Book Nerd Interview
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I’m continually struck with the importance of storytelling, but here’s what strikes me right now: storytelling gives shape and meaning to our lives. We all think in terms of beginning, middle, and end; storytelling incarnates that instinct. It’s how we’re created: “In the beginning was the word (story),” and the word informs us that we’re not just organisms experiencing sensation moment by moment. That’s the short answer. I could write a book . . .
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I didn’t want to be a writer when I was a kid, and didn’t publish my first novel until I was fifty.
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
Nope; I wanted to be an actress. Not movies—live theater. It wasn’t until much later, as I was pushing thirty, that I realized writing a novel is like acting out a play, only it’s all in my head, and I get to play all the parts! (There was a defining moment in my youth when I realized I was a reader, though; I write about that here.)
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Nothing glamorous: Put your butt in the chair. Pick up your pencil or swivel around to your keyboard. Then do it.
What are some of the common challenges that new and experienced authors face and what advice do you have for over-coming them?
The biggest challenge is the same for both new and experienced authors: we face a world of vast indifference. When you’re new and unknown, nobody cares that you’ve written the greatest book ever—you have to convince them. And after you’ve published a few novels, the story is basically the same: you still have to convince them. And when you think about it, that’s how it should be. Nobody owes you a read and everyone’s time is valuable. An author’s job is not to get herself on the cover of Publishers Weekly or cause a stampede at Amazon.com; it’s to give the best value possible for those readers who are persuaded to invest some time with her.
The best attitude for pressing on when times get rough is a weird mixture of confidence and humility. Confility?
In your new book; Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous, can you tell my Book Nerd Kids Community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
And now it’s time to put my own advice into practice and be convincing. Hello, Book Nerd Kids Community! Is anybody there in middle school, or do you remember middle school? For some of us, it wasn’t the best time of our lives, but it’s valuable learning time. It’s when we’re first starting to wonder who we are, and we kind of think the kids around us know more than we do. I take nine middle-school students who all live in the same neighborhood and all get on the same bus every morning, and show how they respond to each other as the school year progresses. Each one has their own story, but they also have a shared question: Why does the bus driver stop every morning at the country crossroads where there’s a nice little bus shelter, but no one waiting in it? No one. Ever. Each one of characters will acquire a clue to the mystery, but not all of them will realize it. If you want to solve the mystery—and discover who’s going to be famous—you’ll have to read the novel.
For those who are unfamiliar with Spencer, how would you introduce him?
Oh, everybody knows Spencer! He’s the brainy kid, whose test scores are whispered about among his classmates and whose vocabulary makes you wish you had a dictionary (so you could throw it at him). Only lately he’s beginning to recognize that there are people—even other sixth-graders--who might be smarter than he is. Maybe even a lot smarter. And if Spencer isn’t the smart one, who is he?
If you could introduce Shelly to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
What an interesting prospect! Okay: Shelly, meet Voldemort. He could help you get serious (about something other than yourself, that is) and you could help him lighten up. A sequined cape might help.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Matthew?
Matthew appears to live in his own theoretical world, but there’s one very real hurt in his life, a pain that won’t go away. But that pain also keeps him attached to humanity, so in that sense it’s a good thing to have. I was surprised when this thing that happens to him at the end (no, I can’t tell you what) serves as metaphor for necessary pain.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Be thankful you’re alive. The world can be very rough—sometimes excruciating. But life itself is an exciting mystery if you take the time to search out the clues.
What book are you reading now?
I’m reading two, one for adults and one for kids: Mission to Nuremberg by Tim Townsend is about the American pastor who served as a chaplain to Nazi war criminals—Hitler’s lieutenants—during the Nuremberg war criminal trials. The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson is a historical novel about the Broad Street (London) cholera epidemic of 1854. It’s not a cheerful subject, but she creates a very likable main character.
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
I’ve been blessed to visit some exotic places, like Athens (the stony heart of antiquity), Venice (like a fairy tale come to life—except that it sometimes stinks), and Tokyo (so like us, and yet so different!). Also the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the top of Mt. Hood. And yet I’m thrilled when the fall leaves turn or the redbuds bloom in my own home town. So what can I say? My feet are on holy ground all the time.
What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment?
My screened front porch. It’s the best of nature and civilization: sunlight, cool breezes, shelter from the rain, and no bugs.
When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
When I signed off a phone conversation with my son a few days ago. Those swift “love-ya’s” are like a kiss on the cheek.
When was the last time you cried?
I choke up a lot—movie makers know just how to pull my strings. But in “real life,” the last time I cried was a happy occasion, and I’ll leave it at that.
Each of the nine students on Mrs. B's school bus holds a clue to the mystery of the empty bus stop. Spencer's the smart kid. Shellly's the diva. Matthew's just average (so far). In fact, there's nothing about any of the nine middle-schoolers on Mrs. B's bus route that screams "fame," but before the end of the school year, somebody on this bus is going to be famous.
Part detective story, part tale of self-discovery, this funny and touching novel told from nine very different points of view is destined to be a modern classic.
You can purchase Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous! at the following Retailers:
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