I also go into schools a lot to talk to kids. When I was in elementary school, a poet came to our school and took us writers very seriously. … That was life-changing for me. I felt, "This is a real person. This is possible."
I recently did a workshop where I talked about how to build suspense. I talked about planting clues — words that give the readers a heads-up that something is going to happen. And how the closer you get to the pivotal scene, the slower you want to go. But the most important thing is to create a character the readers care about. That way, if something's going to happen, the reader will care.
I also think kids, and adults as well, think writing is sort of a smooth process, like you just sit down and spin it out. Anne and I tell kids it's never easy. Every book is tricky and awkward in its way. I can see why so many people start out writing books and don't finish them. If you think it's going to be easy, and it's not, it's discouraging. I tell kids, "if you have a story going, just finish it." Then you know it's possible, and you can build on your success.
When did you finish "The Humming Room," and what are you doing now?
I finished it about a year ago. Since then I've written a book for boys 7 to 9 called "Otis Dooda." It's about a Lego-loving boy who moves into a New York City apartment building. He comes across as kind of a third-grade Holden Caulfield. It's kind of goofy, silly.
I wrote it because my son, Ian, is 7 and an avid reader, and there just aren't that many books for boys his age. He has been reading the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, but the content isn't really for 7-year-olds. They have crushes on girls and stuff, and he couldn't care less about that. Boy readers have to gravitate up.
Will "The Humming Room" become a movie?
We'll see. The Olivia Kidney series has been optioned by this wonderful producer, Michael Siegel, who did "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" [with Johnny Depp] and works mostly with kid lit. … A script for that is complete and a director is attached. Creative Artists Agency is representing "The Humming Room," and a screenwriter is in talks with several producers. But that's out of my hands. I'm on to my next thing.
What happened to that professor who rejected you? Did you ever contact her?
I always remembered that letter she wrote. I kept it. When my first two books were published, I was going to send her this nasty letter along with them. But then I took the time to reread the work I had submitted to her, and you know what? It wasn't very good. She was right. I did send her the books, but I included a thank-you note.