Gennifer Choldenko

Frequently Asked Questions

Getting the News

Stupid Author Photos

 
Getting the News
Q: Looking back, how did it feel to get the phone call from the Newbery Committee?
The weeks leading up to the 2005 Newbery announcement were nerve-wracking for me.  Every day I would get an email from someone I knew saying “Did you know Al Capone Does My Shirts just won our Mock Newbery award?” Or “Wow we’re so excited for you. We think you have a chance to win the Newbery this year!” Since there are no early indicators of whether a book is up for consideration for a Newbery medal, I knew that none of these people had any real idea if my book had even a rat’s chance of winning. But knowing something in your head and trying to convince your heart not to get your hopes up are two different things entirely. It was a full-time job trying to keep myself in check.
I wasn’t the only person having difficulty with this either. My editor, who was at ALA, had had so many people approach her saying: “Good Luck! We think it will be you this year,” that the night before the announcement she went to bed at eleven pm and got up at eleven-thirty p.m. and that was it for sleep for her for the whole night.
I, on the other hand, had a great night’s sleep. All of my life I’ve been a dreamer. I couldn’t even get a novel accepted for publication and I was driving around in my car practicing my Newbery acceptance speech. In my head I have won every award in the world, I’ve been the only female President of the United States, I’ve been a network news anchor and I’ve sung with Tina Turner too. I’m used to dreaming big dreams. What I’m not used to is having them come true.
When the phone rang at 4:15 a.m. in the morning, it was the biggest shock I’ve ever had in my life. Because a good friend of mine was the author of a Caldecott Honor Book, I knew awards phone calls came early, but when the phone rang, I literally could not believe it. I lay in bed giving myself a little talking to. “Now you’re imagining the phone ringing. You are really going around the bend, girl.”
Eventually the phone stopped ringing. A minute later it began again. Whoever it was would not give up.
It was my husband who finally answered the phone. “It’s Susan Faust,” he told me. “Chairman of the Newbery Committee. She wants to talk to you.” I’d like to tell you that I was completely poised and had many erudite comments to make to the Chairman of the 2005 Newbery Committee at 4:19 that morning, but when she said Al Capone Does My Shirts won the Newbery Honor all I could say was “Oh my God” over and over again. It was very embarrassing, but the truth is: in the end I am always ready for disappointment. Until that morning I had very little experience with having my dreams come true.
Q: Now that your Newbery Honor year is over, what do you think about the honor?
I went to a public school in a lower middle class neighborhood in Southern California. I loved my school library with its old books and its old book smell. I loved running my hands along the bindings of the books trying to figure out which book would be as special to me as Charlotte’s Web or Across Five Aprils, Island of the Blue Dolphins, or A Wrinkle in Time.
The one thing I learned somewhere along the line was the books that had the Newbery stickers were usually better than the others, and so I always checked out the books with the silver or gold seals. Every time I think about Al Capone Does My Shirts winning the Newbery Honor, I imagine some kid pulling that red cover off the shelf of his school library, running his hand across the silver seal and saying, “I’m going to check this one out.”
I still can’t believe that my own quirky brain produced a book that earned a Newbery Honor. What an amazing world this is!
Q: Some writers get what is called "Newberyitis." After producing a Newbery Medal or a Newbery Honor book, they have a great deal of trouble writing the next book. Did this happen to you?
I’m happy to report it did not. After my kids and my husband, writing is my biggest love. When the pressures of the world get too much for me, I hide out with my keyboard. Life is hard. Writing is always a blast.
Q: When can we expect to see your next novel?
As it stands now, I have two novels due out in 2018. One is the fourth and final Al Capone book. I would tell you the title, but then my editor might break my leg. Since I’m rather fond of both my legs, the title will remain a mystery for a little while longer. I will say it is a very exciting book to write so I am hoping it will be a very exciting book to read. One of the characters misbehaves so terribly that she shocked my editor. I am right now giving my character a big talking to, hoping she will take it down a notch, but so far she is refusing.
The other novel will be illustrated—which means it might not actually be out until Spring 2019 as the illustrator will need time to perform his or her magic. But I am hoping for 2018. It’s called 1/3 Nerd and I think it is my funniest novel so far.
Q: Any other books in the works?
I’m thrilled to announce a new picture book illustrated by Dan Santat called Dad and the Dinosaur due out March 2018. I wrote it because my husband always complains that so many picture books depict dads as doofus characters. My husband, my brother, my cousin, my best friends are all loving fathers. I wanted to write a book which reflected the kind of dads in my life. 
Q: Do you do a lot of speaking?
Yes, I’ve done a lot of speaking at schools, libraries, and conferences. Speaking is a different part of the author equation. Some might say it is the opposite of writing, but I believe there are some important similarities. A good speaker needs to reach deep down inside herself for the courage to speak from her heart. A good speaker has to be extremely generous and tell her own truth. She has to both entertain her audience and leave each person with a tiny piece of herself. When I read an amazing book, I know that the author has given me a part of her soul. A really terrific speaker does the same thing but in a very different way.
 
       

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