Describe your new book.
On September 11, 2001, I was in my office, reading an email, when a co-editor of mine said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We went to the roof deck and saw what had happened — and then stayed there for the second plane hitting, and everything after that. Every now and then, I would run back down to my desk and write about what was going on. At the end of the day, I sent it to my friends, to let them know I was okay and to give a sense of what it was like to be where I was — about 20 blocks from the Trade Center, far enough away to be safe, but close enough to be shaken.
In the weeks and months that followed, I wrote a few more mass emails to my friends about 9/11 — and that, I figured, would be the extent of my writing on the subject. The idea of writing a novel set during those days and weeks and months was a ridiculous one. How could I possibly convey what it was like to be in New York then? How could I possibly capture all of the falling apart that happened... as well as the coming together. It was a very confusing time for all of us, and I didn't think fiction (or at least fiction written by me) could effectively go there.
So what changed my mind?
Over time, I realized that there were stories to be told. Over time, I realized that I was in danger of forgetting what it was like to be a part of that moment. Over time, my readers went from being teens at the time of the events to having been in elementary school or preschool. Soon, I would have readers who hadn't been alive at all on 9/11.
So that made me want to write about it. Love Is the Higher Law is the result.
I didn't want to write a memoir. Instead, I wrote three characters — Claire, Jasper, and Peter — who each have their own journey from 9/11 forward. I am very, very aware that this sounds extremely depressing, but I promise you, the book is as much about the coming together as it is about the falling apart. Because being in New York — indeed, being in America, or the world — at that time was as magical as it was horrible. Because in the shadow of a huge tragedy, millions upon millions of people became their better selves. We forget that, over time. But it's true.
I know it's asking a lot of a reader to go back to that day. But I think it's important to, and to remember it as it was. That's what I've attempted with Love Is the Higher Law. I hope you will find it meaningful.
Introduce one other author-illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
Blake Nelson's Destroy All Cars is a funny-sexy-clever-cool masterpiece. If you haven't read it, you are sorely missing out. Plus, there's a scene that takes place outside of Powell's, so Powell's customers should really represent.
What is your favorite literary first line?
The first one that came to mind was M. T. Anderson's masterful "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck" from Feed.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
Roughly 2,000 of my closest friends told me I had to read Justine Larbalestier's Liar. It ended up in my hands because I successfully begged an advance reader's copy from her publisher.
What was your favorite story as a child?
Probably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as read to us by my first-grade teacher.
What's your clean, kid-friendly curse word substitute of choice? (darn, etc.)
Tanuja Desai Hidier uses "frock" in her incredible novel Born Confused, and I just love that.
What book by another author do you wish you had written?
The Bible. To clear some things up.
What kids' book do you think would make a great movie ? that isn't one already?
I want a TV-movie version of Billy Merrell's poetry memoir Talking in the Dark, with Billy playing his younger self. Either that or Uglies.