Not long ago somebody pointed out that I was one of the oldest kids’ writers around. No kidding. I’ll be seventy-two in April, and there’s no way to call that middle-aged.
Sometimes I walk into a classroom for a school visit and the students look at each other with a Who’s-the-old-guy? expression on their faces. I don’t blame them. It seems odd to me, too. If my readers are around fifteen, I’m about five times as old as they are.
Polite kids will say, “Gee, you don’t look really old,” and most days I don’t. Not really old. My wife and I walk three or four miles every day, I do a little yoga, I’m fairly careful about what I eat. I have good genes. And you can’t get those at The Gap.
I didn’t start out as a kids’ writer. Not many people from my generation — men especially – did. But I wanted to write. And I did. I met people in college and grad school who took writing seriously. So I wrote a novel and eventually got it published when I was around forty.
I thought that was the beginning of a real career. Instead, the next novels were awful. Unpublishable. I was, in a way, a failure. Then a friend of mine pointed out that I was chronically immature. Why didn’t I write for teenage boys?
So I went to my local library, got out a couple of YA novels, read them and thought, “These are okay, but I’ll bet I can write one just as good.”
So I did. Where the Kissing Never Stops is still one of my faves. It’s very funny and it’s pretty long. (The longer I write, the shorter my novels get.)
Twelve or thirteen books later, here I am. How did this happen? For one thing, I’ve been reading and writing poetry nearly all my life, so words and how they sound and how they fit together are important to me. So I actually write pretty well.
For another thing, I believe in Something. Maybe not the same thing that regular churchgoers believe in, but it’s definitely Something. When I was in my thirties and behaving badly, I thought I didn’t believe in anything. That is, I believed in Nothing. But that wasn’t very satisfying and it sure wasn’t any fun. And things happened that made me see there was Something going on. I’d get the right ideas at the right time. Stoner & Spaz, one of my most popular novels, didn’t have a boy with cerebral palsy in it until Something guided two boys with CP right at me.
What’s next? More books, I hope. And a long and happy life. I’ve had my flu shot, so I should be good at least till June.