These are answers to questions that I get asked all the time.
Q: Where did you get your idea for The Underneath?
A: When I was growing up in Houston, my parents got divorced, and my mother decided that since my father was gone, we needed a guard dog. So, she went to the animal shelter and found Sam. He was very large, and very protective of my sisters and me. One day, a small calico cat wandered into our garage and began to eat out of Sam’s food bowl. At first, she avoided Sam, but soon enough they became friends. A few weeks later, she delivered four beautiful kittens and Sam became their hound-dog papa, just like Ranger. So, that part of the story is based on the very real dog and cats that I knew when I was younger.
Q: Is Gar Face based on a real person?
A: Only partially. I did know someone when I was younger who reminded me of Gar Face, although so far as I know he never hurt any animals. He did, however, drink too much and loved to hunt and fish.
Q: Are you planning to write a sequel to The Underneath?
A: Not at this time. The story feels done to me.
Q: Will The Underneath ever be made into a movie?
Q: Where did you get your idea for Keeper?
A: My grandmother lived in Galveston, and I spent many happy summers with her, watching the waves roll in and out along the beach there. I always wondered about mermaids and what it would feel like to be able to swim underwater and circle the world like a dolphin. How great would that be?
Q: Is Keeper based on a real story?
A: The part about Captain is. One night, a storm blew up and a seagull flew into my grandmother’s kitchen window, breaking its wing. My grandmother wrapped the bird up in a kitchen towel and tookcare of it until it could fly again. While it was on the mend, it became good friends with my grandmother’s dog—B.D.
Q: Why did you include a gay merman in Keeper?
A: One of my favorite family members is gay, and when my sons were in middle school he never showed up in their books. It was as if he was invisible. My Jacques de Mer is a tribute to my family member, and to every child who can’t find their gay friends or relatives in middle grade books.
Q: Is Keeper’s mother really a mermaid?
Q: Have you ever gone surfing?
A: Yes, but it was too scary for me. I like to swim, but I’m not good with standing on a board in the middle of waves.
Q: What made you think about writing The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp?
A: One morning my friend Cynthia Leitich Smith, sent me an email that said, “Write something funny.” I had always wanted to write a story that featured raccoons as the main characters, so when I got that email, I decided that raccoons were indeed funny, but they are also clever and smart. I also love cars, so I wanted a car to play a significant role in the story. And because feral hogs have caused so much damage here in Texas, I knew that they would be great villains.
Q: Do you have a recipe for fried sugar pies?
A: No. But I sure wish I did.
Q: Were you excited when you learned that Lyle Lovett was going to narrate the audio book for The True Blue Scouts?
A: I was over-the-moon happy. I still am.
Q: Why is Maybe a Fox so sad?
A: In our day-to-day lives, we are bound to encounter true sorrow, right? I feel that sorrow can be expressed in a book in way that creates a safe space for it to play out. That way, when real sadness occurs, we have a little practice with it, and it makes it not so scary. A book gives us a kind of emotional rehearsal so that we can prepare for sorrow when it actually arrives.
Q: What was it like writing a collaboration?
A: First of all, Alison McGhee is a genius, and I felt so lucky to be her partner in writing Maybe a Fox. Second of all, she is the only person I would ever team up with again, largely because we figured out how to work with each other and still remain friends. In any partnership, there is a lot of giving and taking, pushing and pulling. But the cool thing about our book is that it’s neither Alison’s book or my book. Instead, it feels like it’s own book. I would not have created the finished product by myself, and neither would Alison. The only way the book exists is because we worked on it together.
Q: Why did you set Angel Thieves in Houston?
A: Houston is where I grew up, and even though I haven’t lived there in a long time, I still think of it as my hometown. I come from a long line of Houstonians, the first of whom came from Germany. They settled first in Galveston, which is much older than Houston. But then they eventually wound up in Houston. I have deep roots there. Plus, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the world, which makes it a genuinely rich place so far as stories go.
Q: Have you ever met a real thief?
A: Not that I’m aware of, but it’s probably not likely that a thief would actually tell me that they were a thief. It seems like they’d keep that a secret.
Q: Will there be an audiobook?
A: Yes, and I’m very happy to say that the wonderful Laurel Kathleen is doing the narration. You will love it.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Ideas are all around us. They come from our personal experiences, from the experiences of our friends and family, from listening, from reading, from watching, from tasting. Pay attention and the ideas will show up. I promise.
Q: How did you get started in writing for children and teenagers?
A: I joined the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators and started attending their events, plus I took lots of classes and attended workshops.
Q: Would you read my manuscript for me?
A: Only if you are one of my friends or students.
Q: What is your biggest tip for becoming a writer?
A: Read like crazy! Write like your fingers are on fire!