We last visited with you in September of 2005. Can you share with us the highlights of your writing life since?
Let’s see…one cool thing: I won the Little d Award for Humor Writing, for Murder, My Tweet (Harcourt, 2004). I’ve come out with three more Chet Gecko mysteries, and I’ve branched into writing fractured fairy-tale picture books (Snoring Beauty and Pooch in Boots, both coming from Harcourt). Those two books are being illustrated by someone other than me–a new experience.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of the Underwhere series, illustrated by Shane Hillman (HarperCollins, 2007-)! Could you tell us what it’s about?
The Underwhere series has been my other new project. It’s half graphic novel, half regular novel, written for 7-12 year-old readers. It’s about three kids and their cat who discover a strange world beneath ours, full of midget dinosaurs, zombies, and an evil UnderLord who wants to take over our planet. The kids try to stop him.
What was your initial inspiration for writing this series?
I had two inspirations: 1) my lifelong love of comics (I actually started out as a cartoonist); and 2) the old Pellucidar novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, about a world at the center of our world.
What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?
This one took a long time to gestate. I actually had the idea back in 2004 and sold the series to HarperCollins. The first book took over a year to write and revise, as we were figuring out the world, learning how to write this new form, and choosing an illustrator. Since then, each book has taken at least six months, but they’re getting quicker.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
The biggest challenge was in learning to write succinctly for the graphic novel sections. My editor and I had to ruthlessly hack out jokes and dialog to make it lean and mean. Because I hadn’t done a comic book before, I didn’t expect how much space it would take to bring the action to life.
What about this format appeals to you?
It’s fun to switch gears and use a different kind of a storytelling–almost like writing a film script.
If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
I’d tell me to be persistent and not get discouraged so easily. I’d encourage me to educated myself more by attending conferences and reading books. I’d also tell me to buy Apple stock when it first went public.
What would you say specifically on the topic of writing humor?
I’ve pretty much learned by doing, but if I had it to do over, I’d study the craft of humor–especially stand-up comedians.
How have your writing abilities developed over time?
I’ve become a more economical writer, using fewer words to express ideas. I’ve also become looser, more forgiving of my crappy first drafts–knowing that I improve in revision.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read a lot, surf, hike, go to the movies, go bicycling, travel, speak, sing, and play music.
How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?
Not very well, at the moment. I had a crazy fall, packed with lots of speaking and travel, and I fell behind on my writing. When I’m “on” my game, I leave blocks of time at home for working on first drafts, then schedule my travel during revision time.
What can your fans look forward to next?
After finishing the six Underwhere books, I plan to start work on a longer fantasy story–either middle-grade or YA, I’m not sure yet. I’d like to write something longer, something that’s more emotion-based, but still humorous.