Coffee and Conversation with John Micklos

Tuesday greetings friends! I CANNOT believe how fast this summer is going. We’re over halfway through August and schools start next week, including most colleges. Fair warning: you may want to steer clear of me next week, unless you’re into conversing with an hysterical blubbering mass.  My oldest is heading off to college and my youngest will officially be a senior in high school. Time has certainly been flying by in my house – at Mach 3!  I could really use a little slowing down and I can’t think of a better way to do it than getting to know one of the amazing faculty members for our upcoming conference On the Road to Sparkling Children’s Literature.

Today we’re being visited by author John Micklos, Jr.

John Micklos Photo

After spending more than 30 years in educational publishing as an editor for the International Reading Association John now works as a children’s book author, freelance writer, and editorial consultant. His byline has appeared in national magazines such as National Geographic Kids, Highlights, and Modern Bride. His 20 books include poetry, biography, and poetry titles for prekindergarten through high school students. His subjects include Elvis, Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Hudson, Amelia Earhart, and the Challenger disaster. Visit John’s website at

In their Saturday conference session John and editor Ariane Szu-Tu (National Geographic Kids) will discuss their work as part of the team preparing the recently published NGK book 125 TRUE STORIES OF AMAZING PETS. They will describe the development process from idea generation to research, from writing to editing, from photo collection to production. On Sunday, they will give theintensive  He Said, She Said: Double Your Idea’s Chance of Success with Proven Development Approaches from an Author and Editor. Building on the theme from their Saturday session, they will examine in detail, from their respective positions, the various stages involved in carrying a concept from idea through finished project. Whereas Saturday’s session covers a specific book, Sunday’s workshop focuses on how these principles apply to ANY writing project.

And now that John is settled into our ultra-comfy cyber chair, let’s get started!

First off, what’s your favorite coffeehouse beverage? Caramel Frappacino

And your favorite snack? Ice Cream – any flavor, any time; it’s never too hot or too cold for ice cream!

What was your favorite book as a child? THE WIZARD OF OZ—the whole series, not just the original book. I loved the imaginary world and the characters Frank L. Baum created.



As a teen? GONE WITH THE WIND and THE GODFATHER. I loved books that captured slices of American culture at specific periods of time, and I was more interested in the story and the characters than the literary quality of the writing.

Leave the gun, take the cannoli (sorry, I just had to). Your favorite as an adult? The HARRY POTTER series. I still read mostly children’s and YA books, and these books transformed the world of children’s/YA literature. The fact that they are so well written is a bonus.

What advice for beginning writers do you wish you would have followed? Don’t be discouraged by rejection. It happens to EVERYONE. If you keep plugging away, you have a good chance to eventually break through. The manuscript for my first poetry book, Daddy Poems, literally sat under my bed for six months after I got a “revise and resubmit letter.” I was afraid to go through the process for fear the revision wouldn’t be good enough and the project would get rejected for good. Finally, the editor called and shamed me into trying again. That was nearly 20 books ago!

What is your favorite writing how-to book, technique, or website that has helped you improve your craft or provided inspiration? Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for its gentle mixture of advice on writing and life.


Fabulous book! Where’s your favorite place to work?  I work from home, so most of my time is spent in an upstairs office overlooking the back yard.



For a change of pace, I go to the Newark Public Library, the University of Delaware Library, or Starbucks. Sometimes a change of scenery gets me “unstuck” if I’m struggling.

How were you inspired to write your current or upcoming release? I just turned in a manuscript about the Pony Express (for Capstone). Most of my nonfiction titles are assigned by the publisher, so I get inspired about the topics by reading deeply about them. I love researching a topic, teasing out the facts and stories I think will captivate young readers, and then presenting that information at an age-appropriate level. I also have a picture book titled THE SOUND IN THE BASEMENT coming out next spring, based on one of my childhood fears. I’ve been tinkering with that manuscript for at least 10 years, and I was finally inspired to bring it to fruition. By the way, another thing that inspires me is a firm deadline!

What is your favorite line(s) from this book? In THE SOUND IN THE BASEMENT, there is a recurring line: “It was a moany sound, a groany sound, a chill-you-to-the-boney sound!” When I read the manuscript with students, they start chiming in by the second or third time. They really seem to love that refrain!

If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?  Believe it or not, I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now—writing books! I did take a detour to serve as an editor for the International Reading Association for many years. That experience shifted my focus from writing for adults to writing for children. Interviewing authors such as Katherine Paterson, Marc Brown, and Walter Dean Myers inspired me to try writing for young people.

You’ve been locked in a bank vault Twilight Zone style, so you finally have time to read! Your glasses are fine, (whew,) so what’s the first book you crack open?  The Catcher in the Rye; somehow I went through lots of high school and college literature courses without ever reading it. It’s been on my “to do” list for many years.

If you could go back in time and make changes to any of your published books, would you?  If so, which one and why? The Keeper of Dreams, my favorite poem in MOMMY POEMS, includes a reference to a steeple-bell ringer. I wrote it about the time the Disney movie The Hunchback was popular, but now I think that line probably confuses children. When I read the poem in schools, I change that stanza to reflect what I wish it said. Sometimes, depending on the age of the audience and how much time is available, I explain how I’ve changed the stanza and why. I also share that example when I discuss revision during writing workshops with students.


For one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased author you want. Who do you pick? Walter Dean Myers. I had the opportunity to interview him on several occasions and to introduce him at one of his IRA Convention presentations, and he was a wonderful person in addition to being a gifted writer.

Congratulations, Steven Spielberg is doing a movie based on your book! Who would play the lead role and what songs would be on the soundtrack? My forthcoming picture book, THE SOUND IN THE BASEMENT, is about David, a young boy who overcomes his fear of the basement in his house. In the movie, David would be played by August Maturo, who plays Auggie Matthews on the new Disney series Girl Meets World, because he’s just about the right age. I’m open to suggestions for music—maybe something scary, but not TOO scary!

You magically find a $100 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it? That’s easy—a trip to a bookstore followed by a visit to the University of Delaware Creamery for their homemade ice cream.



What is your favorite quote? “You think the dead we love ever truly leave us?” Professor Dumbledore from The Prisoner of Azkaban

If you could sum up your best advice for new writers in only four words, what would they be? HAVE FAITH IN YOURSELF!

Feel like answering some easy, quick questions? If so, here’s the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!

Do you . . .

Outline or wing it?  I always outline!

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped?  Discuss; sometimes get advice

Sell by proposal or completed draft?  Proposal

Prefer writing rough drafts or editing?  I love editing!

Dread marketing/blogging or love it? Learning to love it.

Read Kindle or traditional books? Traditional; I love paper!

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work? Evening

Music to listen to while writing? Usually none; the Beatles

Writing tool? My laptop

Pair of shoes? Cheap sneakers

Guiltiest pleasure? Ice cream

Line from a movie? “Tomorrow is another day.”

It awesome visiting with you, John! We’re all looking forward to learning more from you next month. Happy writing and illustrating everyone!!!!

About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
This entry was posted in Conference Information, Interviews: Authors. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Coffee and Conversation with John Micklos

  1. I appreciate tips on writing books, author interviews, and good quotes! You always deliver!
    Thank you.

  2. Jane G. Jones says:

    Great article, John. Congratulations on your success. I am happy to know the good person you are.

  3. Pingback: Coffee & Conversation with Sarah Sullivan | As the Eraser Burns

  4. Pingback: Coffee & Conversation with Miranda Paul | As the Eraser Burns

  5. Pingback: Conference Interview Round Up | As the Eraser Burns

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