New Voice: Tommy Greenwald on Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide To Not Reading

Tommy Greenwald is the first-time author of Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide To Not Reading (Roaring Brook, 2011).

Charlie Joe Jackson is proud to say that he’s never read an entire book from cover to cover. Sure, he’s glanced at the first chapter and last chapters and maybe even read the flap copy, but when it comes to actually reading what’s in the middle, Charlie counts on his friend Timmy McGibney to do the reading for him in exchange for an ice cream sandwich.

But when Timmy decides that his price has gone up to three ice cream sandwiches, Charlie Joe Jackson is faced with two very unappealing options: let himself be blackmailed or read an entire book. What’s an enterprising non-reader to do?

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

This one’s easy. My protagonist, Charlie Joe Jackson, is a literal combination of my three kids: Charlie, Joe and Jack. They’re all in high school now, but in elementary and middle school they all hated to read. Hated it!

I’d always loved reading, even as a child, so it was extremely frustrating for me to drag them into a bookstore or library and watch them kick and scream and moan the whole time.

So when I sat down to write a book for kids, I knew it had to be one that even the most hardcore reluctant readers might respond to. And then I thought, what better way to attract non-readers than a book for kids who hate books? And when I decided it should be “written” by the narrator, the name Charlie Joe Jackson immediately popped into my head.

All the other characters in the book are based on friends of my kids’. The parents are based on myself (sloppy) and my wife (perfect). And the dogs, Moose and Coco, are modeled after and named after my own dogs, Moose and Coco (who are thanked in the acknowledgments).

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

This is been an interesting process. I do not naturally have the self-promotion gene, and I’m not a huge social network guy, so I’ve really had to re-train my personality to gear up for this whole author thing.

I’ve done all the right things, I think – I facebook, I tweet, I blog (occasionally), I have a website – but it’s a real effort.

And I still basically feel like there’s a great big world of children’s book authors out there, and they’re all best friends, blogging and commenting and hanging out, and I’m kind of on the outside looking in.

Not to mention I see your online presence and become completely intimidated at how you’ve mastered this whole gig! Amazing.

But, the awesome thing is that as I dip my toe in to social network, I realize how great everyone is out there. How supportive, and friendly, and communicative.

The Elevensies website is a great example of a found community from all corners of the country who just all of a sudden have bonded over this intense experience. And it’s great.

So, it’s both a chore and a pleasure.

My advice to other writers about to launch is simply this: dive in. the water’s cold at first, but you’ll get used to it. And after a little while, it will feel great.