What inspired you to write Spy School?
Spy School is really an extremely old idea. I probably first thought of it when I was in fifth grade. I had just seen my first James Bond movie, Moonraker (which is a really terrible movie, possibly the worst Bond ever, but I liked it at the time). I was inspired enough to write a story about Jimmy Bond, James’ son, and somewhere along the line I had the idea that Jimmy would need to go to a school for young spies-in-training. The idea changed over time, but the essential concept -- that it would be funny to have a school for young spies -- stayed exactly the same.
Spy School is part of a series. Did all of the books take you the same length of time to write or do they each have a process of their own? Which one took you the longest to write?
I find that writing the first book in a series generally takes the most work, because you have to build an entire world and establish all the characters in it. So it takes a little more time to figure everything out. Plus, now that I know I’m doing a series, I can think ahead a book or two when I’m writing. So by the time I actually sit down to write the next book, I’ve actually been thinking about it and plotting it out for perhaps a year ahead of time. Maybe even a bit more. So that helps me write the story a bit faster.
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?
The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J Sobel. Danny, the Champion of the World byRoald Dahl. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles byJulie Andrews Edwards. Sobel and Raskin definitely inspired me from a mystery-writing perspective -- as well as the idea of having a smart, young protagonist. And I was very inspired by Carl Hiaasen -- though I read his adult books first, because his middle-grade books didn’t exist when I was young. He showed me that you could have a crime novel that was extremely funny.
When you were growing up did you want to be a spy? Do you have a favorite spy from either a book or a movie?
I was fascinated by the idea of being a spy, but I think I was always aware that it couldn’t possibly be as cool as it was in the James Bond movies -- and furthermore, that I wouldn’t ever be able to compare to James Bond. (Neither could anyone else, really.) So I always realized that the idea of a completely normal person dropped into the midst of the James Bond world would be funny. So I’ve seen all the Bond films and read all the books, and I often watch the movies again to inspire me.
The path to publication varies from author to author. Every author has a unique story and one that other authors can learn from. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication or do you have any advice for new authors?
My path was pretty unique. I had always thought of being an author, but I actually found it easier to break into the film business. (It was a it easier to get started in film at that time.) I wrote some spec scripts which were good enough to get me an agent and then get me work writing for film & TV. But I always still wanted to write books. My agency had a book division, so one of the TV agents reached out to them for me. Jennifer Joel (who is now my book agent) read my stuff, called me up and asked if I had ever thought of writing middle grade. Up until that point, I’d always though I would write for adults, but the moment Jenn suggested MG, I realized that was perfect for me. I had a couple ideas that had never quite worked out for film (like Spy School and Belly Up) that I realized would be perfect for middle grade. Jenn had me outline Belly Up and write a few sample chapters, and based on that, she got me my first book deal.
So… as far as advice is concerned, you’re right that everyone has a unique path, so there’s no right way or wrong way to get published. However, I think the one thing all published authors have in common is that we write. All the time. We practice our craft and write drafts of movies or books that we hope will get made or published, and if that doesn’t happen, we write something else. And the more we write, the better we get. So if you really love writing, just keep writing. And if you don’t love writing… then don’t try to be writer.
If you could live anyplace real or fictional, where would it be? Why?
I have to say that I really enjoy living where I do right now, in Southern California, though I’m tempted by the idea of spending a few months a year somewhere else. Colorado during ski season might be nice. Or on a nice secluded beach in Hawaii. But then, I might never get any writing done.
If you could befriend a character from one of your books, who would you befriend? Why
Probably Teddy from Belly Up and the FunJungle series. Not only is he a smart, fun kid with a great sense of humor, but his life is the closest to my fantasy life as a kid: Getting to live at a zoo and go behind the scenes and hang out with animals and zookeepers all day.
Where did you get the inspiration for Ben and Erica?
With Ben, I wanted a kid who was really smart, but rather normal otherwise. I wanted a kid who readers could relate to. Ben doesn’t fail at spy school at first because he’s incompetent; he fails because anyone normal would fail there. But he succeeds because he’s smart. He figures out solutions to problems that no one else sees. As for Erica, I thought there should be a kid who was a legacy, because there always seems to be a kid like that at private schools: a kid who’s family has been going to that school since the school was founded. I thought it would be funny to have a kid like that at spy school, someone who’s family had been spies for the US going all the way back to Nathan Hale. So it made sense that kid would be very good at spying, because they’d been surrounded by nothing but spies their whole life. And then, I thought it would be fun to make her a girl. Because I like the idea of having super-cool girls in my books (I have a young daughter) and I thought it would be fun for Ben to be completely intimidated by this girl -- but also make him have a massive crush on her.
Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
I am actually working on four books right now. I am just putting the finishing touches on Evil Spy School, the third book in that series. I am doing some editing on Big Game, the next book in the FunJungle series, and Spaced Out, the sequel to Space Case. And I am just getting started writing the fourth book in the Spy School series.
Where can we purchase your books or learn more about them?
My books are definitely available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon and they are getting into lots of independent stores around the country. (So if you like to shop indy, ask your local store. If they don’t have my books, they can certainly get them for you.) For more information about all of my books -- ones that are published and ones that are coming visit my website.