June 12th, 2020
I asked Jason where he would like to chat:
It’s not a typical day in the middle school cafeteria. Sure, a lot of the same lunchtime stuff is going on. Kids talking loudly, laughing and hollering, throwing paper airplanes and horsing around. Quentin, the school moocher, is making his rounds, mooching chocolate chip cookies off all the other kids. What makes this not a typical lunch period is the rumors. Weird stuff’s been happening at school today. Something got into the cafeteria this morning and ate all the tater tots, making for some very disappointed kids at lunchtime. I hear some giant animal got into the kitchen and scarfed down all the tots. A bear? A lion? Do they even like to eat tater tots? No one knows. Then there’s the puddles of orange slime. Oozing and sticky, in random places all over the school. I stepped in a puddle of that nasty stuff by accident and it took forever to get it off my shoe. Then there’s that weird kid Brad who draws all the time. He’s been acting stranger than normal. Right now, he’s over at the cafeteria windows, talking and waving his hands around, like he’s having a conversation with somebody outside. But the thing is, nobody’s there! He’s talking to thin air. What a weirdo. I shake my head, block out all this crazy stuff, and take a swig of chocolate milk. I have an interview to do here and I need to focus.
Laura Mae: What inspired you to enter the world of writing?
Jason Lady: I don’t know if any one thing inspired me to enter the writing world. I’m that person who reads books or watches movies and can’t help but get inspired to write my own stories.
L: How long have you been writing for?
J: I’ve been writing in some way or another as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid, I drew my own comic strips that starred my stuffed animals. In elementary school through middle school I drew and wrote my own comic books that starred all my friends as superheroes. In high school I wrote my first novel-length story, a parody of Robin Hood that starred all my friends. I was a military kid and we moved a lot. When I made new friends, writing them all into my stories really helped us bond quickly and have a lot of fun. I moved away from drawing because it took me too long to tell a story that way. I realized I could write a lot faster than I could draw!
L: What are you currently working on?
J: I’m currently working on the third book in a series of middle grade fantasy adventures called the Magic Pen series. Each book stars a different middle schooler who is given a mysterious magic pen that brings everything they draw to life. The first book is called Monster Problems and stars a sixth grader who draws a monster to get his bratty little brother. Then he has to figure out how to erase the monster problem before it’s too late! The second book is called Super Problems and comes out December 17th, 2020! The third book doesn’t have a title yet. I should probably think of one!
L: Are there any books or authors who inspire your work?
J: Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar really informs my writing, with the silly humor and the wacky events happening. One of the things I love about writing middle grade books is that I can insert a lot of silliness. Adults and teenagers can be so extremely serious. Middle schoolers still have a wonderful sense of the absurd and can appreciate funny stuff.
L: What has been the most challenging for you so far?
J: I think balancing the rest of my life with writing has been a big challenge. I work full-time so I don’t have a lot of time or energy left over for writing. When I get home the last thing I feel like doing is stare at a computer screen and do any kind of thinking. So time management is pretty important. Staying motivated is also a challenge. Being a writer is a very self-motivated pursuit. Unless you have an agent or an editor, there’s nobody giving you deadlines or checking up on you. It’s all self-driven. You have to impose deadlines and set milestones for yourself. It helps to have encouraging people in your life who can hold you accountable.
L: What is your favorite writing trope? Least favorite?
J: My favorite writing trope is last-minute dramatic rescues. I love them. Never fails to put a tingle down my spine. My least favorite trope is heroes who have everything come easily to them and win without even sweating. It’s more interesting to read when the hero has to struggle to win.
L: Besides writing, what is it you like to do?
J: My wife and I are fans of the Cleveland Indians and we love going to baseball games. We have a goal of visiting all the MLB stadiums. We’ve visited about a quarter of them. I also enjoy action-adventure and science fiction movies, and hanging out with my friends.
L: What would you say is your favorite book or series of all time? Why?
J: As far as a book series that made a big impact on me when I read it as a kid, that would be The Chronicles of Narnia. When I read it, I’d never read anything that epic in scope and full of so much wonder and imagination. And as a lifelong reader of comic books, I’d say Chris Claremont’s 17-year run on Uncanny X-Men was also influential. It ignited my imagination and taught me how characterization can co-exist with action and adventure.
L: Are there any regrets you have or anything you wish you knew sooner?
J: I got involved with my local Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators chapter several years after I got out of college and I wish I’d done it sooner. I got to learn a lot at their workshops and meet some great people at their conferences and critique groups. I wasted a few years flailing around when I could’ve been moving forward. Taking advantage of those kinds of resources, whether it’s an organization like SCBWI or programs at your local library, is crucial for a writer.
