07 Jan It’s Monday! Jarrett Lerner is in Our Stack! #IMWAYR #BuildYourStack
When we saw the cover of EngiNerds, we knew it would immediately appeal to so many middle-grade students. We just had to read it. Then we read the author’s note, and we realized Jarrett Lerner lives right near us in Medford, Massachusetts. We knew we had to get to know him better! Thanks, Jarrett for letting us interview you. We tucked a print-out of this interview into our writing notebook and into our copy of EngiNerds. Now we can share your writing tips and techniques as we teach and entice EngiNerds fans with information about your upcoming books. Here is what Jarrett had to say about his writing process and his next projects:
How do you create believable characters when you are writing books that have some “out-of-this-world” elements like EngiNerds does?
I believe the key to writing believable stories with believable characters is to write with emotion. That may sound simple, but it’s actually quite complicated and can be very hard. “Writing with emotion” means, to me, a number of things. It means that, as a writer, you care about the characters you are creating and the hardships and triumphs that they are experiencing. It also means that you are crafting sentences that contain emotion — ones that engage your readers on an emotional level, ones that activate their empathy. Every writer has been told to “show don’t tell,” but we rarely talk about why. I always say that when you tell a reader something, you are speaking to their brain. But when you show them something, you are speaking to their heart. The best stories do a lot of speaking to readers’ hearts.
If you, as a writer, care about your characters (whether they be human, canine, or Neptunian) and are doing all you can to make sure your readers care about them too, then both those characters and the journeys they take in your stories will be believable.
EngiNerds is action-packed and hysterical. When you write, how do you balance action, dialogue, and humor?
So much of that balance is achieved in revision. Like all writers, I revise A LOT. I often say that writers should really be called “revisers,” since that’s mostly what we do. My first drafts are anything but balanced. I call them word vomit because they are messy and gross and embarrassing. It’s only after I’ve written and revised enough to really know my story, its characters, its important scenes, and its stakes that I can begin to work toward finding that balance. To do so, I draw roller coasters. Seriously. I get a piece of paper and I draw an x- and a y-axis, and then draw my story as if it were a roller coaster I was looking at from the side. Loops can signify excitement or big twists. Quick rises and dips may mean a silly, giggly scene. A steady straightaway might denote a quiet, reflective moment. The key is to have VARIETY — which is just another word for the balance you asked about in your question. Good stories and good roller coasters both have variety. Too many straightaways and you’re bored. Too many loops and your nauseous and confused. You want some of this and some of that because that’s how life is.
What do you want teachers and students to know about you and your books?
I want students and teachers to know that I believe reading can and should be an enjoyable experience. That enjoyment might stem from a silly joke, situation, or scene. It might be because a book allows a temporary escape from a less-than-pleasant reality. It might come from the particular solace and guidance that empathizing with fictional characters can offer. It might be because of the information provided about a specific topic of interest. There are as many reasons for reading as there are readers. I do my best to make sure my books offer something for many different kinds of readers, and I hope they leave readers even more excited about books and reading than they were when they first picked them up.
What are you working on now? What can we look forward to reading in 2019?
I’m never just working on one thing. I typically have four, five, or even six different projects going on at once, all of them at different stages of completion (or incompletion, might be a better way of putting it!). The sequel to EngiNerds, Revenge of the EngiNerds, comes out February 19, 2019, and it picks up pretty much right where the first book leaves off. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling either one of the books, but I can say that in the second book there are a lot of familiar faces (dog faces included) and some new ones — including that of Mikaela Harrington, one of my favorite (and nerdiest!) characters I’ve ever written. I have some books for slightly younger readers coming out in 2020 — though, like the EngiNerds books, I believe they can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter their age, as long as they’re a fun-loving kid at heart. I can’t talk too much about my other projects — but if you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, I now and again give sneak peeks.
Thanks so much for having me, Tammy and Clare!
Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its forthcoming sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He co-founded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com, on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner, and on Instagram at @jarrettlerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.