Questions. Questions that need answering!
Did you want to be a writer as a kid?
I wanted to be a storyteller. I often retreated into the elaborate fantasy worlds inside my head, playing out variations on the stories I’d fallen in love with on the page or the big screen, picturing myself as the sword-wielding, laser-blasting, smart-mouthed protagonist. I just wasn’t sure what my own creative outlet would be. It wasn’t until high school that I fell in love with writing, though I wasn't very good at it. The jury is still out as to whether I've improved.
Is it hard being a writer?
It’s hard being a good writer. I imagine it’s almost impossible being a great one. But it’s a challenge I welcome. Solving the puzzle of a plot, unpacking the arc of a new character, translating the picture in my head into words on the page. And then there's revision and all of the cruelty that comes with it. Writing requires patience, stamina, and caffeine, but it's always worth the effort.
Do your kids influence your writing?
Always. I learn a great deal from watching my kids engage with the world. I catalog their drama, their moods, their ambitions. I store it all in the back of my mind and then it works its way into my stories. Plus I sometimes use their friend’s names for my characters.
Are any of the characters in your books based on you?
I never had to break my teacher out of the hospital or slay a dragon or fight a werewolf, but my protagonists all have doubts and insecurities. They have the dreams and fears that I had when I was ten or twelve or fourteen (or forty). I can empathize with them, and in doing so, I see myself reflected in them. Sometimes they are the kid I wished I was, going on the kinds of adventures I dreamed of going on, but their questions and their quest for personal growth are definitely mine.
What’s your favorite book, like, EVER!
I honestly couldn’t even begin to tell you. There are dozens. Maybe even hundreds. My favorite Starburst is the yellow one, though.
What’s your favorite book that you’ve written?
I don’t have a favorite there either. Some of them were definitely more fun to write than others, though they were all rewarding in their own right. My favorite book is probably the one that I’m writing right now. That’s the one that’s stuck in my head. Those are the voices that are keeping me awake at night.
Who’s your favorite superhero?
Marvel or D.C.?
Spiderman. Though I’m also partial to Wolverine, bub.
Batman. I’m a sucker for tortured souls.
What’s your favorite kind of chocolate? Root beer? Flavor of potato chip? Cartoon? Star Wars character? Number? Pizza topping? Thing to pick up with your toes?
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramels with Sea Salt. Frosties. Sour cream and onion. Simpsons. Han Solo. 42. Pepperoni. Dirty Laundry.
Do you have any hobbies?
Reading, running, hiking, biking, playing the piano, building with Lego, nerdy boardgames, helping my wife with the crossword puzzle, ordering pizza.
What’s the best part about being a writer?
There are so many fantastic things about being a writer. Going to work in my PJs. Talking with young readers and aspiring writers. And that awesome rush when I boot up the laptop and stare at the blank screen for a few seconds, fingers hovering over the keys, and almost anything seems possible.
What’s the worst part about being a writer?
The constant crippling fear that I’m never going to be good enough.
How old were you when you wrote your first book?
Seventeen, and it no longer exists in this dimension. I published my first novel when I was thirty. In between I practiced the fine art of never giving up.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
I don’t like to call it writer’s block. I like to think of it as a knot. You get to a place that’s tangled is all, and it takes a little more time to tease it out. You ever have one of those knots that you have to pick at and pick at, but once you get the first little bit loose the rest comes easy? I’ve never had a knot that I couldn’t untie, though some I’ve had to pick at for days.
Where do you get your ideas?
Books. Movies. Plays. Pictures. Dreams. Friends. Observations. Eavesdropped conversations. Some of them come to me while I’m driving, running, sleeping. In the bathroom. Waiting in line for a milkshake. Sitting on a park bench. Staring at my toes. We all have them. It’s just that some of us are better trained to catch them as they flitter by and trap them in a jar for closer inspection.
Is it easier to write kids’ books than adult books?
I think writing books is difficult no matter the intended audience. But I like my audience. I like that kids’ books can grapple with serious issues but often in more imaginative or outlandish ways. I like the hopefulness, the sense of optimism. I like not growing up.
Do you have any advice for young writers who someday would like to get published?
You’ll never be perfect, so don't try. Learn your craft. Experiment. Share your work. Don’t get so discouraged that you quit, just discouraged enough that you get angry and more determined. Practice your book award acceptance speech in the shower so when you eventually win the Newbery you're ready. Marry somebody with good health insurance.
And love what you do.