Could you talk about the way in which this book was born? I understand it is the brainchild of your son, Aidan!
JASON: I wrote a book in 2009 called Hollywood on the Potomac (Arcadia Publishing) based on two of my passions: politics and the entertainment industry. Aidan, who was 7 at the time, said he wanted to write a book too. I said grab a pencil and go to work.
How did you come up with the title?
AIDAN: When my Dad said to start writing my own book, I thought of my two favorite things – pizza and the beach!
JASON: I will never forget Aidan walking into the kitchen and presenting a piece of paper to me and my wife, Renee. It was a palm tree with pepperoni pieces falling from it with the words: Once upon a time, there was a pepperoni palm tree. I thought ‘wow.’
How long did it take to write The Pepperoni Palm Tree?
JASON: After Aidan’s idea, I let it sit for a while and kept thinking what a great title it was. Sometime around late 2010 I decided to construct a basic story outline. Aidan filled in the character names and finer details. I’d say it took about a year on and off. We never really stopped tweaking it until right up to the end. Children’s stories may not be very long, but every word counts.
What sorts of books did you enjoy as a boy? What are you favorites today?
AIDAN: When I was little, I loved the Dr. Suess books, Dodsworth books, Berenstein Bears, Babaar, My Father’s Dragon, Curious George. Now I am 10 years old, and I like reading Harry Potter books, Spiderwick Chronicles and the 39 Clues books.
JASON: That’s the funny thing about many of the books he named – I loved them when I was little too.
How do you think being a father affects your perspective on childhood or children’s literature?
JASON: Sometimes parents live a 2nd childhood vicariously through their kids. You end up readingtheir books, playing their games, hearing their thoughts and seeing the world differently. Looking through Aidan’s books over the years I was struck by the illustrations I had not seen in probably 30 years. I can remember reading one of his Dr. Seuss books one night — every page I turned was like being zapped back to 1973. But even with all that childhood inspiration, no adult can ever dream up a Pepperoni Palm Tree.
How does the message of the book resonate with you and your son?
JASON: Kids books are best when the message is simple and clear, yet not too preachy. Bill Cosby used to say to kids “if you’re not careful, you just might learn something.” I wanted the same effect with the message in The Pepperoni Palm Tree. When I read to Aidan years ago, I’d sometimes wonder if he was paying attention, then he would start talking and I realized he hung on every word.
What was your favorite part of writing this book? What was the most challenging part?
AIDAN: I loved it when I found out it was going to be published.
JASON: Ha! Well I have to agree with Aidan since literary agents and publishers frequently say ‘no one gets a children’s book published!’ I loved working on this book with Aidan — it was a great father and son project.
AIDAN: Seeing the illustrations was amazing. When I saw the first page with The Pepperoni Palm Tree, there was a big wave coming to shore.
JASON: The story really came to life with Kirk’s illustrations. He added countless things, like the big wave, that we never could have imagined. Suddenly, all the words were coming to life. I would receive the rough drawings from Kirk and look forward to going over them with Aidan. There were several things Aidan saw in the early conceptual renderings that I did not. For example, Frederick needed to be warmer, friendlier. And Aidan suggested Frederick carry gear — like a pack with a canteen and spy glass.
AIDAN: I really liked the first time I saw the map at the beginning and the end.
JASON: Aidan really wanted to know where this little boy lived. Something I had not even thought about. After all, you have this child on this strange island with seemingly no other people around. So, Aidan sketched out a rough map and I sent it to Kirk to work his magic. It resulted in some really striking end papers of a full map spread in the book.
What lesson would you like for young readers to ‘take away’ after reading The Pepperoni Palm Tree?
AIDAN: Treat everyone with respect, even if they’re a little different.
JASON: And no one likes a jerk.
What was it like writing a book as a team with your son?
JASON: Very rewarding and exciting. I got to think like a kid again. It was a great excuse for us to link up our imaginations and create something new! Frederick is very much like Aidan — an explorer, a reader, a thinker — and Aidan wants to be an architect. When you read the book, you will know why that’s important.
Do you two have any plans for other stories/another book?
JASON: When I first saw the map on the inside cover, I thought this could be a whole series. Aidan was coming up with all these other landmarks on the island that we included on the map, but only a few are ever referenced in The Pepperoni Palm Tree story. So now we have a whole world to explore. Who knows, sequel?
What advice do you have for aspiring young authors (children and teens)?
JASON: Some people will give you a million reasons not to waste time writing a book. Don’t listen to them. Just do it.