When I was a kid, I wanted to be everything. A writer, an actor, a doctor, a rock star, an artist, an architect, and a film director. I had a teacher who said “You can’t do that! You’ll be a jack of all trades and a master of none!” But I had it worked out: I’d be a jack of seven trades, and master of three.
–Neal Shusterman, A Note from the Author
English: Reminds me of the book & movie about Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Neal Shusterman is the award-winning author of The Skinjacker Trilogy and The Unwind Trilogy. A native of New York and is an example of both the power of adults and of books on a young person’s life.
In third grade, Shusterman was the slowest reader in his class, but an elementary school librarian took him under her wing and taught him to love books. Then, at around age ten, his parents were apparently late picking him up at a summer camp. Being the last kid waiting to get picked up, and with nothing else to do, Shusterman went back into the cabin and found a dust-covered copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. He opened the book, began reading, and was swept away by the story of the seagull in search of perfect flight. Around the same time, he also read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Shusterman felt awed by it too and to do this day remembers wishing that he could create something as imaginative.
And when I saw movies that I enjoyed, read books that I enjoyed, my response was rather than wanting to read something just like it, I wanted to be able to do that myself. And so that had always been a part of what I wanted to do was be a storyteller in one way or another.
–Neal Shusterman, Adolescent Literacy
In ninth grade, an English teacher also made a difference in Shusterman’s life. He had written a story the summer before, inspired by the movie Jaws, and decided he wanted to be like the author. And so he wrote a story about a seashore town that was being attacked by giant sandworms and lobsters that would crawl up through one’s toilet in the middle of the night and eat one up alive. He gave it to his ninth-grade English teacher and she sent the story off to the principal who entered it in the district short story contest. It didn’t win, but his English teacher recognized Shusterman’s love of writing and challenged him to write a story a month for extra credit. He took her up on the challenge and by the end of ninth grade began to feel like a writer. That’s when writing emerged above all other interests as his driving passion.
When Shusterman was sixteen, his family moved from New York to Mexico City, where he attended his last two years of high school. According to Shusterman, having an international experience gave him a different perspective on the world, along with a sense of confidence I might not have had otherwise.
From Mexico City, Shusterman went on to UC Irvine, where both summer camp experiences and a college professor and changed his life. Within a year of graduating, he had his first book deal, and was hired to write a movie script.
Let me focus though on Shusterman’s years at college. Besides a humor column which he wrote for the school paper, he also worked summers as a camp counselor and got to be known as the camp storyteller. Shusterman shares on his website that each night he would come up with stories to tell and his best audience was teenagers, which is what really got him into writing for teenagers. In fact, his earliest novels began as stories he told at camp.
Then there was that college professor. Shusterman had been writing a lot of short stories, all of them fantasy and science fiction. A professor challenged him to write in different genres, telling Shusterman, “If you want to be a writer, you have to stop writing that and try to explore other things because that’s how you grow.” Next, he asked Shusterman, “What type of story would you least like to write?” When Shusterman replied, “I don’t know…. a romance,” his professor told Shusterman that his next assignment was to write a romance. From there, Shusterman went onto write a Western and to write in all different genres.
In the years since graduation, Shusterman has made his mark as a successful novelist, television writer, and screenwriter, to name a few of this talents. He has directed short films (two of which won him the coveted CINE Golden Eagle Awards), written music and stage plays, and even tried his hand at creating Games including three successful “How to Host a Mystery” game for teens and seven “How to Host a Murder” games. Specifically, as a television and screen writer, Shusterman has written for the “Goosebumps” and “Animorphs” TV series, and he wrote the Disney Channel Original Movie “Pixel Perfect”. Currently, Shusterman is also adapting his novel Everlost as a feature film for Universal Studios.
Remember that quote at the beginning about Shusterman wanting to be everything. Clearly, he never quite gave up on being a ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Moreover, he shared with Adolescent Literacy that he thinks the best way to grow is to try all different kinds of things. 🙂
On Friday, I’ll share information about a couple of his more popular trilogies. Then on Saturday I’ll post my thoughts about The Skinjacker Trilogy. As a special bonus, on Monday, I’ll also write a quick review of the second book in The Unwind Trilogy. Save the dates: September 12-16!