FLR: Why do you write for children?
GS: This is a good question. I don't really know. My best guess is that I never quite grew up, which is quite helpful, considering what I do. I loved growing up in Hawaii, and am full of tropical memories. So writing about being young in Hawaii is sort of a natural thing, and very rewarding personally. Plus, once I gained success as a writer, I have been asked to visit with kids, which I find equally rewarding. I love the hope and enthusiasm of youth.
FLR: How does the author/illustrator relationship work?
GS: Really well! At first, my publisher worked hard to keep my illustrator Jackie Rogers, and me separated. They didn't want me messing things up with my opinions. Ha! But eventually, Angela, the art director at Random House, relented. Jackie and I have had a wonderful working relationship ever since. She's so talented, and a dream to work with. I am extremely lucky. Angela is also terrific, very enthusiastic and great at her work. The three of us make a tight team. Angela even listens to my opinions. But in the end, the art calls are hers. As they should be.
FLR: What books do you have planned for the future?
GS: As far as Calvin Coconut goes, there are three waiting to see publication: Zoo Breath (fall 2010), Hero of Hawaii (spring 2011), and Lead Foot (fall 2011). I am also in the midst of imagining a novel along the lines of my book, Night of the Howling Dogs. All projects are fun and rewarding for me. I just get too antsy without some creative project!
FLR: What is the appeal of writing a series?
GS: The appeal of a series is that I get to know the characters intimately. They become real to me, almost like friends. I get to see how they react in various situations, and I get to see how deep (or not) they are. I love Calvin's gang, even the tough guys, Tito and Frankie Diamond. Plus, I like seeing how Jackie makes each new book come alive with her wonderful illustrations. And I like to see the books all lined up and looking alike (the branding aspect). It satisfies the "collector" in me, and maybe in my readers, too.
FLR: Who was most instrumental in your life in providing support for your writing career?
GS: Well, no one, really. I just had a deep desire to do it. One could say Alex Haley, who wrote Roots, was instrumental, in that Roots was the novel that turned me into a reader. It was the first book that really wowed me. So I thank him (a lot!). I also thank the many inspirational writers and mentors I've met along the way. But really, the support was internal…where I think it has to be for everyone with a nearly impossible dream.
FLR: You've said you flunked English twice in college. Did you take any coursework or classes that were helpful in your writing career?
GS: True, I flunked English twice. But on the third try, I nailed it. Know why? Good teacher, at last. Some English instructors just know how to teach the language in a gripping way. I got lucky, and wasn't completely ruined by mediocre teaching. I was not dumb. I was not English-challenged. I was lazy and unmotivated…until that good teacher came along and saved me from myself. What I then discovered was that the English language is amazing, truly and monstrously amazing. Thank heaven for committed teachers. Once I got serious about writing, I went back to school and got a master of fine art degree in writing. That helped immensely.
FLR: You've said that Blue Skin Of The Sea captures the Hawaii you knew when you were younger. How has Hawaii changed?
GS: Oh, my. Hawaii has changed so much I can hardly describe it. In my time it was yet "undiscovered," so to speak. There were no crowds, far, far fewer cars, and affordable places to live. Of course, that's all changed. The small fishing village I grew up in (Kailua-Kona) got "discovered." It was the most beautiful place, and everyone wanted to live there. Who could blame them? So people came, and people came, and people came. Now it's not small. Now there are too many cars, and traffic nightmares are common. Now the place is overbuilt. That's why I wrote Blue Skin Of The Sea…to remember how it was. Because that will never be again.
FLR: Do you have a ritual that you follo w when writing?
GS: Yes. Get up early five days a week (4:30 a.m.); start writing at 6:00 a.m. and work until 9:00 a.m – when I'm writing a first draft (it's exhausting!); work all day when revising (it's exhilarating!). One word leads to another. One dream leads to another. One idea explodes into ten. It's magic, and it's as rewarding as it gets. Just do it!
FLR: Who is your favorite author?
GS: I have many. If I had to pick one it would be Jack Gantos, a great guy. I love his Jack Henry books. They are gems to my kind of childish mind. I savor them and keep them in a special place on my bookshelf.