I started playing guitar when I was seven years old and spent a great deal of time playing music, singing, and listening to albums. Then I got a camera for my 13 th birthday and became a pretty good photographer. Some of the pictures I took years ago, of “haunted houses” and castles in Great Britain for example, have been published in recent years in my books.
What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
I was always a voracious reader and fell in love with the HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON series when I was in kindergarten. (Purple is still my favorite color!) When I was in middle school I read a lot of science fiction, starting with the old H.G. Wells classics THE TIME MACHINE and WAR OF THE WORLDS. Later I graduated to THE HOBBIT and the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, which I read in eighth grade. A little later I was smitten with Kurt Vonnegut’s CAT’S CRADLE. Since then I’ve read all Vonnegut’s books, some of them several times. Today I mostly read nonfiction or fiction with a humorous viewpoint.
Did you write stories when you were growing up? at school? Or at home as a hobby? As a young child, or as a teenager, or both?
Beginning in about sixth grade I wrote short stories, reams of poems, and songs. I also wrote several “scripts” which I made into movies with my primitive 8mm movie camera.
When you were a child did you ever have moments when you decided that you were going to be a writer when you grew up?
I thought I was going to be a rock star! (LOL)
When was it published?
My first book was published in 1987. Until that time I was mostly writing songs and working as a professional musician. I got my start in publishing when Jim Abdo, of Abdo & Daughters Publishing, heard me singing my songs in a recording studio. He asked me if I could write the history of rock & roll for sixth graders, to which I answered “Yeah!” The Abdos appreciated my words so much I went on to write over 100 books for them. Then I started writing for Lucent in 1997 and since that time I’ve written a steady stream of nonfiction children’s books and have around 250 published titles (I lost track of the exact number). Most big city libraries have about 90 of my titles.
Was your first book accepted immediately? or did you experience a number of rejections?
Because of the unusual way I got into the business I have zero rejection letters.
What are the topics are some of your books?
I’ve written about everything from the history of reggae and rock & roll to the theory of relativity. Besides music history, my favorite titles concern mysteries such as ghosts, angels, vampires, haunted houses, voodoo, and possession.
Do you work on more than one book at a time?
I write ten to twelve nonfiction books a year so I’m always thinking about three or four titles at a time. For example, right now I’ve got to proofread the galleys (final version) of a book I finished in January, I’ve got to answer editor’s questions about a book I turned in last month, and I’m thinking about an outline for a book I’m going to write next month. In addition, I’ve got to finish writing a book that has to be done within a few weeks. Whew!
Do you write every day and do you have set hours that you work?
I try to write four or five pages a day and I’m usually sharpest in the early afternoons, which is when I try to get most of my writing done. But sometimes it takes me two hours to write a few paragraphs. This is why it is important to have a good outline before you start writing anything. I’m lucky in that I never get writer’s block but when I do get hung up on a topic, the outline is there to guide me. I can always write about something else and come back to hard part later. (Or, since I live in San Diego, go to the beach.)
Do you like to include humor in your stories? Or adventure? Or mystery?
It’s a challenge when writing nonfiction to keep things interesting. I always search for the most mysterious, exciting, or amusing aspects of a subject. Truth is stranger than fiction, as they say, and real life historic events are often filled with great adventure, humor, mystery, and excitement.
Has anyone ever written you a fan letter that you’d like to share?
The most touching gift I’ve received as an author was after my series about the Holocaust was published. A young girl sent me a homemade “Truth Award” which she inscribed on a piece of wood taken from an old cigar box.
Is there anything about yourself that you’d like to share - hobbies, where you were born, special talents other than writing/illustrating.
I feel blessed to have learned to play music at a young age. Music stimulated my creative impulses and I was able to channel them to other pursuits such as photography and writing. I would advise anyone who wants to become a writer to learn about music because rhythm and timing are as important in writing as they are in jamming.