At the 2014 National Book Festival
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2009 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for you recent book – The Magician’s Elephant?
Summer before last I was in New York City, sitting in the lobby of a hotel and waiting for a friend, when a magician appeared before me, or rather the vision of a magician appeared before me. He was a down-on-his-luck-kind-of-desperate-and-tired-of-tricks-and-sleights-of-hands magician and I understood that he wanted to perform real magic. What kind of magic would that be, I wondered? And then the elephant showed up.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
Well, I am always afraid. And sometimes I despair. But I overcome the fear and the despair by setting small manageable goals for myself (two pages a day).
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Read a lot and write a little every day. Listen when people talk.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
Yes. Get on a city bus with a notebook. Write down some of the dialog that you overhear. Write a story incorporating some of that dialog.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
I love so many different books for some different reasons, that this list is different every time I am asked to give it. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is one of the most perfect books ever written. I love Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. William Steig’s Abel’s Island is an inspiration. So is Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
Oh, I never think about themes. When I’m done with a book, I can see that there are themes in it, but they happen organically, as a part of the storytelling process.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
Acccck. I don’t really do much research. As I near the final draft of a story, I will do some fact checking. But for the most part, I am just imagining things.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Let your children see you reading a book for your own pleasure.
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
I really can’t think of anything else that I would be doing. I have found what I’m supposed to do with my life and I get to do it and this makes me very, very happy.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?