If you ask Daniel Nayeri about his professional life, you will learn that he has been a stunt man, a pastry chef, written and produced a movie, The Cult of Sincerity that was picked up by PBS, co-wrote a series of successful young adult novels and is working on the web series currently on Funny or Die. And, he is the Digital Editorial for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Children’s Group.
With his creative spirit shining through, Nayeri told us about the joys of his work, his upcoming projects, and his enthusiasm for the book and entertainment industry that is a big part of his daily life. We met him for tea in Union Square on one of his typically busy days.
The first question we had to ask was, “How do you have the time to do all this stuff?” Nayeri laughs and tells us a schedule that is downright grueling. “Every morning, I wake up and after minimal grooming, I sit down and write for two hours. You’d be shocked how much you can get done with two solid hours every day…that’s the trick, every day. Then I go to work for eight to nine hours. I used to teach at university in the evenings, but now I get home as quickly as I can to see my wife and newborn son.”
When asked what drives him, he used the word, “hungry.” “I’m one of those hungry immigrants, I guess.” He laughs and takes a drink of tea. “I came to this country, and realized everything was possible. That was incredible to me. I’m hungry to try as much as I can.” He explained that his childhood taught him the meaning of hard work and that he was “hungry” to prove its value.
Nayeri emigrated from Iran to Oklahoma at age eight as a refugee with his mother and sister. Farsi is his first language, English his third. He admits that the road wasn’t easy and the Midwest was very different from his homeland. Nayeri found entertainment in books; this sparked the imagination that is so much a part of his character.
From pastry chef to writer, Nayeri has been diligent in his pursuit of his passions. He once considered being a pastry chef something of a “dream job” although he lacked the professional experience beyond his mother’s kitchen. This did not deter him. He recalled calling no less than 50 restaurants to offer his services before, as he said, “a desperate one invited me down.” It was there that he both learned and taught a craft that he is still proud of today.
Most recently, Nayeri has published Straw House, Wood House, Brick House Blow (Candlewick Press, 2011). It is a collection of four novellas composed entirely on an iPhone. When asked how he accomplished this writing feat, he explained, “While I was working as a pastry chef, the hours were really long and I didn’t have time to sit and write. But on the subway commutes I could stand and hold the rail with one hand, and still type on my phone with the other.” The novellas are each in a different genre, showcasing what one reviewer called, “the writer’s equivalent of a singer with a four-octave range.” And Hollywood has already taken notice. One of the stories, a crime drama titled “Wish Police,” will be produced as an animated feature by Aron Warner, who also produced the successful Shrek. Nayeri envisions another as a one-man stage play.
Nayeri is currently being represented for a unique book project that he devised, gaming books that take young readers on an adventure that they can play together. He hopes the idea will encourage kids who enjoy gaming to read as he is an avid gamer himself.
Nayeri explained that although many of the things he has done in his life seem disparate, they actually converge with a solid purpose. He said, “The core of who I am is a writer, a storyteller. I think of every project I do as a story I am trying to convey. That even goes back to creating pastries.”
We asked Daniel Nayeri which of his accomplishments he is most proud of. “That one’s easy and obvious,” he said, and then he showed us pictures of his wife and son.
Straw House, Wood House, Brick House Blow