Interview with Greg Pincus, author of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

ImageToday at the Mixed Up Files, we interview Greg Pincus, the author of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K, his debut novel about 11 year-old Gregory Korenstein-Jasperton, a poet, struggling with math anxiety.

Greg Pincus is a poet, a screenwriter, a volunteer elementary school librarian and social media strategist. He can be found online at http://gottabook.blogspot and on Twitter at @GregPincus.

1) In the book, your character Gregory Korenstein-Jasperton truly dreads math, yet everyone in his family thinks math is mathemagical. His father is an electrical engineer, his mother an accountant and his siblings Owen and Kay play with numbers for fun. How did you come up with this character? Is math something you also fear?

I have no fear at all of math. In fact, I love math… though I’d say that what I really love is the beauty of how it can explain things in the world, not so much the computational stuff like subtraction and multiplication. I also love writing, and I knew from the start that Gregory K. was a writer. At the same time, I knew that there was going to be Fibonacci poetry in the book, and that Gregory would write it, so math and writing would have to collide in the story. I wanted this collision to be a surprise to Gregory, and since he loves writing, I figured it would be most interesting to make him hate, fear, or dread math. To make the situation more “fun,” I added in the bigger idea of being a kid who loves something – in this case, writing – that they think no one else in their family loves or respects. The combination of all that led to Gregory K.

2) What was the most challenging thing about writing this novel? What came the most easily?

Math and poetry are not necessarily the best starting points for an action-packed book, so for me, the most challenging thing in the writing process was making sure the story kept moving forward. In the end, I accomplished this by having the aliens land and… oh, fine, that didn’t happen. I think it’s the relationship between Gregory and Kelly that helps keep momentum going, and coincidentally, that turned out to be the part of the writing that came the easiest. As Kelly’s story grew, too, the “plot” issues became less of a challenge for me.

3) You worked with Arthur Levine on this novel. What was something that you learned from working together?

I learned conclusively that a good editor will help me write a better, richer novel… and will be able to get something very different out of me than I might have expected. I also learned that changing from first person to third person will not cause your brain to fall out of your head. This is valuable knowledge for future endeavors, I figure.

4) In Gregory’s family has Weird Wednesdays where Mom tries out a new and very wacky recipe each week. Does your family have any odd traditions like this?

Other than the fact that all Reese’s cups that appear in our home have to be taste-tested by me (hey – quality control is very important!), we do not have anything I’d consider an odd tradition.

5) Math is Magic Camp is Gregory’s worst nightmare what was yours as a kid?

Hmmm. I don’t recall dreading a situation like Gregory K. does, though I do remember a recurring fear-like experience. One year on Halloween, I went as a giant aspirin because we’d come into possession of this gigantic cardboard aspirin box. I used that big box to carry my candy… but at some point in the night, unbeknownst to me, the bottom opened up. I had no candy when I got home. In future years, believe me, I was obsessively careful about how I gathered candy for fear that I’d once again find myself candy-free at the end of a long night of hunting and gathering.

6) In researching this book, what did you learn about math that you didn’t know before?

I don’t think I truly knew how many math (and writing, actually) competitions/camps there are out there at the local level. It’s fantastic… but who knew?

7) You are a poet and keep a popular blog on poetry. When you were a kid were you like Gregory and wrote poetry?

From a youngish age, I wrote poems for family birthday cards and other occasions, but if you want to know a big secret… I wasn’t really much of a writer or a reader at Gregory’s age. That came much later in life – proof, I believe, that there are multiple paths to the same result.

8) What has writing poetry taught you about math?

There’s beauty everywhere, sometimes best expressed in equations and not in metered rhyme or free verse!

9) Any words of wisdom out there for kids (and adults too) who want to write poetry?

I think to really get started, it helps a ton to read and hear a lot of poetry first. Luckily, there is amazing work out there for kids and adults alike (often the same thing, by the way!). Also, it’s okay if your first draft is awkward or blah, even for the shortest poem. You can rewrite (and probably will do so over and over if you’re like me). From the start, don’t be shy about writing honestly about the way you experience life. We all experience things differently and can see the same situations in different ways. Poetry is a great way to let everyone know what you see and feel when you move through the world. Most of all, if you want to write poetry… write poetry! It’s a good thing.

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Hillary Homzie‘s second tween novel for girls,The Hot List, was published by Simon & Schuster’s Mix/Aladdin imprint. She has three boys so she must become a spy to write about tween girls and remember her own experiences, which is easy since Hillary claims that she’s still thirteen.

Hillary Homzie
  1. This is a rollicking fun interview. And I can tell this book is a fun read. Adding it to The List.
    How does one, as a child going out trick or treating, have the great good fortune to come into ownership of a giant (emphasis on giant, child-sized) aspirin box. Just sayin.

    I have enjoyed Gregory’s poetry website & Hillary thanks not only for this neat interview, but for reminding me of his snazzy poetry blog.

    My post is a little late, so HNY!

  2. It’s definitely a very fun read, Karen 🙂

  3. “Fibs” is another book on my “to-read” list. I did read the beginning and really enjoyed it, which is why it made the cut for that list 😀

    Btw, Greg, it is going from first person to omniscient that actually makes your brain fall out of your head, so that is truly critical for future endeavors. In the words of Dr. Peter Venkman: “Right. That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.”

    Also, one of your comments made me wonder if you ever read A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO CONSTRUCTING THE UNIVERSE. I think it can often go a bit over the top with theory, but it’s fascinating if you love how math works in the world 🙂

    P.S. I STILL want some pie! Apple, please 😀

    Thanks, Karen and Greg 🙂

  4. This sounds like a really fun book. Love the Fibonacci poetry too. Congrats!