What keeps you up at night?
Generally I wake up worrying about my kids or my career. The middle-of-the-night scenarios are dire: accidents, Alzheimer’s, awful reviews, abject humiliation in one form or another. Unfortunately I’m a world-class worrier, so there I am lying in a pool of sweat whipped into a fretting frenzy when suddenly an idea pops into my head. A good idea. An idea that solves a writing problem I’ve been grappling with for days. But I don’t know it because middle-of-the-night ideas come in disguise. An image, a line of dialogue, a name, a character I hadn’t thought was important that suddenly begins to speak to me. I write everything down but I often don’t understand the significance of what I’ve written until the next morning.
What is your proudest career moment?
I’m the kid in the back-back of the station wagon. The one who tries hard and everyone says: is such a nice girl. I’m not the star. I don’t have a history of winning anything. The day I won the Newbery Honor changed my life. It made me believe in my dreams in a way nothing else ever has.
Describe your favorite pair of pajamas.
My favorite PJs look like an 18th century orphan’s rags. They are worn to threads, the elastic frayed down to one thin rubber band. I live in fear that someone outside my family will see me wearing them, but I simply can’t give them up. They feel like me.
In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?
I’d like to win a gold medal in gymnastics or tennis although in my mind’s eye I look good in those skimpy little outfits. Clearly, I have a great imagination.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Once, I spoke to 1500 middle school kids in a gymnasium the size of the state of Texas. The screen where my laptop projected the images essential for the presentation was the size of a fortune cookie. The audience could not see it. I was the only speaker for an entire hour. I thought I was going to faint when I walked into this situation but the kids had read my books. They wanted to hear what I had to say. You could have heard an ant cross that gymnasium floor. I will always be indebted to the teachers who prepared those kids so well.
What’s the first book you remember reading?
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Strauss and Crockett Johnson. I still remember holding it in my chubby little hand, reading it for the very first time. I believed I was the main character. In one hundred and one words, Strauss and Johnson told a powerful story that spoke to me on the deepest level. Incredible!
What TV show can’t you turn off?
Interesting the way you phrased this question: “can’t turn off” which implies that you should be turning TV off. Or in fact you shouldn’t turn it on in the first place. Honestly, I think that’s a dated point of view. The best writing is in books. No doubt about that. But a close second is writing for television. The Sopranos, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Leftovers, Madmen, Transparent . . . this is fine, fine character writing. Writing for movies, on the other hand, is not nearly as strong as it was ten years ago.
What book do you tell everyone to read?
Not surprisingly I have a lot of favorite books so I will just talk about this month’s favorite books. For YAs: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. For MG readers: Nest by Esther Ehrlich.