Where are you from? Troy, MI
Tell us your latest news? This past year I have published four books. Two are books of poetry for children, Today I Wore a Clown to School and I Dreamt I Was a Waffle, and two are picture books, Everything’s Better with Ketchup and Please Keep Your Feet OFF the Book.
When and why did you begin writing? I began writing fiction in the fifth grade, but it took me another 33 years (and five kids of my own) before I decided what I liked best was writing poems and books for children. I began writing because it was one of the few things besides drawing that I thought I was good at. I enjoy entertaining people and making them laugh and writing is a great way to accomplish both.
When did you first consider yourself a writer? In college when my first article was published in the student newspaper. It was a small community college so I had pretty much unlimited artistic freedom as long as I didn’t write something offensive or pornographic. I wrote several record and book reviews of records and books that didn’t actually exist, mostly to amuse myself.
What inspired you to write your first book? I started writing poems to entertain my youngest children because I enjoyed making them laugh and wanted to prove I could write as good as Shel Silverstein, one of my idols. I took as inspiration my experiences as a father and memories of my own childhood. I’m sure one day my kids will look back and insist that none of the mischief attributed to them was accurate.
Do you have a specific writing style? Most everything I write rhymes. I try to be silly and clever without being pretentious. It is also important to me not to insult the intelligence of my readers. They know what’s good and what’s not without having to be told.
How did you come up with the title? The title of my latest book, I Dreamt I Was a Waffle is the title of my favorite poem in the book. The poem itself is told from the perspective of a child who had a dream that he is a waffle in danger of being eaten. Fortunately the poem is not drawn from personal experience. It’s a suspenseful poem but also a good one to read at breakfast time.
How much of the book is realistic? 85% of the poems are based on real experiences that I had growing up or those of my children. Of course, some of the facts are exaggerated for comedic effect. Some are exaggerated to embarrass my children.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? My own primarily as a child and as a man child.
What books have most influenced your life most? Without question, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. I loved those books as a child and I still love reading them today, which says a lot about the timeless quality of his work. I also loved Dr. Seuss books and the poetry of A.A Milne.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? Shel Silverstein. I learned a great deal about the different forms and shapes a poem can take, the importance of rhythm and cadence and also that we are only limited by our imagination. Some of his poems just defy everything I was taught about writing poetry and I love that.
What book are you reading now? You Never Give Me Your Money by Peter Doggett about the breakup of the Beatles. I like biographies when I’m reading for pleasure.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Hailey Leithauser is new to me, but I think she is beyond brilliant. Her poetry is so lyrical and playful and inventive. I almost gave up writing after reading her because I thought I’ll never write anything half as good as this. I’m sure it is the same reaction most musicians have after hearing the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” for the first time.
What are your current projects? I am currently writing a collection of poems based on emotions. It’s tentatively going to be called Happy (and other feelings).
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. Teachers have been incredibly supportive. I have been invited to speak at schools across the state of Michigan and actually read to several schools in the Chicago area this past winter. Teachers are one of the greatest and most influential endorsements I could ask for since they have important influence with my target demographic.
Do you see writing as a career? I do, even though it is at the moment a side career. I spend a significant amount of time either writing or thinking about ideas for future books or poems. I hope one day to retire and do nothing but write but that seems to be many years in the future.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? Always. Sometimes it’s a word here or there, sometimes an entire poem. But I tend to be highly critical of my own work. Eventually I make peace with it.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? My interest in writing was definitely inspired by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. I remember reading the poems in “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and thinking, “I can do that!” Of course, it’s not as easy as it looks, but that’s the fun and the challenge of writing.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? I’d be happy to.
My shirt is striped,
My pants are plaid,
It said “subtract,”
So why’d I add?
My best friend since the second grade
Today with some brand new kids played.
I’d ask to join, but I’m afraid.
I lost the birthday check I had.
And now my mother’s really mad.
I got a D + on my test,
I studied hard and tried my best,
But still too many questions guessed,
I want to sit and cry a spell,
I wish I had someone to tell,
Although I may have lost a friend,
And have no birthday funds to spend,
At least the day is near its end.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Having a really great idea for a poem but being unable to wrestle it into shape. I have an entire folder of half-finished poems that I had to abandon because I just wasn’t satisfied with how it was turning out. Sometimes I have to concede that the idea I had maybe wasn’t so great in the first place and move on to something else.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? My favorite author is A.A Milne. Most readers only know him from his Winnie the Pooh books but he was a gifted poet as well. There is an innocence, beauty and purity to his poetry that I really admire. He can take the most ordinary image (two raindrops sliding down a window pane) and turn it into something magical and extraordinary in just a few lines.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? In the springtime during school reading months I travel a couple times a month to different schools around the state. I also travel to arts and crafts shows to market and sell my books. Anything that will put me in touch with the readers I am trying to reach I am game for.
Who designed the covers? I designed the cover based on artwork from the poem the title of the book is based on. I draw all the illustrations for my books.
What was the hardest part of writing your book? Having the self-confidence to put something out there for other people to read knowing there are invariably going to be people who don’t like it. It can be hard to take criticism and most of the time I’m my harshest critic.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? The learning moments for me come from interacting with my audience and finding out what they like and maybe don’t like. Having the opportunity to read the books to a large group of kids is a great way to learn if the poems are resonating with and entertaining your audience or missing the mark.
Do you have any advice for other writers? Feedback is very important so ask as many people as you know (and trust) to read your work and offer their honest opinions. It takes a thick skin sometimes but there is something to take away from even the harshest critique.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? Thank you for taking the time to read my work and I appreciate the opportunity to entertain you!
More About The Author: www.WhatifBalloons.com
Connect With The Author On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffswhitcher/