How many rejections did you get before you found a publisher?
I’d say around a dozen or more. After I landed an agent, the rejections started coming faster and faster because my manuscript wasn’t sitting around publishing houses in the huge pile of unsolicited manuscripts. This enabled me to find a publisher faster, but it was a little discouraging at the time as I’d open an envelope from my agent and it would contain three rejection letters. I remember one editor asking my agent about his wife and kids, and then launching into the blunt observation that my characters were amateurish and that he needed to tell me about psychological reality. Evidently her psychological reality was different from mine. I can live with that.
How many hours do you devote to writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
When I’m writing, I try to put in a few hours a day. Of course, I’m actually working more than that. When I’m driving my car or out walking around, I’m often daydreaming and coming up with ideas I’ll use the next day. When things are going well and I’m getting ideas, I can finish a draft of a book in a few months. When I’m not, it can take years.
What kind of obstacles or challenges have you experienced as a children's writer?
Getting published was the biggest challenge. Once published, I discovered just how many books were out there and competition to get into bookstores was intense as well. Finally, keeping books in print can be tricky. My first book, The Trouble with Lemons is going the strongest. It’s in its 20th domestic printing and has been translated into seven or eight languages. The rest of my books, although I think they are better written, have had to struggle a little harder to survive. Go figure.
Who are some writers that you admire?
Mark Twain, of course, was certainly an early influence. Huckleberry Finn really blew me away. I also grew to love Dickens and then many others. Right now, I admire Richard Russo. Even great writers often have trouble writing really sharp, crisp dialogue, and he’s the best at that. When his characters speak, they jump right off the page. Not only can you hear them and see them, but you also feel as if you know them.