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DON'T LET THE SMILE
FOOL YOU!


Why I'm Afraid of Clowns & Answers
to Other
Frequently Asked Questions

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, always, but it wasn't until I went to college and was encouraged by a teacher, the late Roderick Thorp, that I thought I could actually be one.

Are you famous?
No, and I don't want to be. Being famous means people want to know what color underwear you wear and what video you rented last night. I'm so boring I wear white underwear almost all the time, and I'll tell you now that I like cheezy monster movies. There's no way my life could stand up to the attention of being famous. However, I'd like it if my books were well known and if they sold a gazillion copies each.

Well, then, do you know anyone famous?
This usually means -- do I know R.L. Stine or J.K. Rowling? (I see a pattern here; I'd better change my name to S.H. O'Keefe).  No, I don't know any famous writers, although I do know many wonderful writers.

How much money do you make?
Much less than you'd think. Most writers have other jobs. I'm lucky in that my "other job" has always involved writing or books.

But to answer with a more exact figure, on a $16 hardcover picture book, the most I'll make is about 80 cents per book (yes, you're reading that right -- 80 cents, pennies, hundredths of a dollar). That means I need to sell five books just to rent one cheezy video. Imagine how upset I am when the movie stinks!

A little simple math (simple enough even for me) says that novels pay better than picture books on the same number of copies sold because the royalties don't have to be split with the illustrator.  But some things just have to be rhymed.  Until I can pull off a whole rhyming novel, I'll have to confine my verse to more picture books.

Do you illustrate your own books?
No, there's not much call for picture books of stick figures. If you want the more definitive answer as to why I donít illustrate my books, click here.

Do you get to pick your illustrator?
No. For the most part, publishers like to keep writers and illustrators separate. This keeps writers from screeching, "A gerbil? You made the main character a gerbil? He was supposed to be a platypus!" Fortunately all my illustrators have been great.

How do you make the letters so perfect on every line?
Only someone who has not tried to read my handwriting could ask this. Writers do not write by hand every copy of every book. If we did, we'd never have time to write! Machines print the letters so that each is perfect and so that the lines are all even. Then other machines print thousands (and hopefully thousands and thousands more) of each book.

Where do you get your ideas?
From the IdeaMart on Route 46 West in Parsippany, New Jersey.  Like most people, I fall victim to the impulse buy. I go in for a quart of milk, and instead I come out with nachos and a six-pack of brainstorms.

Seriously, ideas are EVERYWHERE -- and nowhere.  I can say lots of things about how a writer can look at something and be inspired, but at rockbottom, I don't think any of us know.

Which is easier to write--picture books or novels?
Neither one is easy.  They're just very different.  It's tempting for people to think, Oh, picture books must be easier.  They're 500 words versus 50,000 - 100,000 words.  In ways, that just makes it harder.  You can make a fair number of mistakes and still have a successful novel.  The picture book leaves no room for mistakes.  It's a very unforgiving form.  When you goof, you goof bigtime.

On the other hand, a picture book can be "written" at any time, all day long, because you can nurse that one sentence or phrase in your mind as you go about your business.  Nail it down, and you may have a whole page written.  I can't go into a supermarket without a shopping list if I need more than two things (that third one always stumps me), so there's no way I could duplicate that feat with a page of prose.

Are there any laws that you have to be a certain age to be a writer?
No. In fact, Stone Soup, a print journal written by young people, has posted the complete novel written by an eight-year-old girl, which she published in 1919. She sold several hundred thousand copies!  Even nowadays, many young people publish books. And there are many magazines that publish the work of both teenagers and younger children. The Internet, especially, has many places for kids to get published or to publish themselves.

What advice can you give young writers?
Keep trying and don't give up, no matter what anyone says. This does NOT mean that you should stubbornly consider yourself always right and critics always wrong. No matter who you are and no matter how well you write, you need to learn how to rewrite -- every piece, every time, usually multiple times. What this DOES mean is not to take things personally. If a piece is rejected, IT is rejected, not you. Even if a piece really stinks, IT stinks, not you.

If you want to be a writer, you CAN be -- but you must be willing to do the work.

Why are you afraid of clowns?
There's something very sinister about a smile that has to be painted on.  Give me an honest scowl any day.

It's hard to explain exactly about clowns, but I know I'm not alone in this fear. Since I first posted this page, Iíve gotten many emails from other people who are scared of clowns. I've come to the conclusion that the world is divided into people who are afraid of clowns and people who aren't. If you're not afraid, you just don't get it. Many people do get it, however. That's why so many cheezy horror movies have clowns in them.

One of my favorite tee-shirts (though I don't have my own yet) is black with jagged white writing on it that repeats over and over:

Can't sleep ... Clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep ... Clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep ... Clowns will eat me.

If you understand that shirt, then you're one of us.

Which parrot do you like best?
Since I think Gromit sneaked that question in, I'll end here before I get myself in trouble.

 

 
Text Copyright © 2003-2005 by Susan Heyboer O'Keefe. Art Copyright © by the respective illustrators. All rights reserved.
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