Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do you pronounce your last name?
A. Jahn is my mother's maiden name. It is German. The J is sounds like a Y and the AH sounds like what you say at the doctor's. Clough is my father's name. It is Dutch and rhymes with cow. Put them together and you say Yahn-Clow, or Jahn-Clough!
here for an audio version!
Q. How do you get your ideas?
A. Most of my ideas come from experiences I have had or am currently having, and things that I observe, Then I think about other ways those experiences could happen.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book?
A. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two years. The first draft usually comes pretty quickly, the time is in the revisions.
Q. How long does it take you to do the artwork?
A. The rough sketches usually take a couple days. The final art can take three to four months.
Q. How old were you when you started writing and publishing?
A. Ever since I was a young child of around 4 or 5 I dreamed of being a published author. I wrote my first story, "The Little Girl," when I was four. I published my first story, "The Lady and the Unicorn," in the school newspaper when I was twelve, and the second, "The Moon Across my Palms," when I was thirteen for READ Magazine. Then I took some time off to hone my writing and play around. My next work wasn't published until after college when I wrote articles for some newspapers. My first book with Houghton Mifflin was published in 1994 when I was 26.
Q. Do you have any children?
A. No I don't, but some of my best friends are children.
Q. Do you have any pets?
A. Yes. I have two dogs. Both were strays that I rescued from Puerto Rico. Happy is twelve years old, a medium sized, brown terrier-mix. Rico is five, big and white with straight-up ears. My picture book, LITTLE DOG is based on Happy.
Q. Where do you do your book work?
A. I can write just about anywhere, if I am excited enough. I love taking a notebook and writing in a library or a cafe. The art work I usually do in my studio at home.
Q. Do you write and draw everyday?
A. In some form, yes. I don't write stories everyday, but I will write letters, emails, in my journal, comments on my students' papers, or even grocery lists and to-do lists, at least once each day. I don't draw final illustrations every day, but I do some form of doodling in my sketchbook or on scrap paper. Sometimes my writing and drawing is not exactly work or even leading up to work, but I do it And both are useful skills I use in my daily life.
Q. What kind of materials do you use?
A. I sketch in pencil and then go over it with a large marker or paint. The final work I do in gouache (a type of opaque watercolor). Occasionally I use acrylics. I write in a notebook, freehand and then type it onto the computer. I keep a sketch book where I write and draw all sorts of things, some good, some not so good.
Q. Why do you write for kids?
A. I'm not exactly sure, except that I probably have more to say to children than to most adults. My characters always come out young. I like kids books. And kids seem to like my books. But really, I think I write for myself and for my friends. I get to work through my own problems and ideas with my books.
Q. Do you like writing for kids?
A. Yes, that's why I do it! It is enormously satisfying, though I suppose I'd feel that way about anything I write that I am proud of. I like the idea of children reading my books and remembering them for a long time. They might like one aspect of the book when they first read it, and another aspect when they reread it, and still they might recollect it slightly differently when they get older.
Q. What is harder to do, the writing or the illustrating?
A. The writing. It can take me a long time, a lot of hard thinking and a lot of rewriting to get the words right and the meaning to come across. Except the alphabet book which was pretty simple and fun to write. The writing allows me to convey something with words that has been in my head. If I can express that without being too wordy or analytical or boring it feels great! The art is very playful for me and seems to come with less brain work. I can listen to the radio or to music while I paint, even talk on the phone sometimes, but when I write I have to shut everything out and be in my own thoughts. Both have their appeal.
Q. Which do you prefer, making picture books or writing novels?
A. It's hard to say, they are so different. I really love both. Generally after I write a novel my next book is a picture book and vice versa.
Q. What is your favorite color?
A. Green, especially olive or sap green.
Q. What do you read?
A. I read a lot of picture books because I think it's important to know what is happening in one's field. I also read middle-grade and young adult novels and older adult novels. I like reading things that illicit an emotional reaction--books that make me cry or laugh or have to pause and contemplate for a minute.
Q. How do you come up with names for your characters?
A. Sometimes I name my characters after people I know (for example my best friend when I was in first and second grade was named Molly. Other times I look through a Baby Name Book to see what strikes me. Alicia was the name of a little girl I met once on a ferry boat ride. She crawled onto my lap for no real reason, and we had a lovely conversation for an hour and a half. I never saw her again, but I liked her name.
Q. Do you have a job?
A. I suppose you could say I have three jobs. Writing and illustrating is one. I teach college classes in creative writing at Rowan University is another. And the third is going to elementary schools to talk to kids about making books. Before I started teaching I had many different jobs, such as a bread baker, a pizza maker, a shoe salesperson, a transcriber for a science fiction magazine, a free-lance journalist, a house cleaner, a daycare worker, an arts coordinator, and a self-publisher.
Q. Can I write to you if I have other questions?
A. Yes! You can send me an email me on the contacts page or even send me an actual letter with a stamp. I will try my very hardest to get back to you soon, but if I am away or have a deadline coming up it might take a while.