What inspired you to write Library Lion?
It’s sometimes hard to figure out exactly when and where an idea first begins. I was working at the Cornell University Library when I wrote Library Lion, so it’s not surprising that I came up with a library story while spending so much time there. It was a wonderful place to work, and I loved the job and my coworkers, and I think all those good feelings about the library found their way into the story, as well. But I’m not really sure where the lion part came from. We had occasional uninvited animal visitors at the library — birds, squirrels, mice, the occasional dog — but no lions, at least while I was there. I was an evening supervisor and sometimes worked the late shift until 2am, and it was on one of those late nights that the story came to me. I had gotten home from work and was sitting at my dining room table, and the first line of the story just popped into my head: One day, a lion came to the library. I started writing it down at once.
How long did it take you to write Library Lion?
I wrote an initial, incomplete draft that first night (on some purple note paper and yellow Post-It notes and the back of an envelope — whatever was nearby at the time!) and then kept working on it the next day. I think I spent about two weeks working on that first draft, which is very fast for me; usually my picture book drafts take much longer to come together. But Library Lion was pretty complete from the beginning, which was a lovely gift. I sent it to my agent, Jodi Reamer, who sent it to Sarah Ketchersid at Candlewick Press. Sarah (who is a brilliant editor) helped me refine the text and cut it down into a more reasonable picture book length. (It’s still rather long for a picture book, but you should have seen how much longer it was before!) Library Lion was the first book Sarah and I worked on together, and we’ve continued to work together since then on more picture books as well as novels.
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?
My very favorite books when I was little were Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr, The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle, and The Fire Cat by Esther Averill. When I got a little older, sometime around junior high school, I think, my favorite author was the adult fantasy and science fiction writer Piers Anthony. I loved his books like crazy, and I think he was the first author who really inspired me to want to write fantasy novels of my own.
When you were growing up did you visit the library often? If so, did you break the rules like Lion does?
I did visit the library a lot when I was growing up. I loved wandering around and finding new books, loved getting to take them home to read, and then coming back to return them and take home MORE new books. It always felt like a magical place to me. I don’t remember breaking any rules, although I guess it’s possible that I did!
Do you have a local library that you like to visit? If so, could you tell us a little bit about it?
I used to live right up the block from the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, and I loved going there to find new books or sometimes just to sit and write. I don’t live quite as close to a library branch now, and I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to visit! I also can’t quite justify borrowing books when I have a giant stack of books here at home waiting to be read. (A lot of them are books written by author friends — I like to buy their books to help support them, but they write SO MANY, and it’s hard to keep up!)
If you could live anyplace real or fictional, where would it be? Why?
When I was younger I would have given anything to live in Xanth, which is the fictional fantasy world in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Everyone there is born with a magical talent, and there are magical creatures and plants (and also lots of puns), and of course everyone who lived there seemed to have exciting adventures all the time. But to be honest these days I really love living in Brooklyn. I would love to move closer to Prospect Park, though (and closer to that central library branch...).
If you could befriend a character from one of your books, who would you befriend? Why?
This is a hard question. I love all of my characters (even the not-so-nice ones, although those are probably not the ones I would choose to be friends with). Maybe one of the characters from my Trelian fantasy series ... I really like Calen in those books, and I think we could probably be good friends. Also Mage Anders, who is in the second and third books in that series — he always makes me laugh. From my picture books ... maybe Big Mean Mike. I bet he would be a lot of fun to hang out with!
You have written over 40 books. Wow! You write picture books, chapter books, books for middle grade readers, and now young adult novels. Do you have a preference? Is there a way you decide which type of book you are going to write next?
I love getting to work on all different kinds of books. I’m almost always in the middle of at least one novel and one picture book at various stages at any given time. Sometimes it takes me a long time to get a story to really come together, so it’s nice to have several in the works so I always feel like I’m moving forward. I love different things about all of them. Picture books are challenging but also very rewarding, and it’s always so exciting to see how the illustrators bring the story to life in the pictures. Novels let me spend more time with the characters and plot, and also let me use more words (sometimes it’s hard to write short!). Early chapter books are like puzzles ... you only get a certain amount of space and sometimes only a certain number of lines on a page to tell the story, and you have to make everything fit and make sure there are things to illustrate on every page or spread ... they can be a lot of fun to work on, too.
Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
My next book that comes out is my first YA novel. It’s called Evil Librarian, and releases on September 9! Next up after that (coming out in Spring 2015) is a picture book called Marilyn’s Monster, illustrated by the wonderful Matt Phelan. Right now I’m working on the third draft of my third Trelian novel, which will be called The Mage of Trelian. That one is scheduled for Fall 2015. I’ve also got a new picture book in the works (but it’s too early to tell you about that one) and will soon be starting work on a follow-up story to Evil Librarian.
I always encourage people to support their local independent bookstores. If you don’t know where your closest indie store is, you can find it through Indiebound.org. If you want signed or personalized copies of my books, you can order them from WORD in Brooklyn — just let them know (either by phone or in the comments field if you order online) that you’d like a signed or personalized book, and I’ll stop by and sign it before they ship it out to you. You can also find my books in Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
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Here's what's happening!
Friday, September 12, 2014, 7:00pm: EVIL LIBRARIAN launch party at WORD in Brooklyn, NY.
Saturday, September 20, 2014: I'll be signing books at the ninth annual Princeton Children's Book Festival in Princeton, NJ.
Sunday, September 21, 2014: I'll be at the author breakfast at this year's New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) Fall Conference in Arlington, VA.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014: EVIL LIBRARIAN Skype party with Steele Memorial Library in Chemung County, NY
Saturday and Sunday, October 25 and 26 (exact schedule TBD): I'll be at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, TX! More info to come once I know it ...
Saturday, November 15, 2014: I'll be signing books at the 18th annual Rochester's Children's Book Festival in Rochester, NY!Follow my blog with Bloglovin