Author Jeff Kinney gave up a longtime dream and replaced it with a better one.

His updated dream earned him a perpetual spot on the New York Times bestseller list with his series for young readers, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” More than 200 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide since the first was published in 2007. The stories have been turned into four feature films.

Kinney also has his own website, Poptropica, which features games, blog posts and other activities. And with his wife, Julie, he owns a bookstore, An Unlikely Story, in Plainville, Massachusetts, where they live with their two sons.

He’s coming to Omaha for the first time this week with his interactive book tour, “The Wrecking Ball Show.” His latest book in the series, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid #14: Wrecking Ball,” was just released.

We talked to him about his dreams, his success and other notions in advance of his Thursday appearance at the Westside High School auditorium, sponsored by The Bookworm.


"Diary of a Wimpy Kid #14: Wrecking Ball," by Jeff Kinney.

Q. Did you ever imagine 14 books? How did it all start?

A. It started with my dream to become a newspaper cartoonist as a teen and young adult. After college (at the University of Maryland in College Park), I tried for about three years to achieve that goal. I was not able to break in. Papers were contracting at that time and there were less opportunities. And I didn’t have the talent for it.

So I started to think, “How could I get my cartoons published?” And I figured out the best way to become a cartoonist was to abandon the newspaper idea and put them into books. I made the leap from wanting to be a newspaper cartoonist to wanting to be an author.

Q. Where did your ideas come from?

A. The characters in the books are an exaggerated version of me and family members. Greg (Heffley, the title character, whose main goal is becoming popular in middle school) especially is a reflection of me as a kid. He’s got my worst traits, but they’re exaggerated. I grew up in the D.C. area, in a suburb in Maryland. I have a younger brother, an older sister and an older brother.

Q. How do you keep coming up with ideas?

A. I exhausted my childhood around book five. Since then, I’ve relied more on imagination. I recently started using an innovation technology that helps me generate ideas without having (to rely on) memories. It has tools that help me to produce jokes.

Jeff at An Unlikely Story PHOTO

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" author Jeff Kinney.

Q. Tell me about your book tour. It’s way more than a book signing, right?

A. The current tour is 33 days in eight countries (including) Germany, England, Australia, Brazil and Turkey (where the books are really popular).

(Before the last tour) I realized that I was giving the same speech every year, so I decided to really mix it up. We have a really interactive show that’s randomized, driven by a spinning wheel. All sorts of activities can happen. It keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure.

Kids get to draw with me onstage. They can jump into a dumpster that’s onstage and they root around and try to find items hidden in the trash. There’s a construction theme (because of the “Wrecking Ball” book), so there’s a battle to build the highest block tower.

Q. What kind of feedback do kids give you on the books?

A. Usually, people at book signings are curious about something really specific. Sometimes they’ll open the page to a passage that they had a question about. It’s always fun when that happens.

Last night, we did a show for about 2,000 people (in Texas) and there was a lot of enthusiasm. It’s very exciting for me, because I’ve been at this for 12 to 13 years now, and the kids I’m meeting weren’t born when the first book came out. In another 12 years, I might be talking to kids who aren’t born today.

Q. Tell me about your writing process. What’s a typical day?

A. I don’t really have typical days. It’s feast or famine to me. On writing days, I drive my car to the cemetery and park alongside a pond and just work for the whole day in my car. It’s a peaceful place where nobody really bothers me. And it’s humbling to be in a place like that.

If I am drawing, I sit at a desk all day, sometimes for 16 hours.

Q. What’s next? A new series? Books for adults? Are you done with “Wimpy Kid”?

A. Cartoons have a really long lifespan. I haven’t even started yet. I did create a book called “Diary of an Awesome Kid” about Greg’s best friend.

One of these days, I’m going to write a book about innovation. I learned a technology called Systematic Inventive Thinking. In it, problem solving is based on templates. If you can use those templates to harness your creativity, then you can solve problems more quickly than you could another way. It’s very helpful, that tool.

Q. It’s the same tool you use now to come up with “Wimpy Kid” ideas, right?

A. Yes.

Q. You’ve been in Texas and you’re making your way up north, with appearances in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri along the way. What are you thinking about Omaha?

A. I don’t know much about Omaha at all, but I am excited to come there. Unfortunately, we move fast. We stay for just a day. We’re going across the country on a (“Wrecking Ball”) bus. I have an app that tracks the states I’ve been to (over his career). I’ve visited maybe 41 so far.

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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