Author Spotlight: Jonathan Stutzman
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Do you like dinos? How about tiny ones? Well you should. For those of you who possess a human heart, we have a real treat today! Our Author Spotlight features Jonathan Stutzman, author of Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug. Aborbs level midnight.
Jonathan has a lot to share and he may even have a giveaway opportunity at the end of this post... (he totally does), so let's get to it!
Ramen! I eat way too much Ramen.
Name three things you can’t do your job without.
My computer, my notebook/pen, coffee.
Where do you feel most inspired and why?
A bookstore or library. I work well when other people are around and I love being surrounded by books!
Tell us a little about your background and your journey into kid lit. Why picture books?
I grew up with a love of books, my parents read to me a lot, especially my mom. And I was always creating. Legos. Make believe. I had a bunch of stuffed animals that I created voices and adventures for. I made my first comic series around 8 or 9. So I’ve always loved telling stories. I was hooked on short stories in high school, and then moved to filmmaking and screenwriting in college and grad school. I found my way back to books a few years ago when my fiancée, Heather Fox and I decided to make a picture book for fun. We loved it! There is so much magic in picture books. The visuals and poetry of the words. So I got stacks of amazing books (and there are SO MANY out there!) from the library and studied them over and over, to get an idea of pacing and how to encapsulate a story in 32-40 pages. Then started writing. I’m hooked now and hopefully, still learning and growing. There is so much to learn!
You have three books out in 2019! Congratulations! Hashtag author goals. What does it mean to debut your first picture book and to have two more come out in the same year?
Thank you! It is really exciting, because I find so much joy writing and telling stories, I’m very humbled people actually want to make them into books. It still shocks me when I think about it. Author life is a strange process because there is about 2 years from when you sell a project until it is published. It seems like forever… and then BAM the book is out and it is exciting and strange and a little scary. I am still trying to wrap my mind around it.
Just that I get to tell stories! I seriously love it. I wake up each day enthused to open my notebook or sit down at the computer. I feel honored that the words I write will be read/heard by children, there is a lot of responsibility there, but it’s also exciting because I remember how much I latched on to certain books and characters as a kid. That a child somewhere in the world will treasure one of my books like I used to treasure my favorites, that it one of the coolest things ever.
I keep seeing Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug everywhere! It looks absolutely adorable and I’m really excited to read it. What was the inspiration for this book? Give us the story behind story.
Well I feel very grateful I even got the opportunity to write that book. Jay Fleck, the illustrator (who is awesome!), had this adorable dino drawn up and Chronicle was looking for a character-based series. I was given the chance to create a story for Tiny and if they liked it we would have a series. And they did! As for the story, I really wanted to focus on the idea that Tiny was “a small dino in a big bad world”. I am a big fan of classic physical comedy films, the work of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, so I loved having the opportunity to have Tiny’s diminutive size play into the humor and drama of the series. Like Buster and Charlie, Tiny overcomes whatever obstacle is thrown at him with optimism and aplomb. I thought this was a fun set up for a character, but also a great opportunity to show kids that no matter how small they are, they have agency and they can accomplish whatever they set their mind too.
I think empathy and kindness are such important qualities for life, and Tiny embodies them to the max. I hope I always try to be like Tiny and want to do whatever it takes to be there for the people in my life.
What are some things you have been doing to help promote Tiny T. Rex?
I’m still getting used to all the promotion stuff. I don’t mind social media but it is exhausting! So I’m still learning how to wade through it all and how to do it. I should keep emphasizing that I really don’t know what I’m doing half the time with most aspects as an author. I just try things out and if they work, cool! If not, I try to learn from it. Mostly I just try to post a few times a week about the book, do a giveaway here or there, and I’ve been doing a lot of little fun stories with this super cute crochet Tiny T. Rex Chronicle made for me. He is adorable!
Your next book comes out May 7th! Llama Destroys the World. I’m not going to lie, that title is hilarious. What can you tell us about this new picture book character and his apocalyptic antics?
This is my first book with my fiancée and creative partner-in-crime, Heather Fox! I’m super excited about it, she did an amazing job with the art… Llama is adorable and hilarious. And the creative team at Macmillan has been amazing. The gist of the book is that Llama, our hero (?) destroys (eats) way too much cake. Then puts on his dancing pants and destroys the dance floor. Which leads to the destruction of the world. It is a really weird and zany story, and really I just wanted to write a book that would be silly and fun for kids and their parents to read. I love that picture books are such a shared experience between adults and kids, whether that is Parent-child, Librarian-child, or Teacher-student, and I wanted to write a book that both young and old could hopefully enjoy and laugh about together. Because funny books are important! Both kids and adults need more laughter in their lives. So far the feedback from the kids/reviewers who have read it have been even better than I could have hoped! Generally I try to write stories I would want to read, so it’s kind of nice to know there are other people out there who are weird and zany like me and enjoy a good llama-world-destruction picture book!
