Diary of a Wimpy Kid Author Jeff Kinney Is Writing A Fun Next Chapter

To say that Jeff Kinney creates cool content that kids love is a massive understatement. Whether it’s his work with Poptropica or the hugely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, Jeff knows what kids like—and what parents approve of. We talked exclusively with Jeff at his home in Massachusetts about Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Poptropica, and why he’s in it for The Long Haul.

Jeff, I have to say that the impetus for this interview is personal. My daughter needed a book for school, and she is a reluctant reader. So when we went to the bookstore and she saw the new Wimpy Kid book was out, this was the first book that she requested.

That’s amazing! The ninth book came out in November. The response has been great. I thought this was the best book going out, and that feeling was validated when I was on the road and the kids said it was really cool. Barnes & Noble wrote that this was also the best Wimpy Kid book, so that was great for me. I have tried to improve my narrative writing. I never worried about it too much, because I like to write jokes. But I think that I achieved it with this book.

Above the doorway in your office is a plaque with numbers that relates to the jokes that you write in each book.

I need to write about 350 jokes per book, and that can be a struggle. Oftentimes, no jokes will come to me over the course of the day, and sometimes I have a flood of jokes come to me. I can’t control it at all, even when I try to control it. I went to Puerto Rico this year by myself in a really heavenly place, and I couldn’t come up with any jokes. It’s stressful not knowing when they’ll come.

How has your relationship grown with Greg over the span of nine books?

What I realized about Greg is that he’s having the human experience that everyone has. He’s not magical or special in any sort of way. He is just a kid going through life. As I keep writing, I’ll just keep writing about the different dimensions of the human experience and that’s exciting for me.

I have two techie kids and we are living in a techie world, which is why I think that Greg resonates so much with them. I think he really personifies today’s kids.

I think so, too. Everyone has a gadget in their hands now, and we do as adults, too. I was thinking of opening the next book with that, that Greg feels that mankind evolved into him. He’s totally unequipped to even step one foot outside; he couldn’t survive the night outside. In a way, that’s true, if you think about it. The universe is sort of stacked against us as human beings; we have no survival skills. I think that there’s something in the Bible about that, that we don’t have the talons or the shells on our backs or anything like that; we just have our wits. I think that Greg is the next evolution of humanity, for better or for worse.

When we toured your office, you said that the books have been translated into 45 languages. Could you ever have imagined that this would have happened?

I could not have imagined. I didn’t think it would be published. Everything beyond that point was surreal. I’ve traveled around the world; I’ve met three U.S. Presidents; I’ve gotten to do all these crazy things and it’s all because of these books.

It was interesting to find out that you also do Poptropica. The illustrations in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are straightforward, but Poptropica is so colorful and vibrant. I would think that plays to both sides of your artistic abilities.

Yeah, Poptropica is a totally different style from Wimpy Kid but they’re cartoons at heart, though. In Wimpy Kid, I don’t really need color but online you need color; kids won’t stay on a B&W site, but they’ll still read a B&W book. I think that cartooning is all about simplicity and boiling it down to its essence and that’s the fun of it, to be as efficient as possible.

So we are sitting in your office and you had mentioned that you like to keep your office bare. I’m the same way as a writer; I can’t have anything on my desk.

I do try to keep things clean because I feel that the imagination needs to be funneled into the computer, which is how I do my work. I had a period when I started working that I had a very busy cubicle and there were all sorts of things on the wall that expressed my personality. But I found that I would gravitate towards those things; I would be looking at those things all the time. So I figured blank walls are better for me.

I totally agree. If you’re looking at old work, then you’re focused on the past. If you have clean walls, then you can concentrate on the future.

Yes, I agree. I like that.

When we were shooting, we talked about your sons and how they probably think you’re a rock star, and you said no way. How has you being their dad influenced them?

Well, we made the decision a few years ago to move all of the Wimpy Kid things out of the house, actually, so it wouldn’t become overwhelming. I live next door so this serves as my office. I have a few employees who work with me, and living next door, I have a really short commute! For my kids, I didn’t want them to feel overwhelmed by it, so they cherry-picked the fun things and they’ve gotten to do a lot of fun things because of Wimpy Kid and then we have a really ordinary life here in Massachusetts.

Grant, my younger son, likes to use it socially. He’s a little on the shy side but if he goes to basketball camp, he’ll say, “Hey do you know Diary of a Wimpy Kid?” And then he’s got a friend because they have something in common. Will is more private; he doesn’t like any attention that he gets from these books, so it’s interesting.

Do you think you’d bring them on in the future if they showed interest, and make it a family business?

That’s a good question. If they would want to, I would get them involved. I don’t know if they’d like working for me, though. I like to be in control of everything!

Now how are you as a dad?

I think I’m a pretty good dad. I wish that I were here more. There are definitely several times a year when I get out there. Every November, I’m pretty much away for the entire month for book tours. So that leaves a hole in my time with them, which I don’t like. And this year I’m going on a world tour; I’m going to go everywhere. From Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, so those are the times that I have a lot of regret. In that way, I’m like a traveling businessman. But I think that every parent feels like their kids are growing up too fast, so it’s a shared experience. It’s magnified by me doing this for a job.

But could you imagine doing anything else?

Yeah, actually my day job at Poptropica would be pretty good on its own! I like Poptropica, and I’m also opening a bookstore. I get a lot of joy from that. We’re building it from the ground up. It’s on the site of what used to be a General Store in our hometown. We took that down because it was falling apart, and then we built up this new building. It’s going to be outstanding, and a great place for everyone in the community to come together.

Now, will Wimpy Kid books have special product placement?

I’m going to build a studio on the 3rd floor so that kids will be able to come visit it.

I didn’t know that the month of April was Diary of a Wimpy Kid month! You have a month dedicated to you!

[laughs] Yeah, it might be a little too much! It’s something we came up with because we realized that Diary of a Wimpy Kid was first published on April 1st, April Fool’s Day in 2007. So we decided to release the cover at the end of the month so we thought it gives us time to announce the launch and put out various promotions and come up with ideas that would excite the fans.

So my kids want to know if there are going to be more movies?

Yeah, we’re talking about that a lot. I hope it’s something that we do. It would mean a new cast of kids. I think it would be a lot of fun, and I especially want to film The Long Haul because it’s a big road trip, so I think it would be perfect.

What’s new with Poptropica this year?

We’re being sold, and changing ownership so that will be interesting. We’ll still create islands and stories for kids. I write the stories in this room with another worker. Whether it’s writing for Poptropica or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I think what a privilege it is to write stories that millions of kids will experience and get to enjoy. That’s a good feeling.

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