Describe your new book.
I figured that it's probably every kid's fantasy to have a machine that
does your homework for you automatically. So... POW! I thought The
Homework Machine would be a great title for a book. After that, I just
had to come up with a story! There was a book called Danny Dunn and the
Homework Machine back in the 1950s. But that was before the personal
computer was born. Nowadays, it seems really possible that with
computers, scanners, printers, the Internet, and artificial intelligence,
it is really believable that somebody could create a homework machine.
So that's what somebody does in this story. The story is more about
what happens after that, to the kid who invented it and the other kids
in his class. It's a tragedy, really.
What is your favorite family story?
One time, when I was a kid, a bird flew into my house. I don't know how it got in. I guess there must have been an open window and no screen. Anyway, my mom and dad and sister went running around yelling and screaming like we were under attack. My dad decided he should take charge, so he barked, "Get me a towel!" So we went running to get him a towel, figuring that he was going to somehow trap the bird in the towel and safely get it out of the house. So we give him the towel, and do you know what he did with it? He wrapped it around his head. He didn't want the bird to peck him! Isn't that silly? I don't remember how we got the bird out of the house, but I'll always remember my father running around with a towel wrapped around his head.
What is your idea of bliss?
First, the president of the United States announces that our country is going to embark on a huge project to switch from burning fossil fuels to using solar, wind, and other alternative sources of energy to end global warming and reduce our dependence on Arab oil. Elated, I go on a romantic ski trip in the French Alps with Jessica Simpson, I mean, my wife Nina. We're skiing when somebody runs over to me with the urgent message that Steven Spielberg has decided to direct the movie version of my book Johnny Hangtime. Bliss!
If you could be someone else, who would that be, and why?
I would like to be one of my heroes: Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Picasso, Einstein, one of the Wright brothers, or best of all, one of The Beatles. Probably not John or George, come to think of it.
Tell us about your pets.
I have a cat named "Scrumpy." She is an old lady 21 years old. My wife and I got her before we had children. Scrumpy was named after a brand of apple cider that we really liked. Scrumpy likes to climb on my lap while I am in my office writing. So I call her my secretary. Sometimes, when I am staring off into space trying to think of the next sentence, Scrumpy will put a paw on the computer keyboard. So then, when I look at the screen, it is filled with a million zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz's.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a photographer. I loved taking pictures, and developing them in a darkroom down my basement. This was back in the days before digital photography, of course. One thing I liked to do was throw stuff up in the air and take pictures of it. Like garbage can covers, for instance. I noticed that if the garbage can cover was just a little fuzzy, it would look very much like a flying saucer. That's what inspired my book The Get Rich Quick Club, which is about some kids who make some fake UFO pictures and try to sell them.
Why do you write books for kids?
Two reasons. First, my books for grownups were a big failure. When I started out, it never occurred to me to be a children's book author. I tried writing newspaper articles, magazine articles, screenplays, books for grownups. Nothing was successful. I was not earning a living. Then, in 1990, something amazing happened. My son Sam was born. And this is the second reason. I started reading a lot of children's books for the first time since I was a kid. And I thought I can do better than THIS! So I started writing for kids, and right away I felt that I had found the one thing in life that I was good at. So now I just write for kids.
Make a question of your own, then answer it.
Q: Do you ever write on an empty stomach?
A: No, I prefer to write on paper.
Q: Do you eat breakfast in your pajamas?
A: No, I put it on a plate.