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.

Sunday, June 15, 2008|Categories: Random|Tags: , , |28 Comments

Cynsations interview posted

The lovely and talented Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed me for her blog Cynsations. I am honored that she gave Hugging the Rock a much-coveted “Highly Recommended” tag.

Thank you, Cynthia.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006|Categories: Random|Tags: , |36 Comments

Hodpodge mirage

Really, I am trying to get back into the blogging habit and I am trying to not feel guilty when I don’t blog but so far it’s one of those things that’s great in theory but the execution is a bit tough. Sigh. First off, some thank yous. Big thanks to the talented children’s artist Don Tate for all the wonderful words he wrote about Oliver in at his blog. Also a big thanks to for the interview she posted of me over at YA Books Central. Kim writes, does book reviews and interviews, is a mommy of 3 and STILL has energy left to brainstorm great publicity ideas. Don and Kim were two of the very first blog friends I ever made. Let’s see, other updates,   is still in New York with getting to know the kids at Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy. Tonight’s the night I will reread Hugging the Rock one more time and then send it off to my editor. Then begins the painful waiting and chewing of fingernails while I await her response.

In non-writing news my car is sick, again (it’s been happening a lot lately) and my husband shocked me last night with the idea that we should buy me a new car. Gulp. And what did I do when he made the suggestion? Did I throw my arms around him, smother him with kisses? No. Goofball that I am, I burst into tears. I know, I know, I’m dingy. After that I DID commence with the hugging and kissing but it’s a bit scary to think about. We haven’t had a car payment in years so that part makes me nervous. I will confess that I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to my Kia. I bought it New Orleans and it is the last negative connection to my not-so-great time of living there, so saying goodbye will be easy. The darn thing is a ’96 with only 76,000 miles on it and the Blue Book, if they actually gave me that for trade in (hahahaha) is only $865. Oh well. Better to be done with the thing. My husband wants me to stick with either Honda or Toyota so we’ve pretty much decided on the Honda Civic Coupe. Since we already have a SUV there’s no need for another sedan. I never have anyone else in my car except for my dog. The big thing to check is to make sure that I can see out of the car okay because I am, well, a wee bit undertall. I’m going to stop by the dealership on my way home and check that out. Whew! Wish me luck. Then there’s that HUGE decision of what color do I want? The choices are: Atomic Blue Metallic, Alabaster Silver Metallic, Galaxy Gray Metallic, Nighthawk Black Pearl, Rallye Red, Royal Blue Pearl, Taffeta White. Hard to know until I see them in person but I am leaning toward white or gray. Maybe I should do a poll?

Oh and that mirage I mentioned in the title? It appears to be Frankie. He and Max are a bit out of focus right now and I am trying not to worry about it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |20 Comments