We interviewed Jeff Kinney, author of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series at Le Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan recently.
Are your books based on your childhood?
Some of the stories in my books are based on my childhood. Like my friend and I tried to make the world’s biggest snowball and we ended up tearing up his lawn just like Greg and Riley do in the book. Some of those stories are definitely from my life.
Do you have any kids and if you do, do they fight like Roger and Greg?
I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old and they don’t really fight. Actually, they seem like brothers who love each other very much. They’re always laying across each other and playing video games and stuff like that. So I think they’re going to grow up close.
Are all your favorite colors based on the color of your books?
No, not really. We’re just kind of using up the colors of the rainbow. We’re about to run out of good colors. You know it turns out there’s not so many actual colors. Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple and then it starts getting kind of shaky after that.
Who is your favorite author and what really strikes you about their work?
My favorite author as a kid was Judy Blume and I like “Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing.” What I like about her is that she wrote ordinary stories that there’s no magic or anything like that. No special effects in her stories, but they were just good stories. I really like her. She’s my favorite.
If you could write a new series, what would it be about?
I’m not sure, actually. I’ve been thinking about that every time I think I have a good idea, a few weeks later I think it’s not so good. I think I’m going to stick with Greg Heffley for awhile.
How did you like middle school?
I didn’t like middle school much at all. I thought it was scary. They called it junior high where I lived. And it felt really different. It didn’t feel as safe as elementary school to me. I’ve been into a few middle schools these days and I found that they feel really different than the middle school that I went to.
Have you ever thought you’d become famous or in a movie like a major motion picture, like making it?
No, I definitely didn’t. I just wanted to get a book published and one thing led to another. Now it’s four years after I published my first book and this is the second movie. So things are happening really fast. And sometimes maybe too fast.
Were you a popular kid?
I was sort of middle-of-the-road. I wasn’t especially popular. I was sort of an invisible kid in a way. I don’t think that people have a clear memory of me because I didn’t make a big splash.
Were you ever bullied by a girl like Patty Farrell?
I remember there was one girl in elementary school who seemed kind of scary. But I don’t think I was in her sight. So, luckily I stayed out of her way.
Was Rowley one of your best friends?
No, Rowley is a fictional character. But I’ve had good friends before and some of them were a little bit like Rowley.
What inspired you to write a diary-type book and not a novel?
I wanted to write it from the point of view of a kid and I wanted to make it so that it felt like there were daily installments. So I didn’t have to write a big long plot and chapters and all that. So I just wanted to have it feel like a realistic book.
Is there a message in the novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t think so. If there’s any message, I just want kids to turn into readers.
Where did you get the idea of the Cheese Touch?
Back in elementary school, there was something called cooties. Do they have that? Where they pass it from one person to another, and I thought, for middle school, I wanted to have a real scary version of cooties. So that’s where the Cheese Touch came from.
What advice would you give to Greg?
I would say he should learn to laugh at himself and he should learn to not grow up in too big of a hurry because it’s fun to be a kid.
How did you get the names of the characters?
You know I save that to the very end. I always knew that Greg was going to be Greg, but the other characters, I wrote down a bunch of names in the four years that I was writing down ideas for the first book, for Rodrick, have a real-sounding name and for Rowley, I wanted a friendlysoundingname, Manny I thought that was a fun name because it makes him seem almost like a man because he’s the littlest guy. They came very late.
In the Do-It-Yourself book on page 2 — one of the questions was, “If you were stranded on an island, what is the number one thing you would have with you?” What would be the number one thing you would want with you?
That’s interesting. I think maybe a satellite phone to get me off the island. The Marines say you should bring a mirror. But I would just call somebody up and say come get me.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I just try to come up with jokes. I’m always trying to think of what a good joke might be. And I type into my phone now and I look at all the jokes I have and see if the jokes can be lumped together into some sort of plot. That’s my approach.
Did you give any of the actors advice?
Yes, I tried to tell the actors to be as kind as they can to the fans that they meet because sometimes a fan might approach them and maybe they’re not in the mood to be friendly. But for that fan, that’s a really big moment. They’re going to get to meet an actor from the movie. So I tell them to try and be as gracious as they can.
Was Fregley a boy in school so you made him a nerd in the book?
Fregley is one character where there is no relation to anybody in real life. He is made up completely.
In “Dog Days,” did you really get a dog in the past?
I did. When I was a kid we got two of them. Now we have a new dog at home who is causing all sorts of havoc in our household. So it’s tougher than I remember. I’ll put it to you that way.
Which book is most popular, and are you coming out with a new one?
I am going to come out with a new one. Which book is most popular, I think the Red One will always be the most popular because it was the first. But the last book is always popular too.
Did you also get blamed like Greg did?
Yeah, I think so, but sometimes I got blamed and I deserved to get blamed. I remember this one time I spent a half-hour in the bathroom flicking water at the mirror. Just tons and tons of specks of water at the mirror. And then my brothers and sisters told on me and they said Jeff flicked water all over the mirror. And I said, no, I didn’t, no I didn’t. My father stuck up for me. He said he’s just probably washing his hands and then when my father went in there and saw the mirror covered in water pellets, he realized then I did cover the mirror with water. So sometimes I got into trouble and I deserved it.
Why does Greg love video games so much?
Greg is like most boys where he would be happy spending a nice summer day inside playing video games in the dark. I think that’s funny about kids. Video games are almost too good nowadays. They’re too fun. They take you away from other things like reading.
Did you use to write in a journal or diary?
I did not as a kid write in a journal or a diary, but I did in my 20s and 30s.