I’ve been a huge fan of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith for many years – I wrote about The Stinky Cheese Man back in 2007 – so I’m more than a little star-struck that their words are now gracing the virtual pages of my blog! Creative collaborations, when done right, are so perfectly intertwined that it’s difficult to identify when one artist ends and the other begins. That’s the way with Jon and Lane; to me, The Stinky Cheese Man, as well as their other collaborative projects, make sense only when you’re looking at Lane’s illustrations while you’re reading Jon’s words.
So naturally, I couldn’t interview them separately! Friends, I’d love for you to meet Jon and Lane. Enjoy!
Q: What’s your earliest memory of being creative? (And did you get into trouble for it?)
Lane Smith: My brother Shane and I were always making little books, building forts, making music. Unlike today’s kids we never called it Being Creative, we called it Goofing Off.
Jon Scieszka: That would have been the time I melted a vinyl record in the oven, bent it into a fluted bowl shape, then spray-painted it gold. And I did not get in trouble because I did it in Cub Scouts for Mother’s Day. And because it was so beautiful.
Q: What are your never-ending sources for inspiration?
LS: Our cats. We have two crazy Persians and they look like something out of Seuss. I am constantly doodling them. Last year I collected all of the various doodles, scanned them, and printed them out as a little book for my wife. I called it Cat Scans.
JS: Listening – really listening, without interrupting, without coaching, without editing – to what kids say.
Q: Do you have a favorite, most memorable reader response to your work?
LS: When I made It’s a Book, I got angry responses for referring to my foolish jackass character as a jackass. They chastised me for ‘such an insensitive book.’ My next book, Grandpa Green, received many heart-wrenching responses from folks thanking me for ‘such a sensitive book.’
JS: I have a letter from a kid that I reread to myself at least once a month. It says: “Dear Mister Sceisxkzva, Our teacher says we haf to write a letter to our most favorit author. But Roald Dahl is dead. So I am writing to you.” It is both wonderful praise . . . and a wonderful humbling reality check.
Q: What’s the first book that moved you?
LS: In fourth or fifth grade I remember being moved by a book called Follow My Leader by James Garfield. That same summer, The Big Book of Go Karts. It moved me across the yard and through the neighbor’s screen door.
JS: The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson. Even when I read it today, I’m worried that nothing is going to come up. Everyone except the little guy is so sure (and kind of mean about it). But the very best part of the book is that when the whopping giant carrot does come up, our little guy doesn’t gloat about being right, he doesn’t razz anybody, he just wheels off his obvious rightness in a wheelbarrow with beautiful Zen calm.
Q: Is there a book you wish you had written or illustrated?
LS: Where the Wild Things Are is about as perfect a picture book as you can get. Maybe that one.
Q: Share with us your favorite characteristic in your creative partner!
LS: His sense of humor.
JS: I love Lane’s ability to take a story and make it wilder, funnier, smarter, and better with images.
Q: What’s the best professional or personal advice you’ve ever been given?
LS: Name a day. My amazing wife is always giving me advice: “You want to use THAT typeface?” (Did I mention she is my art director as well?)
JS: Sit down and write.
Q: If you could choose any other occupation, what would you be? Why?
LS: I can’t do anything else. I’m serious.
JS: I wouldn’t. (And no, Lane and I didn’t see each other’s answers before we answered this question). This is the best occupation in the universe. I get paid to make up stories, make people laugh, make people think. It’s wonderful. It’s frustrating. It’s impossible. It’s absolute magic.
I think any time you can describe your profession like that – wonderful, frustrating, impossible, and absolute magic – you’re doing the right thing. Thank you so much, Lane and Jon, for adding a hefty dose of cool to Design Mom today! You’ve always been one of my favorite duos, so who knew I could admire you even more?
Photo of Lane and Jon back in 2004 borrowed from here.
You can find the entire Author Interview Series here.