Read these Frequently Asked Questions for more information.
Q. What made you write about synesthesia in A Mango-Shaped Space?
A. I came across a book called The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Dr. Richard Cytowic. I was fascinated by it and thought it would be fun to give the condition to a fictional character, who felt like there was something wrong with her. A lot of feel like we’re different in some way, and that’s something to celebrate not to feel bad about. So it was fun to explore that in this book.
Q. What color is my name?
A. I wish I could tell you! A teen synesthete named Jessi told me my name is purplish red, kind of like a maroon color with a thin stripe of electric yellow at the top of the letters. How cool is that?
Q. What kind of research did you do for Mango? Do you know anyone with synesthesia?
A. I read as many books and magazine articles on the topic as I could find, and then I attended some meetings of the American Synesthesia Association. I didn’t know any synesthetes when I started writing the book, but when I began my research I was lucky enough to meet many wonderful people who shared their experiences very openly and generously, sometimes even reading sections of the book as I was working on it. Now I meet people fairly often who have it–I think it’s more common than previously thought. I bet if more people asked their friends what color the letter “A” is, they might be surprised to hear their friend’s answer!
Q. Did you base any of your books on your own life?
A. Not the plots, but I think it’s impossible not to let some things slip in, even without realizing it. What happened with Mango the cat was based loosely on my own experience, along with some minor things like the “piece of the moon,” their rope friendship bracelets, and the “partners-in-crime” stuff. I always wished I had kept a chart of all my McDonald’s hamburgers like Zack did! Alas, I think you reach a point in your life when McDonald’s hamburgers just don’t go down as well. :o(
For Leap Day, I had so many characters that I borrowed the names of a lot of friends and family members, just mixing up first and last names. And who among us hasn’t turned themselves orange in a self-tanning debacle? In Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Jeremy’s love of candy is something he and I share, along with his parents’ passion for flea markets. In Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, a few of the things Tessa does are based on events from my childhood and teen years. I can’t tell you which ones though, in case my parents read this! The Willow Falls books are based on the idea that magic can lurk around every corner, you just have to turn the right one. That’s something I try to believe in real life, too.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A. Read. Read everything you can, but especially read the type of material you like to write. Take creative writing classes and share your work with your peers whenever possible–in school, summers, online, etc. It’s great practice. It really helped me to keep notebooks with ideas that I would add to whenever I thought of one, or learned something interesting, or overheard something. That way when I wanted to write a story, I didn’t have to face an empty page. Ideas aren’t as hard to come by as you might think. I once heard the great Paula Danziger say that ideas come from only three places–Experience, Observation, and Imagination. And we all do those things every day. A writer is someone who writes. Just by writing, you’re already there.
Q: How can I cure Writer’s Block?
A: To answer that, I’m going to send you to this article written by 13-year old writer Cassidy Pry for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) blog. It answers it better than I could!
Q. How can I get a book published?
A. Research the market you want to write for so you’ll know the submission process, and be ready for stiff competition. There are many books in the library and bookstores that list what publishers and literary agents are looking for (like Literary Market Place and Writers Market). So if you want to write a story about cats, you’d look and see which publishers actually publish books on cats. Or mysteries, or science fiction, or children’s books, etc. But first and foremost, have fun with your writing, and enjoy it for its own sake without worrying too much about who’s going to see it for a while. You need to have a very thick skin when you send out your material because publishers get A LOT of manuscripts, and can only publish a few. If you get rejection letters, try to learn from them if they give specifics. Otherwise, just recognize that each editor has their own opinions, so keep trying. I heard of a girl who wallpapered her bathroom with her rejection letters and now is very successful. I put all of mine on one long roll, then laminated it. It goes across the stage of a school auditorium!
Q. Would you mind reading a story I wrote and commenting on it?
A. I would suggest asking friends or teachers whose opinions you trust. You can get a group of fellow writer-friends together and critique each others’ work, too.
Q. What were your favorite books growing up?
A. As a kid I read all the time. I took a job in my public library when I was fourteen just to be around books. I loved the Narnia books, all the books by Edward Eager, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Beverly Cleary, E.L. Konigsberg and one of my favorites was a novel I read in seventh grade called Allegra Maud Goldman by Edith Konecky. Even as a teenager, I would read my childhood favorites over and over again.
Q. What movies do you like?
A. My top five haven’t changed in years. They are:
1. Princess Bride
2. Galaxy Quest
4. Field of Dreams
5. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off
6. The Breakfast Club
(okay, so that’s six!)
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A. Be mom to my twins! Also geocaching, RV traveling, learning magic tricks, and in the last few years virtual reality has become my main hobby. I still love learning about astronomy, which I got really interested in while writing Every Soul a Star, Space Taxi, and Pi in the Sky. I can find the North Star now! And if you can find the North Star, you’ll never get lost. :o)
Q. What other books for young people do you recommend?
A. So many! Check out my Author Pals page for suggestions of books by some of my favorite folks.
Q. Is there going to be a sequel to A Mango-Shaped Space, Every Soul a Star, or Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life?
A. Alas, no. But I slipped the characters from those three books into The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase. So if you read that one, you’ll see them again as they cross paths with the four candymaker kids.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book?
A. It varies. Mango took a few years because I did so much research and a lot of revisions. Leap Day only took a few months—it just flew out of my pen (computer). Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life was somewhere in between. The Space Taxi and Time Jumpers books are about 3 months each, while the Candymakers books take the longest–the second one took 2 years! Although that doesn’t seem very long compared to the 7 years it took me and Rebecca Stead to write Bob!
Q. Will there be more Twice Upon a Time books?
A. Maybe! Robin Hood just came out, and four is a nice round number.
Q. Where were you born?
A. I was born in Livingston, NJ. I live about forty minutes away from there now, in a more rural part of the state. We have a bear that often visits!
Q. Why did you decide to write Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall in verse?
A. It seemed like that was the best way to tell the story. Each poem/chapter can stand on its own as an important event in Tessa’s life, but they also fit together to make up pieces of one big puzzle. It was fun to do, but very hard. Someone once told me writing a picture book can be harder than writing a novel. I think that’s true about poetry, too.
Q: How did it work writing Bob with Rebecca Stead?
It was great fun! Rebecca wrote Livy’s chapters, and I got to be Bob, the small green creature in an ill-fitting chicken suit. What could be better? Check out the interviews about our process back in the Resources tab.