I was born in Chicago in 1937. At age 18 I joined the Marine Corps and served for 3 years. After my discharge I attended the U. of Illinois and graduated with a degree in history. I then worked a series of jobs. I was a social worker. I was a salesman. I was a truck driver. I wasn’t very successful at any of these jobs and while I held them I dreamed that one day I would make my living as a writer. My breakthrough came at age 30 when I wrote a science fiction story aimed at one of the magazines that thrived in those days. To my surprise the story was taken by a childrens book publisher and made the lead story of a text book for middle grade readers. Hence I became a kids book writer.
What inspires you to write?
Writing for kids takes special skills. You can’t bore them or they’ll just put down your book. You have to explain things in clear, direct language. I seem to have a talent to make a point using few words and simple (not simplistic) phrases.
Tell us about your writing process
Mostly I write nonfiction – history and geography books. In this process I work closely with a publisher. If a publisher asks me to do a book on say the Aztecs of ancient Mexico I will first submit an outline to the publisher before I go ahead with writing the book. Fiction is a different ballgame. My fiction books start out with an idea and a set of characters. From there I write and hope the characters develop and the plot takes its own twists.
How do you think writing for children and young adults is different from writing for an adult audience?
For children it is necessary to explain concepts. This is especially true for nonfiction. If I am writing a history book for middle grade readers I cannot say a particular politician is liberal or conservative; I must explain what liberal or conservative means.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Interesting question. I like my characters to develop and surprise even me.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
The market determines this process. I study the market before submitting a manuscript to a publisher.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
The book publishing outlook is bleak and I don’t see a chance for improvement in the near future,. There is competition from the internet and library budgets have been cut.