• Describe your latest book My latest novel is "The Secret Tree," about a 10-year-old roller derby enthusiast named Minty Mortimer. It's the summer before sixth grade and Minty is wondering why her best friend, Paz, is acting weird. In the woods near her house, Minty stumbles upon a hollow tree full of secrets -- scraps of paper scribbled with anonymous confessions. She befriends a strange boy named Raymond, and together they try to solve the mysteries of their neighborhood, which include a Witch Lady, Mean Boys, a Man-Bat, a curse, and lots of secrets. The story is set in Catonsville, where I lived as a child, and is for ages 8 and up. • Why write? What makes writing a book worthwhile? I write books because it's what I always wanted to do and what I most enjoy. It's the job I'm best at. I adored books as a child, so knowing that I am contributing to the great flow of children's literature, that children are reading my books the way I did when I was their age, makes me very happy. Reading expands a child's world and helps people learn to see things from other points of view. It's a force for good and one of life's great pleasures. • How has growing up and/or living in the Baltimore area influenced your writing? Growing up in Baltimore gave me a love of strangeness and eccentricity that has had a huge impact on my work. Baltimoreans like to flaunt their quirks, and watching them is good practice for a writer -- noticing and appreciating what makes a person unique is a useful skill to have when creating characters. I like to make the city itself a character in my books. Like its natives, Baltimore is lovably weird. • Is the written word in trouble? Are authors an endangered breed? The written word is stronger than ever, it seems to me. People are reading constantly; it's only the format that is changing. They may be reading on electronic devices instead of on paper, but they are still reading. The way books are published is in flux, and it's possible that our definition of what a book is could change, but writers are as important as ever. • What's your next project? My next book is a young adult novel called "The Boy on the Bridge," about an American college student who goes to study in Russia and falls in love with a Russian boy. Scholastic is publishing it early next summer.