I came up with the title first, and was like this is weird and epic and super silly. I LOVE IT. Heather whipped up an adorable sketch of Llama. He looked naive and aloof, and I was like… it would be so fun to have a book where this happy-go-lucky Llama just causes the destruction of the world but has no idea he does it. So that’s what I tried to do.
Don’t Feed the Coos comes out this winter--anything you can tell us this far out? It’s Heather and my next book with Macmillan and we are really excited about it. It’s about the dangers of feeding pigeons. A tip: DON’T DO IT.
Let’s talk process. An idea has just popped into your head (and at the MOST convenient time ever!). What do you do next? How does a story go from initial thought to ready for your agent?
Generally if I have an idea, I will try to think of a title. I don’t know why but that’s what I do. I did that with my movie scripts too. Then I go to scribbling out text and sketching out art panels. I storyboard as I write to help me see the characters and action on the page. If I’m working with Heather I will send over some of my text ideas and see if anything sparks her imagination to sketch up a character or two. I often hop from one manuscript to another (I work on a lot at once) depending on which story is producing the most excitement for me. When I’m done I do a lot of read aloud’s to get the flow of the words and the pacing down. I edit then and try to tighten everything up. When it’s ready I send it over to my agent!
I have a lot of exciting books coming up soon, so check out my website or twitter for updates. But currently I’m working on a few silly stories and a few more lyrical ones, also a longer project!
Where do you typically prefer to write?
I like to write in coffee shops or bookstores! But I carry a little notebook wherever I go, because the great thing about writing is you can do it anywhere!
You recently attended the Texas Library Association Annual Conference. What were some highlights from this event?
It was just amazing to get a chance to meet so many amazing creators there! And awesome librarians! Seeing so many book lovers in one place is inspiring and exciting.
I love so many! Two authors that are always making me cracking up are Ame Dyckman and Jon Klassen. And a few recent books I’ve loved for their emotional beauty are:
Drawn Together by Mihn Le and illustrated by Dan Santat
My Heart by Corinna Luyken
and Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers.
What advice do you have for writers who are dealing with rejection from agents, trying to get their work out there?
Everyone faces rejection. It’s important to remember that. It’s too easy for us, as writers, to get down on ourselves, so if we have it in our heads going in that rejection is part of the process for everyone it’s helpful. Also, every agent, editor, reviewer has their own personal tastes of what they love. Books like any other storytelling medium are very subjective. It’s a strange balance between keeping our voice and writing for the market. Studying picture books and studying what’s selling can be very helpful to get a grasp on form and what agents and editors are looking for, but we should also be telling the stories that are pounding in our hearts. So take criticism and rejection, learn from it, grow from it, but don’t ever let it snuff out your passion or change your unique storytelling voice. All it takes is one person to love it. One agent. One editor. So keep writing, keep failing, keep growing as a writer, and keep submitting! To quote Michael Scott regional manager of Dunder Mifflin (who of course, is quoting Wayne Gretzky), “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.”
Anything coming up that you are looking forward to and would like to promote?
After Don't Feed the Coos I have five other books coming out in 2020, it will be a hectic and exciting year! So if you like what I write follow me on twitter or check out my website for updates!
they are little miracles we can experience together, both child and adult.
Thank you, so much for sharing your journey and author life with us, Jonathan! Really looking forward to all your picture books...even if they destroy the world!
And thank YOU, kid lit fam. To thank you for reading this interview, Jonathan has generously offered to giveaway a signed copy of Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug! See details below on how to enter.
To enter to win a SIGNED copy of:
Do one of two things:
1. Retweet this post with a comment.
2. Share a comment below AND subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight.
The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, May 7th at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Tuesday, May 7th and announced on Twitter
About Jonathan Stutzman
Hi! My name is Jonathan and I write books for kids. Some of my books are silly, some are sweet, and some are a blustery mix of both. Storytelling brings me so much joy, and my hope is that my stories will give readers joy too! Here is a little more about me:
What do you do when you're not writing?
- I read A LOT - I play with my french bulldog (Hugo) - I find ways to cheer people up - I draw silly things - I swing dance - I watch old movies - I eat donuts (Yes. Please.) - I go on adventures (Forests and bookstores FTW) - I play video games and sports
What are your favorite books? There are TOO MANY. Some of my favorite book makers are Neil Gaiman, Jacqueline Woodson, Charles M. Schulz, Madeleine L'Engle, Dan Santat, and Bill Watterson.
Why did you become a writer?
I devoured books and comics as a kid, and have been telling stories and playing make-believe ever since. I think everyone has a unique perspective on life and the world, and writing books is how I share mine. Books are powerful. They teach. They give joy, courage, hope. They helped me in many many dark times in my life, and I want to (if I can) give a little light to others. Plus telling stories is SO FUN.