- This is Poly
How does someone who likes to make people laugh become a writer?
Michael Buckley, author of the recently published Finn and the Time-Traveling Pajamas, shared his own personal journey in a visit with Grades 5 & 6 on April 5. Librarian Allison Bean welcomed the New York Times best-selling author via Zoom from Akron, OH, where he grew up. He currently lives in Brooklyn.
At the age of 16, Buckley entered a contest to write a funny joke and won top prize. His prize was a day spent with comedian Eddie Murphy, after which the actor confirmed that Buckley was indeed funny and should continue writing jokes. Buckley came to realize that jokes are really “very short stories with a surprise ending.” He started working in comedy clubs and while at Ohio University worked at the university TV station. In whatever job he was in, Buckley always seemed to end up doing the writing.
An internship brought Buckley to NYC and the Late Show with David Letterman, where he took care of Letterman’s dog, but also had the opportunity to write jokes. When Buckley saw the audience react to his jokes, it dawned on him that his writing “could change a person’s whole mood.” He considered “the power that I had.” “It was almost like a super power,” he said. “Writing was an amazing opportunity to influence how people feel.”
His career proceeded with writing for Beavis and Butthead on MTV and Rug Rats on Nickelodeon. He recalls, “I was having the time of my life. I had no idea how much fun it was to write for kids.”
“My life has been nothing but adventure since I started writing.”
Buckley’s first book, The Sisters Grimm, led to a nine-book fantasy series about Sabrina and Daphne Grimm. This was followed by the humorous thriller N.E.R.D.S. series and the “Finniverse series,” which is named for his son, including Finn and the Intergalactic Lunchbox and Finn and the Time-Traveling Pajamas. “I had the best time writing these books,” Buckley said. “It’s the best job I ever had.”
Buckley told the students that when he was their age, a teacher brought a “200-year-old” author in to speak to his class who described writing alone in a windowless room for 7-10 hours a day. Buckley thought that writing sounded “like the worst job.” As it turns out, Buckley said, “My life has been nothing but adventure since I started writing. Books have sent me all over the world to talk to kids and all over the U.S.”
For example, to learn what it feels like to fall from a great height, Buckley went to a sky diving training center, donned a jumpsuit, and was blown by a fan up into a tube to simulate spins and backflips. “Now I knew what it feels like to fall from a height,” he said and could write about it. “I have to know what it feels like. If a character likes spicy food, Buckley needs to taste that food. For the Finn series, Buckley did research on saber tooth tigers that once roamed the Hudson Valley.
Afterward, Mick W. ’28 said, “The most interesting thing Mr. Buckley told the class was that he would travel everywhere so he could understand what it felt like to do things that his characters did in the books that he wrote.”
Bean asked the students if they had questions for Buckley.
A student asked if Buckley acted and he said he had his own cartoon, Robotomy. Another student asked Buckley his favorite city. He replied Prague for its beauty and New Orleans for being so different from any other U.S. city.
“If you hadn’t written that joke, would you still have become a writer?” asked another student.
Buckley said that was a good question, because having Eddie Murphy tell him he was funny was powerful. Buckley said he was not a good reader as a child and did not take out many library books. A librarian gave him The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary, which Buckley said “is still my favorite book!” It started him reading. “It pointed me in the right direction,” he said.
This was followed by a question about what other career path Buckley might have followed. But he told the students he would have been unhappy doing anything else but writing. “Writing saved my life,” he said. “It gave me an outlet for every creative idea.”
Bean announced that all the Grades 5 and 6 students would receive a signed copy of Finn and the Time-Traveling Pajamas.