Mini-Interview with Matt de la Peña

MattThis last week, Fairbanks hosted the statewide Alaska Library Association’s annual conference.  It was all manner of crazy for me, which was a bit of a surprise given that I’m not a librarian.  But such is the life of a writer.

One of the highlights of this conference (which I didn’t actually attend) was the presence of this year’s Newberry Medal winning author, Matt de la Peña (Just for extra cool points, Matt was the first Latino recipient of this award.  For even more cool points, this same book, Last Stop on Market Street was also awarded a 2016 Caldecott Honor AND a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book.  How cool is that??)  While he was up here, Matt took the time to visit schools and libraries around Fairbanks, and I took the time to stalk him a little.

The first time I went to see him was at my son’s elementary school, where he talked about reading and writing before the entire school- plus me and my two preschool babies.  But I spent a lot more time chasing my 18 month old up and down the halls than I did in the gym actually listening to Matt.  So that was a bit of a bust.

But that selfsame evening, he was also presenting at the city library and I basically ran out on my family to attend.  (Sorry, honey! *peels away, cackling*)

I arrived right on time, which in Alaska means I was super early.  Matt was sitting back by a book display and I wandered back and forth in front P1070565 (2)of him until he commented on my super cool boots- and who can blame him?  We chattered about our kids and writing and the difference between Fairbanks and Brooklyn weather (and whether he was fine with my writing about him on my blog), and then he popped up to start the program.  It was so perfectly natural that I took heart.  Successful authors are people! Like me! Whoa! (My middle child had told me the week before that authors were actually a literal machine that made books and I think I may have believed him more than I should have.)

I sat in the front row with my notes, clipboard, notebook, and favorite pen (the lady next to me asked if I was a reporter- hahaha no) and happily scribbled away throughout the program, a regular Lois Lane.

(It was a fun listen and Matt even read, for the first time ever aloud in public, the first chapter of a book he just submitted to his editor.  The full program was recorded and will be posted through the Alaska OWL program.  I’ll post the link once it goes up, so remember to check back!)

Afterward, I still had a few questions that didn’t seem appropriate to the whole group.  So I did what any girl looking for an excuse to talk to the author did.  I shelled out for a book (score!) and stood resolutely at the very end of the autograph line. ‘Cause I’m classy like that!  And since he’s so generous with his time, he was (or at least had the good grace to pretend to be) happy to answer my questions in what may possibly be the miniest author interview ever.

(Disclaimer: these are his words as well as I could write them down.  He talks faster than I can write, and I was trying to actually make eye contact and be human here and there, but this is the gist of it.)

Jill: What’s your typical writing day like?

Matt: I get up with my daughter at 5:45, then take her in to my wife.  My wife works all day so this is their time together.  I write from 6:30 to three at my office, and then from three to six, I’m in dad mode.  Of course, this all gets totally disrupted when I’m on the road.  And I’m superstitious about writing, so I have all these writing rituals.  Like, I gotta wear headphones, even when I’m not listening to music, because I wrote this really good scene once wearing headphones.  *laughs*  While I’ve been here in Fairbanks, I’ve been going to the Alaska Roasting Company… mostly because they have good internet, and my hotel room DOESN’T.  So now it’s become another ritual.  I’m down there every day.

Jill: (After joking about stalking him some more at the coffee shop: ) How long did you write with an eye to publication before successful traditional publication?

Matt: Hm.  Well, I started in grad school, for probably at least a year, and then it was another year after that… Yeah, about two years.  I actually got an agent pretty quick, but it took him a while… Took him about a year to sell my first novel.

Jill: How did you find your agent?

Matt: *grins, grabs the signed book* Okay, I got a trick for you.  Find books that are like yours, and then you go to the acknowledgements page.  *scans page*  And… every… one… THERE.  See, that’s my agent.  Steve Malk.  Every author thanks their agent, so it’s like a cheat sheet right in the back of the book.

Jill: What is something that I can do to improve my odds of traditional publication?

Matt: You’ve gotta go to the national SCBWI conference down in LA this summer.  *laughs at my horror face*  Seriously, it’s great.  And everyone there’s just like you and there are agents and editors all over the place.

(Note: I think he mentioned the SCBWI conference specifically because we had been talking about the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators earlier so he knew they were on my radar.  I would guess that any larger writer’s conference would do in a pinch.)

Jill: But… but southern California.  In the summer.

Matt: It’s not that bad!

Jill: You grew up there!

Matt: Seriously, it’s not.  And you’ll meet tons of people.

Jill: *groans* I know…

Matt: *laughs* I get it.  But we’re all introverts.  I know it’s expensive and crowded and stuff, but it’s worth it.  Seriously.  Go.

I whined more about the weather and about claustrophobia, but he held fast.  So I guess I’ll start collecting nickels now and maybe some day, I’ll go.


Readers! I’m curious now- have you ever met a famous author? Did you ask questions? How was it?  Tell me about it in the comments!  I wanna know!