Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.
By receiving this year’s California Young Reader Medal in the Intermediate Category for your middle-grade novel, SHEEP, you’ve added another award to your extensive list of honors. You say, “Writing is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but by far the most fun.” With so many award-winning novels and such a positive attitude, can you share with us how you keep the writing flame burning so brightly?
Oh, were it always bright! I do a good deal of butt-in-chair with no lights burning, believe me. But a terrific award like this one elevates the chair quite a bit, that’s for sure.
I always begin with a character and that character is invariably me, though I never intend it. These characters were once the young ones, now they’re getting old. So I identify with Pearl in Defiance, but the cow and Toby, too, and with the grandmother in The Last Best Summer (Spring 2010). I’ve mined a lot of things from my own life. I always recommend fictionalizing events drawn from our own lives because getting in touch with what we remember and know really deepens what we’re writing, gives it an authenticity that’s harder to create when a story is entirely made up. Or so I think. “Sheep”, for example, is based on having a homeless Border collie for three weeks, “Sonny’s War” came out of having a brother who went to Vietnam, and my first novel, “How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn’t Called You Back” is pretty much a rip off of my 16th year.
So my advice would be to dig into the past, even the “awful” stuff and freewrite about it without judging the person who you were or the writing you do now. The stuff that makes your heart beat harder will usually do the same for a reader.
What’s your favorite children’s joke?
Well, right now anything with “butt” or “poop” in it because that’s what cracks my six year-old grandson up, and anything that cracks him up cracks me up.