He Represents Sean Rosen: Interview with Author Jeff Baron
We asked the kids' author a few questions about his writing and what he likes to read.
When and where do you like to read?
I have two favorite places. One is in bed, at night before I go to sleep and in the morning, before I start my day. My other favorite place is on subways or other trains. Whether I'm sitting or standing, I'm usually reading.
Where do you go for inspiration? Is there a special place or activity that helps you with writer's block?
I like to write in public places, like a library, a diner, or sitting on a beach. I like other people around, but not so close that I can listen to their conversations, because then I'll start listening to them, instead of my characters.
I'm lucky not to have writer's block, but if I'm ever stuck about what happens next in a story, I will write about it: "Okay, so Sean just got called to the principal's office on the school loudspeaker. Every single person in school heard it. How will his friends react? How will his teachers react? What is Sean thinking right now?" I write down my answers to those questions, and then I get back to work.
You have many writing credits to your name, including plays, songs, and TV shows, among others. Do you find one genre to be more difficult than the others? How is writing a children's book different?
I like the variety. And whatever you're writing, the most important thing is telling a good story. But here are the main differences:
1. Plays - You usually have a limited number of characters, because most theaters only want to hire 6 actors or less, though sometimes one actor can play a few different characters. Your story usually takes place in fewer places, because for each new place, you have to rearrange the stage with the audience sitting there. If the next scene takes place a week later, you have to figure out how to tell the audience that it's a different day. You do it by changing the lighting or the characters' clothes.
2. TV shows - If you are writing for a TV series that already exists, you have to tell a new story with the characters that people already know. Most shows are shorter than plays, so you have to tell the story more quickly, and if it's a show that has commercials, you have to build in a lot of cliffhangers so people will keep watching.
3. Books - You have the most creative freedom, because you can have as many characters and places as you want, and the book can be as long as you want it to be.
4. Songs - You have to think about who is singing the song, and who they're singing it to. You have to decide if you want the lines in the song to rhyme, and if you want parts of the song to repeat. A song is very short, so every word counts, but you still have to tell a story that people understand and care about.
Writing for kids does not feel that different from writing for grownups. With Sean Rosen, I thought I was writing a book for both grownups and kids, and fortunately, all ages seem to like it.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing when I was really young. It was always fun for me. In sixth grade, I wrote a play about Thomas Edison that the whole school saw. I liked writing for other people, and I still do.
What was your inspiration for writing about a character like Sean Rosen? Did you have a particular audience in mind?
Working as a writer in Hollywood was what inspired me. It's such a strange world. When you're trying to break in, it's very unwelcoming, until the day that someone wants what you have. Then suddenly everyone acts super nice to you, even when they're doing things that aren't so nice.
I thought, "What it would be like if a kid tried to get into this world?" We all see the movies and TV shows that come out of Hollywood, but until you've worked there, you don't know how things actually happen. Unless you read these books.
What have you discovered about the Sean Rosen character that you may not have known when you started writing the novels?
I knew that Sean was going to keep his show business career a secret from his family and friends, but I didn't know how much that would affect him. It makes his life very complicated. He has to make big decisions on his own, and when things go wrong, his parents can't fix it for him. I was also surprised to see how weird it feels for Sean to keep a secret from his friends and family.
The podcasts on the Sean Rosen website really bring the character to life. How do you go about creating those?
Writing the books, I got to know Sean really well, so it's pretty easy to imagine the videos he makes. He's a curious kid who isn't afraid to talk to strangers, so there are lots of interviews. We get to know the people from their voices and what they say, because Sean almost never shows peoples' faces. Sean is busy with school and his career, so his podcasts are nice and short. Most of them are about a minute long.
Would you ever consider writing a Sean Rosen movie?
Funny that you asked that. I'm just finishing the first script for a TV series, The Sean Rosen Show. I also think the books can also be a movie, but I decided to start with a TV show.
Sean is a modern day kid. Do you get a lot of tech savvy, ambitious kids commenting on how they relate to him?
I hear from a lot of kids, and yes, a lot of them have ideas of their own and suggestions for other podcasts. You can read some of the comments and questions here: seanrosen.com/asksean
What advice would you give those ambitious kids who dream of making it big?
If you have a story to tell, write it. Make it into a video. Post it online. But before you post it, show it to other people. See if they get it. See if they're interested, and if they stay interested from the beginning to the end. Ask them if anything in your story doesn't make sense. Ask them what they think of your characters.
Then work on it some more. We all wish things would come out perfectly the first time around, but you always have to edit and revise. That's the way you make a good thing great. Not every idea works, but the people who succeed are the ones who keep trying out new ideas, and keep showing their work to other people.
Does living in New York influence you and your writing in any special way?
Yes! I love how many different kinds of people live here. A lot of my characters have very different backgrounds from me, and some of them don't speak very much English.
The other way New York influences my work, is that on buses, on subways, and walking down the street I overhear a lot of conversations, which helps me write realistic dialogue. If I was sitting alone in a car, I would miss all that.
What future projects do you have in store, Sean Rosen-related or other?
With Sean Rosen, I have the third book in the series mapped out, and I'm hoping there will be a TV series. There's another book, Electro-Pup by Sean Rosen, which is based on something that happens in Sean Rosen Is Not for Sale.
I have a very busy theater year coming up, with productions of three different plays in Brazil, Italy, The Netherlands, Israel, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Germany, The Czech Republic, and Ireland. Lucky me, I will be traveling to some of those places.
I visit a lot of schools these days, where I do writing and digital storytelling workshops. I will be going to Arizona and Illinois and Florida and California, as well as New York and New Jersey, working with fourth through seventh graders.
It's going to be a busy year, which I'm honored to be kicking off soon with KidsLIVE!