Okay. I spoke before a total of about 500 High School kids today. I am jet-lagged, wiped out, and have no voice left, but it was a terrific day. And, as is often the case, having flown this week has left me sick with some stranger's anti-American phlegm virus. So I am heading for bed.
But the kids asked me so many amazing questions, and I was happy for their interest and insight. When, as inevitably happened, I was asked by one student about my favorite authors, I found myself talking, once again, about Melville; and I realized how Melvillian some of the structures in Ghost Medicine are. Oh well... I must be delirious.
So... here are a few of the questions and responses on the day:
You write about kids. What was your life like when you were young?
I was the son of a military officer and an Italian mother; so my three brothers and I lived in all kinds of places growing up. In fact, I was the first kid in the family to be born here in America, and we lived all over the country after that. I also spent a lot of time growing up in Italy, too. Probably my favorite place we lived was in Kitsap County, Bainbridge Island, Washington, because there was so much outdoor space and so much for boys to do. I think that connection with nature I felt as a boy became a big part of the story behind Ghost Medicine. Of course, we were never big television watchers, and I still don’t watch it as an adult. In fact, I know a lot of people will think this is weird, but I have never even seen a minute of an episode of shows like The Office, The Sopranos, or Mad Men. I couldn't even tell you the first thing about those shows. But I hear lots of people watch them.
Why did you start writing for kids?
I don't think I ever consciously decided to write for kids. I just wrote. And I think that writers of Young Adult fiction kind of bristle at the term "children," even though we end up being lumped into that broad category, because our audience and characters really aren't children. That said, I guess I started writing stories ever since I used a really fat pencil and wrote on that paper with the really wide lines. I always knew I would be a writer. But when I was in high school and told my parents that I wanted to be a writer, they just about choked on their dinner. I remember them saying, “But what do you really want to do?” It didn't matter to me, though, because I paid my own way through college and I was dedicated to becoming a journalism or literature major. My first actual job was writing for a newspaper, too. In those days, we got paid by the inch of copy, too, which, I believe, accounts for some of the long, long sentences in Ghost Medicine. Old habits die hard, I guess. I ended up not enjoying writing for newspapers and, later, radio stations, and I eventually drifted around all over the world.
What is the most valuable advice you can give to a newly published writer?
Well, I don't know how valuable my advice is... but I'd say that the best thing you can do if you're a newly published writer is to start on your next project. Personally, though, I do have to take a little recovery time to rest after finishing a novel, because the process for me is pretty mentally and physically draining. I think that, after a debut, many writers get scared that they won't be able to come up with a second novel. When I wrote Ghost Medicine, I almost convinced myself that I wouldn't be able to write another novel; that I was somehow emptying myself out. In reality, my next four novels became easier to write.I found that a quick return to writing something new made the whole process easier and more natural.