Describe your latest project.
The Yggyssey is roughly eight-and-a-half by five-and-a-half inches, printed in black ink on nice white paper, with very good drawing by Calef Brown on the outside. The pages are numbered, with line drawings by the same artist at the beginning of each chapter.
What is your favorite family story?
The Brothers Karamazov
What fictional character would you like to be your friend, and why?
Moby Dick, because except for Ishmael he is the only character who does not get killed at the end of the book, and having a gigantic white whale for a friend would be cool.
If you could choose any story to live in, which story would it be? Why?
Moby-Dick, because since the whale is my friend, it is likely he would make sure nothing bad happened to me.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
Thrasher Hall. He was a summer school teacher in high school. He had a withered arm. He got excited about literature, and communicated his excitement. I remember a kid from the rural south named Hiram. Hiram came to school every day in clean overalls and a fresh white shirt, certainly his only one, which his mother washed and ironed every night. Hiram told me he had never read a book. One day, he turned up with a paperback copy of Macbeth which he had bought himself. I asked him why he had spent money on the book when Mr. Hall gave us daily installments of the play via phonograph records. Hiram said he couldn't wait to find out how the story came out.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
It came in a padded envelope.
Do you read the Sunday funnies, and which are your favorites?
I stopped reading them when everybody else did.
What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Homemade vegetable soup.
What was your favorite story as a child?
It wasn't a story — it was a history: Ships and How They Sailed the Seven Seas by W. H. Van Loon.
What do you do for relaxation?
I write fiction.
What is your idea of bliss?
Being paid for writing fiction.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The greatest swordsman in France.
Why do you write books for kids?
Kids are better readers than adults. A kid of any age is not that far beyond having first learned to read, and it is still exciting to them — whereas, most adults read as a means of getting off to sleep. I like writing for kids because there is no necessity to dumb the material down or make concessions to the reader's self-consciousness. I get letters and emails all the time saying, "I have read your book 17 times." If an adult novelist gets a letter like that, he is being stalked.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
A heavy-duty fan turned up at the house unbidden, and we gave him supper. At the end, I frisked him and removed all the souvenirs he had pocketed. Typical reader. I enjoyed meeting him.
Tell us about your pets.
There are some nice kitties, a yellow Labrador named Maxine who was a washout puppy from Guiding Eyes, and a genuine Inuit dog from Baffin Island named Lulu who is my great love, and I am hers.
What's your favorite holiday and why?
Bastille Day, because it is fun for the whole family and commemorates the Glorious Revolution.
Who are your favorite characters in history?
Tycho Brahe, 'cause of the cool silver nose.
If you could be someone else, who would that be, and why?
I will not give this any thought, because after taking thought I know that I would wind up answering that I would not be someone else, because I have spent all this time learning how to be me, and if I were someone else, I'd have all that work to do all over again.
If you could pick anyone to illustrate one of your books, who would it be and why?
I would pick Jill Pinkwater, as I have many times, because she draws the way I would draw if I could actually draw, always surprises me, and it is fun to see how much she understands color and how much pleasure she gets from drawing.
Conversely, if you're an illustrator, for what author would you like to illustrate?
I am an illustrator, temporarily retired by popular request. I would like to take a crack at The Book of Kells, but someone would have to make it worth my while.
Make a question of your own, then answer it.
Q: Why do you give so many flippant answers to these thoughtful and probing questions? Do you have contempt for us book-lovers?
A: I have nothing but love and respect for readers. Also, I believe that what an author does, or thinks he does, or thinks he has done, is completely unimportant. What is important is what the reader thinks or experiences. The book is not finished until you read it.