To P.O. Box 3257, Santa Cruz, CA 95063. If you'd like a reply, please include a self-addressed stamped envelope. If you're a teacher and want to have an entire class write, please enclose all letters in one envelope with a SASE and I'll reply with a letter to the class. To have time to continue writing books, I'm afraid I don't respond to fan mail via email.
Do you visit schools?
I did for many years, and always enjoyed it--until it became too much of an interruption for my writing. These days, I do very little school speaking.
Do I need to get your permission to perform material from your books?
Yes. As with all copyrighted material, permission is required for its public use.
Why did you make WHIRLIGIG so confusing?
Whirligig is for readers who are patient and can accept uncertainty. You're not sure what's going on at first; the farther you get, the more it makes sense. The story of Brent's accident and the immediate aftermath was so long that it would have unbalanced the book if I'd put it all in the first chapter. The solution--breaking it into two chapters--leaves readers in the dark when they come to the first flash-forward. That's a disadvantage. Had I do to over, I might look for a different fix. But that downside comes with an upside: the book feels more like real life and real journeys, which leave us often unsure and momentarily stumped. It's challenging, but when you feel it coming into focus I hope you find a satisfaction that's absent in books that ask little of readers.
I did indeed. In fact, that's a picture of me listening to it on the cover of the book, taken by my father when I was 10 or so. I listened to shortwave up through high school--like Rob, often late at night, with no lights on in my room. Hearing Radio South Africa describing the benefits of apartheid and Radio Peking giving its view of the Vietnam War got me interested in current history. Listening to foreign languages showed me the pure music of words and started me in the direction of Joyful Noise. The shortwave was one of the best teachers I ever had.
Why do you write poems for more than one voice?
If I could, I'd write music rather than books. Alas, I don't have that talent--but writing multi-voice poetry at least gives me a taste. Playing in a recorder consort in college led me toward those poems as well. I loved being part of a group. I've tried to bring that feeling of interplay and joyful collaboration into the poetry.
Is the character Virgil in SEEDFOLKS a boy or a girl?
I get many questions about this. Virgil is a boy. I've never known Virgil to be anything but a boy's name.
Was your childhood like Wesley's in WESLANDIA?
Yes and no. I felt different from my peers because I was so short--the shortest boy in my grade all the way through 10th grade. And like Wesley, my friends and I made up an alternate world--our own games, our own underground school newspaper (the basis for the underground paper in Seek). Unlike Wesley, I wasn't an outcast. I was president of my grammar school and had a great pack of friends.
I wish we did. You can see a picture of us on the back flap of Lost. Our group was called String Quartet. The boy in the front is my son, Dana. The other two members are friends. The kids, alas, moved on to other things. We performed figures for one, two, three, and four people--using 30-foot ropes for the latter. It was quite dancelike. We also performed Lost, and ended the shows by giving teachers a roll of nylon string and a book of string figures. My father was a magician, specializing in slight of hand--something that never interested me as a kid. Forty years later, it surfaced in string figures.
How long does it take to write your books?
My young adult novels usually take about a year. I usually spend as much time on thinking out the story as on the actual writing. If there's a lot of research involved--as in Bull Run or Saturnalia--the book might take longer. Some ideas sit in my notebook for 10 or 15 years before being drawn on.
What advice do you have for new writers?
First, read. Writers are usually self-taught. Books are our classrooms, other authors our teachers. We're lucky--we get to pick our teachers, and when and where to go to class. Second, write. As with learning to ride a bike, there's no substitute for actually doing it. I never took writing classes or read books about writing. I wrote, and learned from my many mistakes and false starts. I'm still learning. As for understanding the business side of writing, I'd recommend joining the Authors Guild, and, for writers for children and teens, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Both offer a trove of information on submitting manuscripts, agents, contracts, etc.; both also lobby on behalf of writers and sponsor conferences where you can meet agents and editors and your fellow writers.