1. When you were my age (9), did you like to read?
I did — I was an early reader, and I loved to read. At nine I was really into historical fiction, and I loved Little Women, and dozens of other Louisa May Alcott books that were less well known, as well as Anne of Green Gables and the rest of that series. (If I’m being honest, I really wanted to own a hoop skirt at this stage of my life, which, needless to say, never happened). But I will also say that I know a several authors who didn’t love reading when they were kids, either because they had an undiagnosed learning difference, or because their lives were really complicated and the books they read didn’t interest them, or some other reason. But eventually — and it might not have been until high school or even college — these folks find that one book. And it might be a graphic novel, or a nonfiction story, or an audiobook, but it blew their minds and changed their thinking, and led them to become readers! So even though for me books were always a big part of my life, I tell kids I meet that even if they don’t like reading now, it doesn’t mean they won’t find a book that changes their mind!
2. What was your favorite story?
Growing up there were so many books I adored, from Wrinkle in Time to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, to Anne of Green Gables and so on! It’s hard to imagine choosing one. I was and am a big rereader…I reread my favorites again and again!
3. How do you get your ideas?
Every book I write starts with two questions: the first is “What if?” — What if there were a family with four boys and two dads (like The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher)? What if a family took a cross-country train trip (like This Would Make a Good Story Someday)? But the second question is “So what”? — why does the story matter? What are the ways that the characters grow and change? So when I get an idea that seems fun, I ask myself “so what?” and try to make sure that there is a reason to dig into the story.
4. What author do you really like right now?
There are so many wonderful authors! It’s hard to narrow it down. But Jason Reynold’s books are awesome, and he writes faster than lightning, I think, because there are so many great books of his in the world. Also Grace Lin’s books — both her chapter books and her picture books — are wonderful.
5. Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?
Kelly Yang, who wrote Front Desk, is definitely a new author to watch! And I think Ellen Wittlinger’s books are wonderful. Kat Yeh writes awesome middle grade books. If you like spooky stories, Tracey Baptiste’s The Jumbies and Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters are just the right kind of scary. And I am really excited for Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within, which comes out this month.
6. What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?
Read. Read read read read! It’s really the only way to learn the language of stories. And remember there is no rush! If you are a kid who wants to write, you can certainly find some contests and options for trying to get short stories published, but that is not a requirement. Unlike getting a letter for Hogwarts or being an Olympic gymnast, there is no age limit! Don’t feel you have to rush. You can write, and practice, and tell stories, and get better, without worrying about being published. As you get into high school and college there are opportunities to learn about the publishing industry and understand the business of being a published author. But first of all, you have to love to write!
7. As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?
I really do! Writing can be lonely — we work for months and years on a project, then eventually it becomes a book and goes out into the world like a message in a bottle. And until we hear from readers, it’s hard to know if it’s reaching anyone! So hearing from readers makes a huge difference! It reminds me why I tell my stories.
8. If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?
Probably Harry Potter. But not books five, six, or seven. Because…well, you know!