How long have you been writing?
I started writing in 1980, and my first book, Dusty, was published in 1983. I can still remember the day I held the first copy of Dusty in my hands. The mail carrier handed me a package as I was leaving the house. Sitting on the front steps, I tore it open and turned the pages, saying, "I wrote this! I wrote this!"
Did you always want to be a writer?
No! I wanted to be a dancer, and if I had been talented enough at dancing, I might never have started writing. But I did always love to read and now that I look back I can see where the seeds of writing were planted. As a child, I used to make my parents birthday cards with made-up poems (not very good!) and I used to write funny little stories, which I illustrated with stick figures.
Where do you get your ideas?
I wish I knew! That’s the fun part of writing—ideas just come. Often they come when I’m walking my dog in the park near our house. Sometimes they come during that not-quite-awake time when I am waking up or falling asleep. Ideas always start with a character in a situation. I ask myself, Why is he or she in that situation? What problem does he or she have? Then the hard work starts—figuring out the rest of the story.
How long does it take to write a book?
That depends. For a medium-sized novel like Stealing Home, the first draft takes a month or six weeks. Then I do many more drafts. Altogether, it comes to about six months. For a picture book like Mr. Belinsky’s Bagels, the first draft may take only a few hours, but all the rewrites add up to several weeks.
Why do you write for children instead of for adults?
From the time I started writing, I knew I wanted to write for children. I think it’s because I remember how important good books were to me when I was growing up. I love to feel things as a child would, and I can remember what it felt like to be excited and scared and proud and angry as a young person. Children’s feelings are important. And I love the magic and silliness you can put in a children’s book.
Why don’t you illustrate your own books?
Because I’m a terrible artist! All I can draw is stick figures. If I drew my own pictures, no one would buy my books because they would look so terrible. I’m lucky to have wonderful artists illustrating my books.
Lots of your books have Jewish characters and themes. Why?
Because I’m Jewish, for one thing. And also because, as a child, I was very close to my grandparents and being Jewish was a big part of my life. Now, when I think of characters and stories, I think of things that are close to my heart, and a feeling of Jewishness just pops out.
Have you ever had stories rejected by a publisher?
Lots of times—especially when I was starting out. If you want to be a writer, you have to have a "thick skin" and learn not to take rejections personally. You have to have faith in yourself and keep writing.