I was wild about nature (still am) and dashed about the neighborhood with a butterfly net, collecting any bug that moved. Raising monarch butterflies was my specialty. I still love bugs, but only to look at.
What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
The JUST SO STORIES, all the Babar books, and THE RUNAWAY BUNNY, THE COUNTRY BUNNY and THE LITTLE GOLD SHOES. I had an encyclopedia of animals and memorized it—just for fun.
Did you write stories as a young child or teenager, at school or as a hobby?
I wrote everything, whenever I wasn’t in the street playing baseball or touch football or ditch’em. My mother taught me how to place my fingers on her 87,000-pound Royal typewriter; to this day I write (after a first draft, longhand, in pencil) on a rickety old Royal. In spite of all that writing, I NEVER knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a vet.
What do you need to write a book?
You do not need a computer or any fancy gadgetry. A pencil and paper will do you fine. Even a potato would work, in desperate times. All you truly need are you brain and your heart and a donkeyish streak. That is, never give up.
What kinds of things inspire you to write?
Anything. The trick is to keep AWAKE. I mean truly aware of what is going on around you in the world. Stories are everywhere—unless you’re sleepwalking through your life. When I wrote ALICE NIZZY NAZZY: The witch of Santa Fe, two words I overheard in a bookstore triggered the whole story: roadrunner feet.
Have any of your fiction books been about real people or events?
You can’t separate reality from fiction; your life keeps creeping in. BONE BY BONE BY BONE is the most autobiographical of my books./ Under a ting (sometimes not so thin) gauze of fiction, it is a pretty true story. When you share your self with readers, no matter how painful, I believe your best writing surfaces.
What do you like best about being a writer?
The children. I love to meet them; I love to correspond with them; I love to know what they are up to. I always pay attention to young people; they know stuff.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers – or to any young people?
Read your brains loose! Reading helps everything.