What did you most like to do when you were a child?
Growing up (and to this day) I loved to read. I loved reading so much that I would always fall asleep with books in my bed. I also liked to play library. I’d get index cards and tuck them into books. Then I’d display them on my bed. My stuffed animals were the library patrons, and I’d write their names on the index cards, then stamp the cards and file them alphabetically. (This was waaaaay before scanners!) Okay. So now you know. I was a dork.
When you were a child did you ever have moments when you decided that you were going to be a writer when you grew up?
I always knew that I wanted to be an author. It was my dream, but I never told anyone. I thought people would laugh at me. So instead, I kept journals, and wrote stories in secret, and kept reading, reading, reading. I remember being in awe of authors who could draw me into their books and take me to places so unlike the suburbs of Los Angeles where I grew up. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I mustered up the courage to really try to write books.
What was your first job when you graduated from college?
My first job was at a creative think tank. We invented new products, like flavors of ice creams. My job was to sit in my office all day and make up things. Once I came up with an idea, I’d write about it like it was real. Then we’d test the ideas on people and ask if they liked it. If they did, it would go to food chemists, who would try to make whatever it was I came up with. During that time, I’d be coming up with names for the product. Then we’d test it some more and sometimes make TV commercials and ads for it. Every time I wrote a television commercial I’d imagine I was story, since it had a beginning, and a middle, and an end. So even though I wasn’t writing books, I was pretending I was!
What are the topics are some of your books?
My books are character-based. By that, I mean I write about how the characters feel, act and react, rather than writing books like mysteries that are plot-driven. Family is often at the center of my books. On the outside, my characters may seem like everything is going great, but on the inside they are wrestling with emotions like loneliness and insecurity. I had a happy childhood, yet at times still felt that the whole world was against me. My characters often feel this way, too. In SO TOTALLY EMILY EBERS, Emily seems happy-go-lucky on the outside. But when you read about her true feelings, the depth of her emotions are quite surprising. The “Millie Trilly” as I like to call it, includes three books: MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS, STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG-TIME, and SO TOTALLY EMILY EBERS. Each books covers the same summer, but from a different kid’s point of view. I wanted to show how what you may see and feel can differ dramatically from what someone else’s perspective.
What really triggers your imagination?
Hmmmm … sometimes an idea will just smack me in the head. Other times, I flail around and try to come up with things. My office is filled with STUFF and that helps a lot. My family calls in junk. I call it inspiration—toys, photos, candy, lots and lots of books. When I am out and about, I am also looking at things from an upside-down angle. Wondering why they are the way they are. When I see something that strikes my fancy, like, say an old man wearing a neat old hat and striped socks, and he’s eating a tall ice cream cone, I might write it down in the notebook I always carry with me. Later, I go back to my office and review all my observations. Most get tossed, however, some make it into books, others trigger even more ideas.
Have any of your books earned special recognition?
I’ve been lucky to have my books earn some of the following: Sid Fleischman Humor Award, Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book of the Year, American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book, Family Choice Award winner, Children's Choices/International Reading Association Book, and more. I was also named the 2007 Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence. STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIGTIME was selected for the 2007 Middle School California Collection. However, the best recognition I have ever received has come from my readers. When they tell me, or write, that they have enjoyed my books, it’s what an author lives for.
What do you most want the students to get out of your school visits?
I want students to be energized. I want them to look at the world, their family, their classmates through different eyes, with curiosity and compassion. I want them to be empowered and to challenge their imaginations and ideas. And I want them to want to read more.