Just a few months ago, Jeff Kinney was planning for an ultimate wanderlust-fueled pop-up “Wimpy Kid” book tour.
The Plainville best-selling author would have no itinerary, no clues as to what state he’d land in next. Only his publisher would know his next stop. The author-illustrator wouldn’t find out “until the kiosk at the airport when you punch your ticket. I really wanted to have an adventure,” Kinney told us in February.
Ah, how quickly times have changed.
Instead, he’s spending this time of social distancing writing in a cemetery, and revealed he’s working on a major new project: upcoming animated “Wimpy Kid” movies he says will stream on Disney+.
We caught up with the creator of the Wimpy juggernaut to talk new books, new movies — and how he’s running his Plainville bookstore/cafe, An Unlikely Story, during the pandemic. (Turns out Kristin Bell and Phil Donahue are involved.)
Q. So I know you can’t say much — but what can you tell us about the “Wimpy Kid” movies you’re working on for Disney+?
A. We are working on animated films for Disney+. Hopefully it’s the start of something big. I’d love to keep doing these — screenwriting is my favorite type of writing. This project started off years ago with the idea that we’d create a holiday special for Fox. But the entertainment world has completely transformed since then, and a streaming platform seems ideal for “Wimpy Kid.”
Q. Last time we talked, you were about to hit the road on a wild book tour.
A. We were ready to get out on the road for “Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure” when the world turned upside down.
I went straight into a writing mode — I think I spent a whole month working days in my car, in the cemetery. I figured the best thing I could do for myself, my family, and my publisher, was to be as productive as possible. I’ve appeared as a guest on other authors’ livestreams, and I’ve interviewed a few authors virtually for my bookstore.
Q. You mentioned you had an interview today with John Grisham — is this for An Unlikely Story?
A. Yes. We’ve switched over to virtual events for the time being. It’s been very exciting, because we’ve landed some high-profile authors, including Rebecca Stead and Gene Yang. Next week I get to interview Kristin Bell (June 2), and the week after that, it’s Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas (June 9).
Q. How has the pandemic affected your bookstore?
A. Like many bookstores across the world, we are closed to customers. For the last two months, we’ve also been closed to our own employees, so we haven’t been able to do curbside pickups or send out deliveries from the school. But things are starting to open up a bit now. For the time being, we’ll have a few employees in the store, fulfilling online orders. And we just bought a van so we can do same-day deliveries. That’ll add an extra dimension to our business.
Q. Tell us about your latest books.
A. “Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Adventure” is exactly as it sounds — a story written by Greg Heffley’s best friend, Rowley. It’s an epic fantasy. Rowley is trying to figure out the rules of the genre as he writes it. I think it’s my favorite book in the “Wimpy Kid” universe. And right now I’m working on the 15th “Wimpy Kid” book, which is set in the summertime, on a budget family vacation. It’s called “The Deep End,” and it comes out Oct. 27.
Q. How have you been spending your time?
A. I’ve been working, lots. I wrote a screenplay for Disney +, and I’ve been working on “The Deep End.” I’ve also got a head start on the 16th “Wimpy Kid” book, which will be about sports. I’m very excited about that one — I’ve been looking for a way into that sort of story for years, and I think I’ve finally nailed it.
Q. Any suggestions of what younger kids can read to keep them entertained at home?
A. I’d recommend “Dragon Hoops,” by Gene Lual Yang, and Victoria Jamieson’s [and Omar Mohamed and Iman Geddy’s] “When Stars Are Scattered.” Both are excellent graphic novels. Kids go crazy for [Dav Pilkey’s] “Dog Man” books. For younger kids, I love everything by Adam Rubin, including “Dragons Love Tacos” and “High Five” [both illustrated by Daniel Salmieri].
Interview was edited and condensed.