Friday, July 4, 2014

Busting out of your niche: mini-interview with writer Eric A. Kimmel



Sorry, but that’s what comes to my mind when I think of Eric Kimmel. 

Creepy, as in the very best kind of creepy Jewish books:  ghosts, ghouls, goblins and all things paranormal. 

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins kind of creepy.

Gershon’s Monster kind of creepy. 

Jack and the Giant Barbecue kind of creepy.

Huh?  Jack and the… giant… barbecue?

Check it out:


Sure, Eric is the undisputed champion of creepy Jewish kidlit, but if that sounds like he’s stuck in a niche, think again.  He’s not just about creepy… or just about Jewish books, as you’ll see. 

Way beyond creepy

Indeed, Eric Kimmel may be one of the most diverse kids’ writers working today.

What other writer could turn out a story about the Jewish Golem legend one day… and a tale about the African Anansi legend the next?


Or shift from a story about the Jewish new year… to The Three Little Tamales?

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Or another Jewish new year’s story (how many does he have in him, anyway?)… to a fun retelling of The Gingerbread Man.

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Did I mention Joha Makes a Wish, a retelling of stories popular in the Arab world…?


Just how many books has Eric written, anyway? 

Wikipedia says more than 50, but if you count some of his unpublished and lesser-known ebooks, it may well be closer to 100.

About those ebooks, Eric says, “These stories are either out-of-print or never were in print. They’re still my favorites. The Tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Asher and the Capmakers, American Leprechaun, Snot Boy, and Magic, Unlimited!

(Note from me:  ignore the cheesy, self-published looking covers… I’m sure they’re all terrific stories!)

The Interview

I felt honoured when Eric agreed to join us here and answer a few questions about his incredible repertoire and his life’s work in kids’ literature. 

As always, the first two questions are standard ones I ask all writers and illustrators… and the third is something special.  Happily, he tolerated my sneaking in a fourth “half” question at the end.

WriteKidsBooks (WKB):  How is a kids' book different from an adult book?

Eric A. Kimmel (EAK):  Children's life experiences are different from those of adults. They inhabit a different world. The challenges they face are different. A good children's book accepts children as they are and acknowledges the validity of their world. The writer's job is to tell a story. Don't preach. Allow children to solve their own problems.  [emphasis mine]

Also, children still have a sense of wonder. Magic exists—or at least children believe it does. Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland have a incredible intensity because they could be real. Could you fall down a hole or fly out a window to another place? Grimm's Fairy Tales were not imaginary stories to me when I was eight year old. Winnie The Pooh becomes a different book to children who believe that their stuffed animals have lives of their own. What does my Teddy Bear do and where does he go when I'm not around? 

I believe one of the reasons I've been able to write successfully for children is that I never saw much advantage in growing up. I still feel that way.

WKB:  What is your favourite children's book of all time?

EAK:  Grimm's Fairy Tales. The Grosset Junior Library edition with the Fritz Kredl illustrations. I read my copy to pieces. It haunted my dreams and filled my imagination when I was in the third grade.

WKB:  While you're writing, who do you visualize as your reader - the kid who's sitting curled up with the finished book?

EAK:  I visualize me when I was in elementary school. I write for the child I was. Maybe that's why I never had overwhelming commercial success. My books are odd. I was an odd kid.

WKB:  (Bonus question!) Out of all your many books, which was the easiest / most fun to write?

image EAK:  They were all fun. Some of my favorites are Three Samurai Cats, Castle of the Cats, and Grizz! They're out-of-print, but they still represent my best work. My self-published ebooks are pretty good, too. They were so odd that I could never find a publisher to take them. I eventually published them myself and put them on Amazon. Look for Magic, Unlimited! and American Leprechaun.

How to be more like Eric:

As a writer who is self-publishing, and interacting with many other self-publishing writers, it’s fascinating to hear such an accomplished storyteller admit that some stories are just so “weird” that a publisher won’t touch them, no matter how many books you’ve published.

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In other words… they may never accept your story, but that doesn’t mean your fans won’t read it and love it.

Be Like Eric #1:  If publishers don’t want it, publish it yourself.  Period.  There’s no shame in it.

The other thing we can learn from Eric:  don’t be afraid to stray from your niche.  Expand your horizons.  Write about golems, tamales… whatever grabs your attention is probably going to grab children’s imagination as well.

There’s this idea that readers will be confused if you write too many things, if you seem to be “all over the place.”  I think Eric’s success disproves that handily.

Be Like Eric #2:  Don’t worry about confusing your readers… just write great stories.

Oh, here’s a third lesson.  Listen to what kids are saying; answer their questions.  Hopefully, you’ll have fun doing it.

To read more Eric’s his creative process, the things that inspire him, and why he writes what and how he does, check out the lively Q&A on his own site.


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