Raid the fridge and power up your spaceship! We're taking a trip with Joe McGee, whose new picture book, Peanut Butter & Aliens, illustrated by Charles Santoso, is out now from Abrams!
The Aliens have arrived in Quirkville. And they are hungry.
Reginald and Abigail Zink taught the zombies and the humans how to live together peacefully. But when the aliens land, they have a new problem on their hands. The aliens are demanding an out-of-this-world snack, and when their taste buds aren’t satisfied, they zap the residents of Quirkville with cosmic grape jelly. But what goes best with jelly? PEANUT BUTTER!
Will Reginald and Abigail be able to convince the aliens that PB&J is the best sandwich in the universe?
The creators of Peanut Butter & Brains have crafted a delicious sequel about the power of working together…and enjoying a good PB&J.
Greetings, earthling Joe! So, tell us . . .
What's something special you keep on your wall or desk?
I was an early and avid reader, writer, and doodler. When I was in 4th grade, I was selected as one of a handful of students from my grade to attend a regional “Young Authors’ Day.” Students from schools in the district were all bussed to a day-long series of writing workshops. There was a menu of sorts you could choose from and I remember taking workshops such as “Writing Puppet Plays,” “Writing Superhero Stories,” and “Writing Mythology and Folktales.” It was an incredible experience, one that cemented the idea in my head that I was going to be an author one day. I went on to holding 6th-grade recess readings of short stories I’d written, to entering contests and submitting to magazines. I just kept going from there, but I’ve never forgotten that one day. I still have that laminated, blue piece of paper and I hang it near my desk to remind myself of my journey and how special this achievement of publication is.
Hooray for young authors everywhere!
Tell us about your writing community.
I am really fortunate to have an extensive community of writers, artists and super creative people – my tribe. Our tribe. Writing is a lonely endeavor when it’s just you and the blank page. It’s a terrifying and vulnerable place when we let it out of our hands and let it become something bigger than ourselves. And that is why a community is so important . . . people who get you, get the strange place we inhabit, as writers. People who will celebrate your good news and rail their fists at the sky with you when dark clouds descend.
My writing community consists of the faculty and alum and students of VCFA, especially my class of July 2014, the Allies in Wonderland. I teach at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program and I have built up a wonderful group of friends and writing family there. I have met and befriended so many amazing and wonderful people (and talented writers, of course) in the course of doing writing visits, events, and conferences. And it’s always expanding, which is really so awesome. I am in a small critique group, which meets once a month. There are four of us, all agented, working writers. We get together for dinner and to workshop works in progress. It’s been so valuable and I love the feedback that I get from them.
But, my biggest support system is my partner, Jessica (also a VCFA alum). She pushes me, challenges me, inspires me, and offers poignant, honest, critical feedback on everything I write. I’d like to throw out here that her book, What Gloria Heard (Bloomsbury) – a picture book biography of Gloria Steinem – will be published in 2019. So, we’re both working writers and that’s cool! And, I’m happy to announce that we’re engaged! ☺
Congrats to you both for all your happy news!
What was it like watching the illustrations come together?
I could not be happier with what Charles Santoso has done with my story. When we sold Peanut Butter & Brains, I had no idea (and no input) on what the zombies, the town, what anything would look like. Part of the reason that the other publishers did not buy the first book was because they had no idea, no vision, on how to do zombies in a picture book. But Abrams got it and they found Charles, who clearly got it. So, when I first saw his art, I was blown away. I’m not sure I had an exact picture of what these zombies might look like, but Charles nailed it.
And so, when it came time for Peanut Butter & Aliens, I had no worries that he would create something “out of this world” (pun intended). We communicate via email, or social media, and so I just asked him to make sure they had tentacles. And again, he killed it. I love the level of detail he puts onto each page, and the way he is able to layer and add depth. He’s brought my world to life and I couldn’t be happier!
I’m going to say my ability to write anything. And I am not staking some claim to being the only one who can do this, but I can (and do) write across the spectrum – picture books, middle grade, YA, graphic novels, screenplays, adult genre fiction, comics, etc….and I have the ability to create something out of any zany kind of combination that might come my way. Space leprechauns that travel through time to find the perfect coffee beans for their unicorn overlords, only to become embroiled in a struggle to save Earth from a wereraccoon motorcycle gang intent on Armageddon? Yeah, I can do that.
Do you write in silence?
I do. I really can’t listen to music or anything when I write. I mean, I don’t care if there’s noise around me or anything. I can write with people talking and televisions or music playing on speakers somewhere, but I cannot put headphones on and write. It somehow gets in my way . . . But, nevertheless, I continue to try. Maybe one day it’ll work?
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I had the great fortune of working with Sharon Darrow my first semester. I took the picture book intensive semester and she was instrumental in opening the door to that world. I really believe that her mentorship, teaching, and support was a large part of me finding my way as a picture book writer.
My second semester, I worked with Tom Birdseye. Amy King, my third semester. And finally, Mama K, Kathi Appelt, for my fourth semester. They all taught me an incredible amount and I will always be indebted to them for their knowledge, support, belief, for challenging me, for being proud of me, and for being my friends and family. I love them all very much.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Wow. VCFA changed my life. It was the portal that propelled me into the world that that 4th-grade boy at “Young Authors’ Day” dreamed of stepping into. I’d just finished my Master of Arts in Writing degree at Rowan University and thanks to Lisa Jahn-Clough (a former VCFA faculty member), I was introduced to VCFA. I wanted more than what my MA gave me. I wanted to fully embrace my creativity and I wanted to write for children. Attending VCFA was a commitment to my art. It was a statement that I was going to do everything in my power to take myself seriously as a writer, to commit to improving, to push for seeing my work published, to pursue the life that I had wanted for so long. Prior to that, I’d not been giving my full attention to my writing. Life has a habit of getting in the way – the practicalities of other careers and such – but I made a choice. Attending VCFA was a life decision to commit to my art, and it quickly led to acquiring an agent, to selling my first book, to becoming a better, stronger writer. I can truly say, with complete confidence, that VCFA set me on my path to where I am today. Thank you, VCFA – you are always in my heart.
What's special about your graduating class, the Allies in Wonderland?
There are so many things that I could say about our class . . . our intense camaraderie? Our incredible diversity? Our bar-setting reveal? The high percentage of our class publishing? There are so many things, BUT. . . for me, the most special thing about our graduating class is that I am marrying my best friend, my absolute love, my VCFA classmate, Jessica Rinker, this July.
Thanks for stopping by, Joe! Welcome to the galaxy, Peanut Butter & Aliens!
Joe McGee is the author of Peanut Butter & Brains, Peanut Butter & Aliens, and the forthcoming (2019) Peanut Butter & Santa Claus. He has his MA in Writing from Rowan University and graduated from VCFA with his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2014. He teaches creative writing at Rowan University and is faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program. He is a former airborne Army officer, an amateur cartoonist, and the father of three boys (16, 14, 10). He lives in a wonderful, artsy, river town in New Jersey with his fiancée, Jessica (also a VCFA alum).
Visit him online at joemcgeeauthor.com, and check out his cartoon about the writing life at frawgandbyrd.com. Read more from Joe about Peanut Butter & Aliens in his blog post, "My love letter to the world."