I want every child in your school to become a better reader. I especially want to turn boys, who need some help, into readers for life. I also want your students to become much better writers. Robert's Rules of Writing is my short guide to help them lose their fear of a blank page -- to start them writing freely and easily. It works.
How did you begin writing for children?
By accident, and because of my daughter, Heidi. A bedtime story I was making up for Heidi began to grow and grow. Good stories do that, you know. At Heidi's urging I wrote the story and it became CHOCOLATE FEVER, one of the two books of mine that sold over a million copies. So I thank my seven-year-old daughter for getting me started.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Since I was eight years old and read the first book that made me cry. That book got me hooked on reading, and also led me to think that writing books was a fine thing to do with my life. I didn't know then that it would take me more than thirty years to see print, and I had no idea what kind of writer I'd be. But that's when my dreams began.
Where do you get your ideas?
I go to the A & P, ask for a dozen good ideas, and take them home in a paper bag. I wish it were that simple. Ideas come from life, from things that happen to me or people I know. JELLY BELLY came from being the fattest kid in fifth grade. THE WAR WITH GRANDPA came from my son, Roger, who told me he loved his room and "never wanted to live anywhere else." So, naturally, I wrote a story about a boy who is forced to give up his room. MOSTLY MICHAEL was written for some fifth greaders who asked me to write about an average kid "who doesn't like school a lot." The better the idea, the stronger the book.
Why do you write funny books?
You may as well ask why I have brown eyes. Humor is a big part of me, perhaps because I find life hard to get through without looking on the funny side. But humor is not why I write, it's kind of a side dish that comes with the main course. More important for me is that my work projects warmth, love, compassion, and a feeling of family.
How do you begin a book?
With trepidation, usually. But I will have a hero I like, an opening situation, and a loose idea of where the story is going. I don't want to know everything; that would be too boring for me. So in a sense I am discovering the story along with my characters.
Tell us about your personal life.
I was married for 44 years to Claire Medney, who was my best editor, muse, and much later on my literary agent. We and our kids lived happily in a big, old Victorian house in Brooklyn. Claire died a few years ago after a long illness. I recently married an old friend, Margery Nathanson, who is a designer and a collector of Latin American folk art. She designed our apartment in Manhattan where I am trying to begin writing again.
Do you have a specific message for readers?
Several. Get the most out of yourself, enjoy life, and be good to people along the way. I like to write about making a moral choice, although I hide this as well as I can. Kids don't like to be lectured to or hit on the head. I think I wrote CHOCOLATE FEVER just to say "you can't have everything every time you want it." Of course my secret agenda is to create books so entertaining they get kids hooked on reading, particularly boys, who need help. But usually my story line conveys a moral without my having to make it concrete. Concrete is too heavy for good writing, anyway, and usually messes up the page.