Author of the 6.5 Million-Copy Bestseller FRINDLE
To The Readers In California
To the young readers in California:
1. some personal information
I didn’t wake up one morning when I was ten or twelve years old and say, “Hey! I know—I’m going to be a writer!” That never happened. I became a writer because first I was a reader. My mom and dad were always reading, and we had a lot of good books in the home. I always got books for Christmas or my birthday. I got other things too—like sweaters and dump trucks and puzzles and games—regular gifts. I don’t have those other presents now, but I still have every one of the books, and those are some of the same books that my wife and I have enjoyed sharing with our own children. I think that same love of reading and language is what led me to become a teacher—first fourth grade, then eighth grade English, and then high school English, seven years in all. Those were wonderful years, both challenging and rewarding, and much of that time now shapes my books.
2. something special about The School Story
I’ve visited a lot of schools, and now and then kids have asked, ‘If I wrote a book, could it get published?’ And I have usually answered with something like, ‘Yes—as long as your writing is as good as all the other manuscripts being sent to publishers. Because publishers don’t care about your age or experience. They care first and foremost about the quality of your thinking and how well you express yourself on paper.’
That simple question got me thinking about all the things that would need to happen for a fifth or sixth grader to have a book accepted for publication by a major publisher. I have worked in the publishing business for fifteen years or so, and as a teacher I’ve worked with young writers, too. I’ve lived in New York City, and have visited the offices of dozens of publishers. And all that experience came into play as I began writing The School Story. I thought the book was going to be mainly about writing and publishing, but it ended up being about friendship and the special relationship between dads and daughters, too.
3. something about my writing routine
When I visited a school recently a boy asked, “Mr. Clements, is writing your whole life?” And the answer is, quite simply, no. Sometimes writing and the surrounding responsibilities of that career would try to become a person's whole life. Writing is hard, solitary work—work that is not usually helped along by continual interruptions. But the fact is, I am many other things before I am a writer. I am a son; I am a brother; I am a husband and a father; I am a church member; I am a neighbor and a citizen. And then somewhere along the way and in the midst of that life, I am also a writer. I would not be the writer I am without these so-called “interruptions.”
So my writing routine isn’t very routine. I try to write every day, especially when I’m in the middle of a novel. But I find that even if I can’t actually walk out my back door and shut myself up in the little shed where I write, I can still work, because the biggest part of writing is thinking—and I can do that anywhere at any time. I always keep paper and pencil handy, and lately I’ve come to rely on a little digital voice recorder to help me capture ideas when they come trotting along.
4. some of my favorite books
There are some “superbooks” that are always at the top of almost any list, books that belong in classes of their own—books like the Bible; books like the complete plays and poems of Shakespeare; books like Homer’s Odyssey. So there’s a start to a favorites list.
Then we move down the scale into Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, really, all the writing of Mark Twain, fiction and non-fiction alike. Then it’s on to Dickens and Yeats and Wordsworth—after all, I studied English literature! Then there’s The Call of the Wild, Jane Eyre, Crime and Punishment, and a host of other novels –wonderful literature, world literature.
One of my favorite books, and truly one of the best novels ever written for kids or grownups, is Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. It’s one of those great works of art that can be read every five years throughout a person’s lifetime, and it will become better and richer with every reading.
Among picture books, one favorite is The Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown, with pictures by Garth Williams.
5. some other interests
I play the guitar and write songs. I like to ride my mountain bike. I like to hike and camp, though I wouldn’t call myself a hiker or a camper—or a mountain biker, for that matter. In the winter, I’ve been known to clamp fiberglass boards to my feet and then try to stay alive on snowy slopes. I am a continual putterer, and my basement workshop is a happy clutter of well-used tools. I love to read, but must now read less than ever in order to keep my own writing on track.
I haven’t meant to, but I have collected a lot of pens (called frindles by some). I don’t keep them for display purposes, or because they may be rare or valuable, but rather because I enjoy using them. I love to doodle and draw and simply make marks with ink on paper. It’s something I never tire of.
My favorite thing in all the world is simply to walk with my wife—it doesn’t matter where, or for how long. The company is everything.