1. How did you become an author?
We didn't have many books at home when I was a girl, but my mom took my brother, sister, and me to the library. At first, I thought I would be a book designer or illustrator.
I graduated from college in Texas with a fine arts degree, and then free-lanced as an art director at a graphic design firm for eight years. I dreamed of working in children's books, so I moved to New York City and became associate art director in Scholastic trade books, where I designed books for children and worked with editors and illustrators. What a great job!
In the 1990s, I began writing because I had story ideas that I thought would make good books. I submitted my stories to publishers, hoping they’d make them into books. However, they didn’t…at first. Back then, I called manuscripts I sent out “boomerangs” because I'd mail them out, then they'd come right back, rejected. Eventually a wonderful editor named Jane O'Connor said yes. In 1996, I suddenly sold three manuscripts in three months to Grosset & Dunlap and Scholastic, including Boo Who? A Spooky Lift-the-Flap Book (Scholastic), which is still in print. Yippee!
Now I write full time and have written and/or illustrated over 150 children's books. I hope my books are so interesting and entertaining that kids can almost see the action, like a movie playing in their heads.
2. Does every book you write get published?
Nope. I have a file drawer stuffed full of rejected manuscripts. But I have a long, ongoing list of book ideas I'm excited about, and I am usually writing more than one book at a time.
3. Where do you get your ideas?
I get ideas the same way you do. I listen to friends and random strangers, and I watch people around me. I read, brainstorm, travel, and daydream to get ideas. Ideas are the easy part of writing. Developing an idea into a book with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end can be hard. You just never know if an idea will make a good book until you try it. Sometimes I get frustrated when I can't make an idea work. But if I have an idea I really like, I usually don't give up on it. I keep on and on and on until I've turned it into a story.
4. Why don't you illustrate all of the books you write?
The 100th Day of School by Angela Shelf Medearis (Scholastic, still in print) is the first book I illustrated. I don't have time to both write and illustrate, and I decided I like writing a teeny bit more than illustrating. I think this is a golden age of illustration. There are so many wonderful artists out there in the publishing world right now! These are just some of the amazing artists who have illustrated books I wrote: Kathy Couri, Lynne Avril, Jannie Ho, Kristin Sorra, Michael Slack, Tim Bowers, Debbie Palen, Regan Dunnick, Anna DiVito, Paul Meisel, Theresa Smythe, Will Terry, Tom Lichtenheld, Scott Magoon, and James Dean, Melissa Sweet, and James Burks.
5. Did you like school when you were a kid?
Yep. I got bored during the summer, so I was glad when school started. I loved getting a new lunchbox and choosing what I would wear the first day. I was shy, but I like to learn and I made good grades, so school was mostly fun for me.
6. How do you develop your characters and plot?
I've usually already decided on most of the characters, the ending, and some of the plot before I start writing a book. I work out the rest as I go along. For chapter books and middle grade books like Heroes in Training and Goddess Girls, I write an outline before I write the book. I learn the rhythm and structure of stories by reading books and thinking about how they are structured.
7. What are your favorite books besides the ones you have written?
A Friend for Dragon; Chrysanthemum; Ruby the Copycat; Marvin Redpost; Holes; Judy Moody series; Junie B Jones; Feed; Officer Buckle and Gloria; Stargirl; Eloise; Fancy Nancy, Horace and Morris; The Hunger Games; Matched; the Wimpy Kid series; Amelia's Notebook; and many, many, many more!
8. What do you look for in a good book?
Humor or emotions I strongly identify with. An unusual plot idea and characters I care about. I own thousands of books, and my office walls are lined with bookshelves. If you want to be a writer, I think the number one most important thing you should do is read.
9. Do you have a family, kids, pets, or hobbies?
I have a brother and a sister and two cats named Marco and Polo. Besides writing and drawing, I like to help animals, hike, bike ride, dance, DIY home decor and furniture, watch movies, travel, go to museums, read, and eat chocolate.
10. Can I write to you?
Yes, click the CONTACT link at the top of this page.