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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Would you please donate your time/skills/books to my worthy cause?

A: No, probably not. It’s not because I am a despicable person, honestly. I have put in many hundreds of volunteer hours in my life for a wide variety of causes, and enjoyed it, too. But writing books is how I make a precarious living, and I can’t give it away – I need to put dinner on the table just like you do. The only writers who could are those who are independently wealthy (or are so successful that they are bound to be overwhelmed with requests for donations, which comes to nearly the same thing). You, who are asking me to do this, probably enjoy a regular paycheck (meager though you may think it), paid health care, vacations and a pension. I don’t. Also, please keep in mind that writers get requests like yours several times a week. So, let me ask you, are you an organization within the confines of my home county, Schoharie, NY? If you are, please contact me and we’ll talk. Otherwise … I wish you and your good works the very best.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: This is a very tough question to answer. I get them the same place you do – out of our respective brains. I’m not trying to be difficult here. I have to sit down and make myself figure stuff out just like you do, and it’s hard. There is no trick to getting and developing ideas.

The only thing I can say is this: when you have an idea, write it down. I keep a notebook and pen by my bed, because I often have ideas in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. Do not think: oh, well, if it’s important, I’ll remember it. Hah! You will not.

Q: Are you going to write a sequel to (Pick One) OWL IN LOVE; THE WOMAN IN THE WALL; GOOSE CHASE, or LOST IN THE LABYRINTH?

A: I won’t rule it out, but not at the moment. I understand that readers, once they have gotten to know and like characters, often want to read a sequel. But I have lived with these characters much longer than the reader, and am ready to move on to other things. I am fond of all my characters – I don’t want you to think I’m sick of them – but I’d rather do something else.

I feel that once I have written the book, the rest of the story is really up to the reader. What do you think will happen next?

Q: Are you going to write a sequel to KEEPING THE CASTLE?

A: Yes!  Or sort of.  I plan to write a trilogy of connected books set in or near Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire.  The second one will be MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW.

Q: THE WOMAN IN THE WALL is about a very, very shy girl. Were you shy as a child and teen? Are you shy now?

A: Yes. And no. I was shy as a child, but never as shy as Anna. I’m hardly shy at all now. If you are shy, you should know that you’ll probably get less and less shy as you grow older and learn to talk to people.

One year, for a week before Christmas, I kept getting unexpected people dropping in when I was very busy. I told my son that I wished I could just hide behind the couch until they went away (I didn’t – I was perfectly polite). That is what gave me the idea for a girl so shy that she would hide in the walls. Remember that most people prefer you to call ahead instead of dropping in.

Q: Do you know any people like the characters in your books?

A: No, not really. All my characters are made up. However, the only way I know how to make up a character is by observing other people, as well as reading books written by others. So my characters have tiny bits of lots of people in them.

Q: How did you become an author?

A: I did a number of other things before I became a writer (see About Me). If you had asked me when I was a kid if I’d like to be a writer when I grew up, I’d have said, “Of course!” But I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wrote a lot of poetry, but no stories or novels. As an adult I fiddled around with some picture book manuscripts. Finally, when I was in my late thirties I decided to try writing seriously.

It took a number of years to learn my business and lots of hard work. This isn’t an easy profession. But if you can do it, there is no better job, or so I believe, anyway.

Q: I think I might want to become a writer. Any advice?

A: There are two primary rules: read a lot and write a lot. For those who would like to write for children or young adults, read every book in your field you can get your hands on. Don’t attempt to write a children’s book if the last one you read was ten or twenty years ago. You should have read hundreds of recent books before sitting down to write one yourself.

Go to the 808 section of your library. You will find lots of books about writing. One great thing about writing as a profession is that you don’t have to go to a special school for it. You can learn by doing – indeed, that’s the only way to learn. However, you may find that taking a few non-credit courses will be helpful to you, and attending some conferences.

Q: Okay, that’s fine for adults, but I’m 13 [or 9, or whatever]. Do I have to wait until I’m grown up?

A: No. You should be writing and reading now. You might even be able to get something published now. If this interests you, you may want to read one of these books: A KID’S GUIDE TO GETTING PUBLISHED, by Melanie Barton Zoltan, or GETTING KIDS PUBLISHED: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR HELPING YOUNG AUTHORS SEE THEIR WORKS IN PRINT, by Jamie Whitfield.

You could order them either through a bookstore or through inter-library loan.

Q: Does spelling matter?

A: Yes. Yes, yes, yes!

Q: Okay, then, how about grammar? Grammar isn’t important, is it?


Q: Hmmm. This sounds like work.

A: Yes.

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Susi, a monkey I raised






My house, built in 1830






Patrice and Dante
Patrice and Dante






My dog, Boufe,
a Landseer Newfoundland

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