L: In a brief statement, have you self-published or traditionally published? What was your experience?
J: I’m traditionally published through an independent publisher called Black Rose Writing. Their team is very organized, responsive, and easy to work with. They walk you through a process that is easy to understand and follow. I’m grateful for the opportunities they’ve brought me.
L: What are you currently reading?
J: A science fiction novel called Linesman by S.K. Dunstall. It’s refreshing because it’s the rare sci-fi story that isn’t set in a dystopian future or about intergalactic war. Also, the Marvel comics series Sam Wilson: Captain America, about the man who used to be The Falcon taking on the mantle of Captain America and trying to live up the legend while also making it his own.
L: What genre do you typically read?
J: I typically read action-adventure, science fiction, fantasy, and the occasional biography, spy thriller, or historical fiction novel. I also read comic books.
L: What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Any rituals or ‘must-haves’?
J: I don’t really have a typical day of writing. I am more of a seasonal writer. I can go months without writing anything new. The ideas just percolate in my brain for a while. Once I have an idea and I’ve worked out the main conflict and who the major characters are, I am off and running and burrow into it for months until the draft is done. One must-have is a mug of black coffee close at hand and music on my earbuds!
L: Any songs or type of music you need to listen to when you write?
J: When I write I always pop in my earbuds and turn on Spotify. My two favorite bands are U2 and Dire Straits so I play a LOT of their music when I write. I also play 80s, jazz, and epic movie soundtrack music.
L: What’s a word or phrase that people say that always irritates you?
J: I can’t stand it when people say “in this moment”. I feel like I read it and hear it everywhere and I can’t even explain why it irritates me, it just does.
L: Who is your favorite literary character and why?
J: Reepicheep, the gallant warrior mouse from The Chronicles of Narnia. He’s a noble mouse with a sword. What’s not to like?
L: Where would you say you get most of your inspiration?
J: My wife is a prolific reader and is not only a great editor, but also great at ideas. She came up with the magic pen idea when I was stuck for story ideas and I took that and ran with it. When I’m writing and run into a “wall” in the plot, she helps me think it through. We have a lot of fun talking through ideas. I’m lucky to have her!
L: For aspiring writers out there, what would be the best advice you want them to know?
J: I have three pieces of advice for aspiring writers: 1) Persevere! It’s a long-distance run, not a sprint. I wrote Monster Problems in 2007 and it got published in 2019. I sent out countless queries and got countless rejections. You can’t take any of it personally and you’ve got to keep going and never give up. 2) Find positive people who will encourage you and stick with them. Ignore the naysayers. Network with other writers and find a critique group. I’ve been in the same critique group for years and they’ve been crucial in helping refine my writing and are great moral support, too! 3) Take the time to polish one of your stories so it’s ready to query. I see a lot of writers work on lots of different things at once and never finish anything or move forward in the process. Just focus, get one story ready to query, and while you’re querying you can work on your other stories. Otherwise you’ll just spin your wheels.
Jason is an army brat who grew up moving around a total of seven times on military bases from Germany to Fort Knox, Kentucky. From a family of avid readers, Jason was encouraged to read fantasy and science fiction, and write his own stories and comic strips from an early age. Jason wrote his first novel-length story in high school–a parody of Robin Hood that starred all his friends, and got passed around on the bus and read on the way to cross-country races. When he’s not writing, Jason works in Human Resources. Jason has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University and a Masters of Education from Cleveland State University. He is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. In his free time Jason can be found talking about and enjoying 1980’s music and popular culture, watching Marvel movies, working on visiting all the MLB baseball stadiums, and following the Cleveland Indians. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and many great friends. His first novel, Monster Problems, was accepted to the 2020 Ohioana Library Association Book Festival. The prequel, Super Problems, comes out December 17, 2020.
Monster Problems – Sixth-grader Brad makes the mistake of drawing instead of paying attention in class. When Brad’s parents ground him from drawing, his bratty little brother Daley rubs it in. Later that night, Brad is surprised when a mysterious crow delivers a pen to his bedroom window. Missing his beloved drawing and frustrated with his brother, Brad uses the pen to draw a Daley-Destroyer, a giant slimy green creature that he envisions “getting” Daley. To Brad’s surprise, the pen is a magic pen, and the Daley-Destroyer comes to life, just as he imagined it, slime and all, and starts going after Daley! To makes things worse, only he and Daley can see it! Can Brad erase his monster problem before it’s too late?
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