Is it easy to get a book published?
Not for me. Just about every one of my books has been rejected, some 15 or 20 times. My rule is, if three different editors turn the book down, I read it carefully to see what needs to be fixed. With the help of my critique groups, I fix it and try again.
How long does it take you to write a book?
From the first glimmering of an idea (in the form of a character), through the thinking, the research, the first draft, and the rewrites, figure on three to five years. I've actually worked on one book for 25 years and haven't gotten it right yet.
Isn't it boring working on one book for so long?
I'm usually researching one book, writing another, and revising a third all around the same time. That keeps me from going nuts with boredom.
Do you write on a computer?
I write every scene really fast, with a nice pointy pen on the back of used paper. Then I start slowly revising the scene as I type it into my Mac.
So, do you revise a lot?
You decide: does 10 or 15 revisions for each book seem like a lot to you?
Do you like the covers of your books?
Usually not, but I have nothing to do with what goes on the outside of the book. All that's decided by the art department of the publishing house. They send me a draft from time to time, but there's not much opportunity to make changes. So, I'm not responsible for goofy covers! I am responsible for the one that has my son's picture on it. See if you can figure out which one that is.
Are there mistakes in your books?
There's a big mistake in just about every book of mine, even after careful research and editing. I try not to blush or turn snarly when someone points these errors out to me.
What's your favorite book?
That I wrote? I couldn't possibly pick a favorite, any more than I could pick a favorite son. That someone else wrote? Okay, I'll give you a few kids' books I love. For middle-grade readers, Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee, Lois Lowry's The Giver, Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts, Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton, and Patricia McLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall. For older readers: Rob Thomas's Rats Saw God, Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World, most of Pete Hautman's books, especially Godless, and every word Robert Cormier ever wrote. My favorite adult novel is Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. And if you want a good, gentle cry every time you come to the last page, pick up the exquisite picture book, Pink and Say, by Patricia Palacco.
What are some of your other favorite things?
Colors/blue. Foods/avocados and enchiladas. People/my family. Animals/pigs. Cars/anything that starts on a winter morning.
What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time? I'm on a few boards and committees; hit about 30 schools, libraries, and book festivals each year; visit my kids around the country; and occasionally fly to fascinating places like China and Australia and New Zealand. All the while, I read for fun and do lots of research. In my spare time I write books!
Do you ever write about people you know?
I try not to, because I don't want to embarrass anyone, or be stuck writing about what really happened. It's more fun to make things up.
Hey, can you put me in a book?
You'll probably recognize yourself in one of my stories, but you'll have a different name.
Is writing a lonely job?
Certainly not! I've got intriguing people trotting around in my head, and I can make them do anything I want, but only for a while. Eventually they take on a life of their own and they lead me down unexplored trails.
What are you writing now?
I never talk about works in progress, because if you say too much about them, they evaporate into mist.
What advice would you give young writers?
Read everything, from cereal boxes to Dr. Seuss to War and Peace. Read out loud to hear how words sound, how they feel rolling around on your tongue and not just on the back of your eyelids. Spy on conversations. Feed your curiosity. Ask "why?" and "what if?" Keep a journal. Jot down fascinating tidbits, what the writer Joan Didion calls "bits of the mind's string too short to use." Use them. Don't censor your work as you write. Write down your first thoughts fast, without worrying about spelling or grammar or punctuation. Then go back and fix it all up carefully. Let somebody you trust give you feedback. Most important: write and write and write . . .
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