Thursday, July 21, 2011

7 Questions For: Author Dan Gutman

Dan Gutman was raised in a mud hut by a pack of wild monkeys in the rain forest of Rangoon.Okay, okay, he really grew up in New Jersey. In fact, he still lives there. But being raised by wild monkeys in Rangoon would have been a lot cooler.

Dan compensated for his bland and uneventful childhood by growing up to write farfetched stories for kids such as The Genius Files (Click here to read the Ninja's review of the first book in the series, Mission Unstoppable), Homework Machine, The Million Dollar Shot, and his popular baseball card adventure series. He’s also written a whole bunch of other books that didn't sell and went out of print, so we won’t mention them here.

Like a lot of boys, Dan hated to read, but loved sports. That’s one big reason why he writes a lot about sports and aims his books at reluctant readers like himself. Unfortunately, he was a lousy athlete as a kid. In fact, he was so bad that his friends made him play one-on-one, with himself.

Dan graduated from Rutgers University in 1977 with a degree in psychology (which means, in Latin, "a total waste of time").. He never took a writing class in his life, and it shows. He doesn't know how to create beautiful “word pictures.” He never learned the standard formula for a novel. There is no symbolism or deep moral lessons in his books. He still doesn't know the difference between a simile and a metaphor.

Dan’s books are known for four things: a quirky, exciting plot that grabs the reader and won’t let go, an almost total lack of (boring) description, and a surprise ending. Wait, that’s only three things. Well, Dan’s books are also made out of paper. That makes four things. Also, he always sticks the name Herb Dunn into his novels somewhere. This is just a cheap trick to force his old college friend Herb Dunn to read his books.

When he’s not writing books, Dan loves to travel, ride his bike, and write self-aggrandizing third-person autobiographies like this one.We could go on and on telling you lots of great stuff about Dan, his fantastic books, and what a terrific guy he is. But it would be a big bore. Besides, you've got more important stuff to do, like sort out your recycling. So if you want to find out more about Dan or his brilliant and wonderful daughter Emma who is looking over his shoulder as he writes this, go to his web site (

Dan thinks you should buy lots of his books, for three reasons. Kids will love them, and Dan needs the money.Wait, that’s only two reasons.

And now Dan Gutman faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.  Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.  Ball Four by Jim Bouton.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

How much time do you spend each week writing? Not as much as you'd think.  I can only write for two or three hours a day without my head exploding.  I have a short attention span, I guess (like my readers).  But I spend much more time than that making phone calls, writing letters, paperwork, doing research, and especially responding to email.  That takes up most of my time. Reading?  If I can make it through The New York Times every day, I consider it an accomplishment.  I try to read a book at night before bed, but I often fall asleep while doing it.  I wish I had more time to read, but life gets in the way.  Most of my reading is research for my books.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

For The Genius FilesHarper Collins suggested I try an action/adventure story, along the lines of Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz.  So I read one of the books, and thought, "Wow, this is really good!  I could never write anything as good as this."  But I sat down and thought about it, and even though I'm no Anthony Horowitz, I could write an action/adventure story in my own style.  So I thought I'd have TWO main characters, a boy and a girl, so ALL kids would relate to the story.  They're twins, and their names are Coke and Pepsi.  I thought it would be exciting to have them take a cross-country driving trip over the summer with their parents, and have these lunatic bad guys trying to kill them the whole time.  So it was very hard work (and also fun) to plot out their route and think up unusual ways for the twins to get in and out of trouble.  The first Genius Files book came out in January, and Coke and Pepsi got from California to Wisconsin.  In the second book, which comes out next January, they get from Wisconsin to Washington D.C.  And now I'm working on the third book, which gets them from Washington to Memphis.  Finally, #4 will get them from Memphis back home.  That is, if they survive.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I can only speak for myself.  In my case, like Lady Gaga, I was born this way.  Writing always came naturally to me.  I never took any writing classes.  I studied psychology in college, and even went to graduate school for two years.  It wasn't until after that, when I was about 25, that I decided to try to make it as a writer.  And I struggled for a long time writing for adults--about fifteen years--before I started to have any success writing for kids.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is the freedom.  I don't have a job, a boss telling me what to do, or a commute to some office somewhere.  I can dress like a slob (and I do).  If something interests me--like baseball, for instance--I can spend the next six months creating a book on that subject.  My other favorite thing is turning kids on to reading.  I didn't get into this field to save the world or anything, but when you can make such an impact on somebody's life simply by writing some silly words on a piece of paper, well, that's really rewarding.

My least favorite thing is that despite that freedom, I am still very much dependent on other people for my success or failure.  If a publisher does not advertise or promote a book, or if they design a lousy cover for it and it doesn't sell as a result, kids will not read it and there's not much I can do.  That's very frustrating.  The best stuff I ever wrote, I think, was my worst-selling books.  On the other hand, of course, I've written some books that I didn't think were that great, and they sold very well.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer?  After you write your first draft, look at it.  Read it out loud.  And while you are reading it out loud, PRETEND THAT YOU'RE NOT YOU.  Pretend you're somebody else.  A friend.  A stranger.  Whatever.  And when you read your own writing through somebody else's eyes, you will see the mistakes you have made, and you'll see how you can make your writing better.  That's a little trick I use. And of course, go to my website ( and click on TIPS FOR YOUNG AUTHORS.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Paul McCartney and John Lennon, together.  When people ask me what book or author inspired me the most when I was growing up, I can't think of any.  I didn't even like to read when I was a kid.  The people who inspired me the most, and still do, were The Beatles.  I admired their originality, their songwriting, their willingness to evolve, experiment, and break the rules.  And of course, their genius. 


  1. Great interview, thanks! Same on HUGO CABRET! And, I have the arc of WONDERSTRUCK, very excited to read it.

    Also thanks for the revising advice for this young writer (lol..yeah, not so young I am, but good advice none the less, I like pretending to be other people).

  2. I'll say it again: I love Dan Gutman. (And his bio sounds a lot like you wrote it, Ninja. You two have a similar witty way with words.)

    Lunch with John and Paul?!
    Food fight!!


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