You studied biochemistry at Harvard University. How did you come to become an author?
Sounds much more impressive than it is. Basically I was confused. I always wanted to be an actor or a writer, but I just assumed I wasn’t good enough. I felt pressure to do something “respectable” for a living to justify my parents’ financial sacrifice to put me through such a fancy school! I went into biochemistry because I was good in the sciences and all my roommates were pre-med. But the sight of blood makes me queasy and so I never wanted to be a doctor, and I couldn’t imagine having the patience to do research for a living. After college I thought I’d try being a lawyer, so I worked for a year in the legal field. During that year I applied to law school and was admitted. But I also performed as a singing waiter during the summer, sang professionally in a choir, and started taking voice lessons. I was hooked on the arts. When I received my law school admission, I decided to defer for a year. During that twelve months I vowed to try to pursue one of my dreams. If I failed, I’d go to law school. Within that year, I was cast in a Broadway musical. I never went to law school. Still, I had to make a living between acting jobs. I waited on tables at restaurants, but I wasn’t very good at it. I kept getting fired. Finally, after meeting someone who copy-edited books at a publishing company, I imagined that would be a good way to make a living. That led me back to my first love, writing. I was making lots of friends in the publishing world, and before long I began writing books of my own. So for awhile, I had three careers going: writing, acting, and editing. But before long I was married and starting a family, and I knew I needed to concentrate on only one of those things. I became a full-time writer ad haven’t looked back since!
How did you come up with the idea of "Seven Wonders"?
By putting together three ideas that I thought were failures. (1) When I visited Greece I became obsessed with the Seven Wonders, but I thought I couldn’t write about them because I don’t write nonfiction; (2) I always wanted to write about Atlantis but I thought I could never think of anything new that a thousand other writers had already written about; and (3) when I started a story idea about kids trapped on an island in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t figure out why they’d be there. I was about ready to give up on (3) when I began putting those three supposedly “failed” ideas together and — wow! — I realized I had something fresh and exciting. And the rest is history!
Did you do a lot of research for this book series?
Yes, I did. Research into the past is fascinating both to find out what did happen ... and also to learn about all the mysteries that remain—the things that still baffle researchers. As a fiction writer, it’s fun to come up with possible solutions to those mysteries.
Have you always been interested in history?
Research was my least favorite subject in school. I got interested in it as I got older.
Would you like to write another book or maybe even a whole series with a historical background?
Yes, I’m always interested in that!
A few years ago you wrote a book for the book series "The Three Question Marks". How did you come to work on this series again after such a long time?
That series was called “The Three Investigators” here, and I was asked to write two titles back in the late 1980s for the series reboot. I had written several titles in the Hardy Boys “Case Files” reboot, so I guess my reputation had gotten around. In the U.S., the new Three Investigators series was ended before the publication of the second book I wrote, called “Brain Wash.” In 2008, nearly two decades later, after Franckh Kosmos got the world rights to the series, the company flew out all the American authors for a celebration in Germany. That was when they approached me about the manuscript for Brain Wash. I had to find an ASCII version of the manuscript that I had copied to a floppy disk! (Remember those?)
You like to write books for young people. Did you read a lot yourself when you were young?
Yes, all the time. I was a voracious reader who would take armfuls of books home from the library.
What are your ways of getting around writer's block?
Mostly eating chocolate, taking walks, sleeping, and eating more chocolate.
Approximately how long do you write a book?
Normally it takes nine months to a year to write a book, from the original idea to the research to the outline to the first draft, all the way to the final draft. If there’s not as much research involved, it can go faster.
Where do you get all the ideas for your stories?
I try to keep my mind open and playful at all times. I might get an idea from a conversation I hear on the sidewalk or in a supermarket. Sometimes stories just come to me from events in my daily life. The question “What if ... ?” is always on my mind. My first major book came from a time when my subway train got stuck in the tunnel—coincidentally in front of a “ghost station,” a subway station that was abandoned and sealed from the public 50 years ago. I imagined “what if” the door opened, and the train station had come to life overnight. That little incident turned into a book about parallel worlds. One morning while I was running I saw a hawk trying to fly away with an empty plastic Coke bottle, and that became a short story about vampires in Central Park! Sometimes I get ideas from news events, odd things I see on the street, books I read, and just plain old daydreaming. I collect ideas, write them on scraps of paper, and tack them up to a corkboard. Then I take them down and read them days later. I throw away the ones that are the least interesting and try to develop the best ones. Sometimes a combination of these things will mash up together and surprise me as a good idea for a story. The Seven Wonders series started years ago as an idea based on the old TV show “The Prisoner,” about a mysterious island full of kidnapped people involved in a mysterious mind game. As I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t make it work for kids, so I put it aside, thinking it was a failure. Only years later, when I combined that idea with the myth of Atlantis and the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it finally came to life. Throwback was also a mashup of (1) my experience on 9/11 finding my son, and (2) a desire I’ve always been obsessed about: to write a story set in a crazy time in Greenwich Village, when houses were destroyed and a huge diagonal trench had been blasted through the center in order to build a subway, while a few blocks farther west cowboys were riding in front of trains up the West Side.
If you could dive into one of your books, which one would you choose and why?
I never like diving into my own books!
Do you read a lot of books? If so, which ones have you enjoyed most recently?
Strangely, during the pandemic I’ve not read very many books! I’ve been obsessed with news articles and magazines, trying to figure out what happening in this upside-down world. But I really loved reading The Hate U Give.
Are you currently writing a new book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
I’m working on a proposal for a new series, but I’ve vowed not to reveal anything, not even to detectives of the quality of the Three Investigators.