them my ‘I are a writer!’ mug. I tell them it reminds me to get the story done first, then fix the grammar and other stuff.
What advise do you have for beginning writers?
Figure out what works best for you, then do that…a lot.
Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, where he gives writing presentations and workshops in schools and libraries around the Garden State (one of his talks, GETTING PUBLISHED: 10 Things Every Writer Should Know, was broadcast on local television in 2012).
The founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network (www.njauthorsnetwork.com)and FindAWritingGroup.com, Jon’s middle grade fantasy, Fur-Face(Echelon Press), was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. The sequel, Barnum’s Revenge, is scheduled for release in February, 2013.
Jon has a website:www.acatofninetales.comand a blog: http://jongibbs.livejournal.com. When he's not chasing around after his three children, he can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.