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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney is the New York Times bestselling author of theDiary of a Wimpy Kidseries, which was adapted into a series of popular films. He is also the creator of the educational virtual world Poptropica. His newest book in the Wimpy Kid series, Wrecking Ball, will be released Nov. 5. 

Where do you come up with your best ideas?  
These days, it’s at the Plainville [Massachusetts] Cemetery. There’s a little nook that overlooks a lake, and it’s very peaceful. I’ll spend six hours a day there on some days. 

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received? 
The gift of being challenged by my fifth-grade teacher. In the fifth grade, I was a pretty good illustrator, and I was just starting to try my hand at comedy. My teacher recognized my talents but encouraged me to do better. At the time, I was used to being praised, but she was critical. That’s stuck with me. 

What is the best non-material gift youve given? 
I’ve learned that presence is the best gift — or present, as it were. It’s the hardest thing to give, especially in today’s busy times. 

“I’ve had several dinners overseas that were straight out of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.’ And I’m a chicken nuggets kind of guy.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
I spent about three years submitting my comic strips to syndicates and getting nothing but rejections. It was hard to have faith in myself and in my work. 

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do? 
I think I would’ve been happy developing narrative-based video games. I did that kind of work for a long time, and I found it fulfilling.

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made? 
I had a first marriage that didn’t work out. But it led me to the place where I live now. I remarried and have two sons I’m very proud of. 

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had? 
I’ve had several dinners overseas that were straight out of
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Multi-course meals with each delicacy being more exotic than the next. And I’m a chicken nuggets kind of guy. 

What opportunity do you regret passing up? 
I can’t think of one. I’ve been very fortunate for all of the opportunities I’ve had. I try not to pass up any opportunities, because you only live once. 

How do you relax? 
I go to Celtics games or my kids’ basketball games. I’m not sure anyone watches more basketball games per year than me. 

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go? 
I think I’d go back to Dubai and explore all of the only-in-Dubai experiences a person can have. 

What is your most indelible childhood memory? 
This one concerns my fifth-grade teacher again. One of my classmates was named James, and James barely spoke a word the whole year. On the last day of school, my teacher offered him five minutes to do whatever he wanted. Without hesitation, he jumped up on the table, did a soft-shoe routine, and then an amazing Groucho Marx imitation. How my teacher sensed that was inside of him, I’ll never know. But what it taught me is that there’s something inside of every one of us.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school? 
My high school was an all-boys’ Catholic school. It had a working-class flavor to it. The teachers stressed the importance of becoming a good man. They gave me a foundation.

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck? 
I use a toolset called Systematic Inventive Thinking, so I never get stuck anymore. 

What is your proudest moment? 
When I received my first printed book. It’s very validating when someone thinks your words and ideas are worthy of being made into a book.

What would you like to experience before you die?
Honestly, I’ve had an abundance of experiences. I think that if I have a sense that I’ve been a good father and that my kids are on the right track, I’ll feel at peace.

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Photo by Monica Schipper/WireImage

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