In the past, readers have reached out with questions about my writing process. Whether you're a budding, young author, a curious reader, or a student looking to pad out a book report, here are the answers to a few frequently-asked questions.
Q: Where do you get your story ideas?
A: This is probably the question authors get asked the most, and we'll usually tell you there's no one specific source. No magical well full of unlimited great ideas. Instead, ideas come from many different places! In dreams, on nature walks, watching the news, or even while doing boring chores (because that's when the mind tends to wander.) Frenzy, my first published book, popped into my head one afternoon while I was washing dishes. I was standing in front of the sink, staring out the window overlooking the backyard, when I noticed a squirrel sitting on my fence. The squirrel looked back at me, and for a long time we engaged in an epic staring contest. Man vs nature, a tale as old as time! I can't remember who blinked first, but I ultimately won because . our showdown sparked the idea of a world where animals infected with a mutated variant of rabies run amuck in the forest surrounding a summer camp. The rest is history.
Q: What's your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite?
A: I enjoy the research that goes into writing books like Frenzy and The Murk. My stories tend to contain a lot of real science facts, and that means reading up on a wide variety of topics such as alligators, viruses, plants, wolves, and the history of the Okefenokee swamp. Every day is like being in school, and while that may not sound fun to everyone, I absolutely love learning and absorbing interesting facts.
My least favorite part of writing is editing a book over and over until I'm sick of it. It's kind of like eating nothing but pizza for months at every single meal. Actually, that sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
Q: I want to be an author when I grow up. What advice can you offer?
A: I'll give you the same answer I'd give to anyone who wants to get good at anything, whether that's writing, surfing, cooking, or playing an instrument. Do that thing every single day or at least as often as you can. If your dream is to be a writer, write every chance you get. And read, too. Because the more you read, the better you'll understand the rules of the craft.
Q: Do you feel bad when you kill off important characters?
A: Absolutely! And sometimes, in service to a story, writers even kill off their favorite character. If you've read Frenzy, you were probably saddened by the death of a few characters. I promise you, I was heartbroken too. A book can often take a year or more to write, and authors grow attached to their characters, especially the loveable ones. In a way, they're our imaginary children. So a lot of thoughtful deliberation occurs before taking a character's life.
Q: Do you have any quirky writing rituals?
A: Not really. But when I'm nearing the end of a first draft, I'm usually so immersed in the work that I forget to do basic stuff, like shave my face. When I finish, the first thing I do is shave my caveman beard off. After that, I treat myself to a delicious celebration dinner.
Q: What were some of the books you read as a kid that inspired you to become a writer?
A: I read a lot of comic books growing up and still love them to this day. In fact, for most of my life I wanted to draw comics for a living. The first middle-grade novel I remember reading and loving was Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I devoured that book and all of its sequels. As an adult, I read a lot of middle-grade books. Some of my favorites include the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Holes by Louis Sacher, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, and The Last Kids on Earth series by Max Brallier and Douglas Holgate.