Describe your latest project.
The Sea of Monsters is my second adventure featuring Percy Jackson, a modern-day son of the Greek god Poseidon. Percy debuted last summer in The Lightning Thief. This time around, when a magical tree that protects the borders of Camp Half-Blood is mysteriously poisoned, Percy and his friends have just days to find the Golden Fleece, the only magic item powerful enough to save the camp before it is overrun by monsters.
Why do you write books for kids?
I was a middle school teacher for fifteen years and wrote adult murder mysteries in my spare time. My students would always tell me I should be writing for kids, since that was the audience I knew best. It took me years to realize they were right.
When my older son turned eight, he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. The only thing he liked in school that year was Greek mythology. I'd taught mythology for years, so I began telling him myths for bedtime. When I ran out of stories, he asked me to make up a new one for him. The Lightning Thief was the result. My son told me I should write the story down. The next thing I knew, I was a children's novelist!
What was your favorite story as a child?
Fletcher and Zenobia by Victoria Chess and Edward Gorey. The book is now out of print, but it's a great story. A cat named Fletcher is stuck at the top of a tree and discovers an old chest full of hats and a large papier-mâché egg. The adventure starts when Fletcher opens the egg and frees Zenobia, a forgotten China doll. As a kid, I loved Edward Gorey's illustrations. I also found it hilarious when Fletcher suggests using an ax to get Zenobia out of her egg a suggestion she answers with a muffled shriek. Is it any wonder I grew up to write mystery novels?
Describe your most memorable teacher.
Mrs. Seaholm was my ninth-grade English teacher. She almost smiled once. She was discussing Shakespeare's use of humor and said she found Hamlet his funniest play. "When Polonius asks the young prince what he is reading, and Hamlet replies sadly, 'Words, words, words...'" a strange ripple passed over Mrs. Seaholm's mouth "I find that... humorous."
Mrs. Seaholm was so cool that, at age fourteen, I couldn't help being impressed. She started me on the path to being a reader and a writer. Ever since that time, I've been fascinated with literature that combines humor and darkness. When I write a book, I always try to write something that will make even Mrs. Seaholm smile. Usually, I succeed. She and I still keep in touch via email. She still lets me know whenever I make a grammatical error. It's good that some things don't change.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a kid I wanted to be a teacher and a writer. I ended up being both. Pretty scary. I submitted my first story at age thirteen to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. I got a very nice rejection note. The editor encouraged me to keep trying. My mom was so proud she framed the rejection note and I had to look at it every time I came home. Strange but true story: When I was in college, my mother's house burned to the ground. Everything was destroyed except the rejection note, which was pulled out of the fire unscathed. It still sits on my mother's piano, right next to a stack of my published novels.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
I was doing a school visit in Austin, Texas and had an hour of down-time between presentations. I roamed the library, looking at titles, and on a whim picked up The Penderwicks. I must admit it's not a book I normally would've chosen, but I sat down at a sunny window and began to read. By the time I had to go to my next presentation, I knew I needed to buy The Penderwicks for myself. The story is funny and sweet. The characters are both wacky and totally realistic. I finished the book in a day, and I'm not a fast reader.
What is your favorite family story?
My Uncle Rob was the youngest of three children, so he was teased unmercifully by my mother and their eldest brother, but his parents adored him. When Rob was toilet training, Rob's parents (my grandparents) would praise him every time he used the restroom to poop. They would say, "What a smart boy! Smart boy!" My mother remembers getting very annoyed by this.
One day, the family went for a drive in the countryside. Rob must've been two or three years old at most. He'd never seen farms or farm animals. He gasped in amazement when he saw horses. Then he saw a cow and asked what it was.
"That's a moo cow," his mother said.
Rob kept staring at the cows, until his parents asked him what he found so interesting.
With great admiration, Rob said, "Smart boy, moo cow!"
To this day, the line "smart boy, moo cow" is enough to provoke laughter at any Haley/Riordan family reunion.
Tell us about your pets.
Last fall, we found a litter of five black kittens in the backyard and took them in to save them from the neighborhood possums. We meant to give them away, but then Hurricane Katrina hit and the animal shelters were swamped with rescued animals from New Orleans. Then it was Halloween, and you don't adopt out black kittens around Halloween. Pretty soon, we were attached to the kittens, and it was very hard to give them away at all. We finally managed to find homes for two of them (close by, so we could still visit). We still have Big Boy, who enjoys eating dog food, Little Boy, who is naturally bigger than Big Boy, and Slinky, the sweetest girl cat you've ever met. We also have an older cat Yoshi, who is now having definite territorial issues, and a golden lab named Sunny, who has no problem with cats as long as they don't eat her dog food.