Dan Gutman was born in a log cabin in Illinois and used to write by candlelight with a piece of chalk on a shovel. Oh, wait a minute. That was Abraham Lincoln. Actually, Dan Gutman grew up in New Jersey and he writes on a laptop computer.
When he was a boy, Dan didn't like to read, and his books are most popular with reluctant readers today. You may be familiar with his My Weird School series, Baseball Card Adventures series, or some of his other books for young readers, such as The Kid Who Ran for President or The Million Dollar Shot.
Recently we caught up with Dan to ask him some questions about his writing, books and of course, audiobooks. He also dishes details about his personal life, including his celebrity crush and a hilarious story about the worst job he's ever had!
Recorded Books: Describe a typical day in the life of Dan Gutman.
Dan Gutman: I wake up around 7, and the first thing I do is make a cup of tea for my wife Nina. Then I check my email and do a post for my Facebook fan page and Twitter. I'll write for a few hours in the morning, my most productive time. If it's a nice day, I'll do my writing outside on my laptop. After lunch, I might take a bike ride in Central Park or take a walk to run some errands. I'll spend the late afternoon doing email, paperwork, phone calls, research, and other business stuff. In the evening, my wife and I love to go to plays, concerts, talks, or watch TV. I go to sleep around midnight. Pretty boring, huh?
RB: What do you like to do when you're not writing?
DG: Between my work and my family I have very little free time. But I like to ride my bike, go to the movies, travel, listen to music, play my guitar, things like that.
RB: Favorite childhood memory
DG: Okay, I was playing left field for The Galante Giants. We were sponsored by The Galante Funeral Home, by the way, in Newark NJ. Anyway, I was playing left because I was lousy and they had to stick me in there in the last inning. There was a runner on third with one out. The batter hit a high fly ball to shallow left. The shortstop couldn't get it. I caught the ball (which was a miracle in itself). The runner on third tried to tag up. Everybody screamed, "Home it!" I had a good arm, so I whipped the ball home and threw a strike to the catcher. The runner was out by ten feet. Everybody was pounding me on the back. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
RB: Favorite author or book to read as a child
DG: None! I hated to read when I was a kid. That's why I think I relate to reluctant readers so well.
RB: What's the worst job you've ever had?
DG: One summer I worked in a gas station. I could pump gas, but when somebody pulled into the station and asked me to check their oil, I didn't have a clue. I remember one time this guy asked me to check his oil, so I opened up the hood (which was tough enough by itself!) and just stood in front of his car for a minute or so. Then I closed the hood and told him the oil was fine. Ha! He never knew the difference. I hope I didn't ruin his car.
RB: Favorite place you've traveled
DG: It's a tie between Tokyo and Egypt.
RB: Celebrity crush
DG: As a kid: Dorothy Hamill. In my twenties: Karen Allen. Now: Sofia Vergara.
RB: What's on your bucket list?
DG: Travel the world. Do a mic drop. Have a bunch of guys pour champagne over my head. Save somebody's life. Ride my bike in my 80s. Have one of my books made into a blockbuster movie, and have My Weird School become an animated TV show.
RB: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DG: A photographer
RB: How and when did you know you wanted to be an author?
DG: I was a psychology major in college. I never took any writing classes. After I finished college, I didn’t know what career path to take. I didn't want to be a psychologist. But I always enjoyed writing letters to my friends, so I decided to give writing a try.
RB: Why children’s books?
DG: I spent about ten years writing for adults. Then my son Sam was born, and I started reading a lot of children's books for the first time since I was a kid. I thought, "Let's try writing for kids!" And as soon as I started writing for kids, I felt "This is what I'm GOOD at! This is what I should have been doing all along. And besides, none of my adult books sold.
RB: Where do you get your inspiration?
DG: I get my ideas from all different places: reading newspapers, watching TV, listening to the radio, listening to my own kids talk, and my own childhood. Sometimes I just make crazy stuff up. I try to come up with a "big idea." Like, I try to take an ordinary kid and put that kid into an extraordinary situation. A kid runs for president of the United States. A kid gets the chance to take one foul shot for a million dollars. A kid finds the most valuable baseball card in the world and discovers he has the power to travel through time with it. These are the kinds of stories I think kids can fantasize about.
RB: Any writing rituals?
DG: Before I sit down to write every day, I kill a chicken with my bare hands and smear its blood all over my body. Uh, no, no writing rituals.
RB: Pen, pencil, or keyboard?
DG: I might start out jotting down notes in pen on file cards. Then, after I have a rough outline, I write on a MacBook Pro.
RB: Do you have a pen name?
DG: Yes. My pen is named Herb.
RB: How many books have you written?
DG: I stopped counting at 120.
RB: Which is your favorite?
DG: Johnny Hangtime. And Race For the Sky is a close second. Two of my worst selling books.
RB: Does your Kid Who Ran for President series get more attention during presidential election?
DG: Oh yeah! Every four years there's a spike in sales because America goes crazy when we elect a new president, as you can see this year.
RB: My Weird School is one of your most well-known series. Do you have any unusual stories about when you were in school?
DG: When I was a kid, there was a girl in my class named Andrea Young, and she was a real smarty pants. That's why I named the girl in the series Andrea Young. I hope she never reads these books! By the way, I got the idea for the My Weird School series when my daughter Emma was in second grade. She was really enjoying the Junie B. Jones books, and I wanted to try a series for that age group. I thought it would be cool if there was something like Junie B. Jones told by a boy. Most of the books in My Weird School, you may have noticed, are dedicated to Emma. The first title, “Miss Daisy is Crazy,” came from the old song “Tutti Fruiti.” It goes, “Had a gal named Daisy, she almost drove me crazy.”
RB: Baseball Card Adventures is another one you’re known for. What’s your favorite baseball team?
DG: The Mets
RB: Are you planning to adapt any of your stories to the screen?
DG: I think some of my books WOULD make great movies or TV shows. Unfortunately, there's not much an author can do to make that happen. It's up to somebody in Hollywood to fall in love with a book and decide to make it into a movie. So if you happen to know Steven Speilberg personally, slip him one of my books!
RB: What was the first audiobook you listened to?
DG: I think it was Gary Paulsen's book "Hatchet."
RB: What do you think about your series being on audiobooks?
DG: I think it's cool. I love the idea that a new audience of readers is experiencing my stories in a different medium. I suspect that our brains process information differently when it comes in our ears instead of in our eyes. I'll take every reader I can get!
Libraries may also be interested to know that Recorded Books is currently running a special promotion for Dan Gutman's Baseball Card Adventures series. For more details, click here.