Q: When did you first get interested in writing?
A: I’ve known since I was a little kid that I wanted to write books. My maternal grandfather, Solomon Feldman, was a high-school biology teacher who wrote biology textbooks on the side. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
Q: What books or authors inspired you, and what did you take away from them?
A: My two biggest inspirations were Kurt Vonnegut and Frank McCourt. Both wrote very funny books about searingly sad topics, which is what I try to do, as well.
Q: Writing a book, especially your first, must be intimidating. How do you begin writing?
A: I always do a ton of research before I even think about starting to write. I also make sure I have a general outline. Finally, I have to be able to see the final scene in the novel very clearly, almost as though it were a little movie in my head, before I start writing the first scene. It’s much less daunting to write the book if you have lots of background info, and if you know where the plot is going.
Q: Many people have things they do when they get writer’s block. Do you ever find yourself in a writer’s block? If so, what do you do to get yourself out?
A: I don’t have any foolproof strategies. I tend to walk away from the computer and go exercise when I am stuck. If that doesn’t work, at least I’ve gotten some exercise out of the deal.
Q: What is your personal favorite book you have written? Why is it your favorite?
A: I like Notes from the Midnight Driver and Curveball, because each of them features a character based on my Grampa Sol. I like feeling that I have immortalized him in some way, because he was very, very important to me.
Q: I noticed that your books usually have some references to music. What do you believe is the correlation between music and writing?
A: Well, I don’t have any kind of grand theory about the relationship between music and writing. However, music is like oxygen to me: I can’t live without it, and it flows in and out of me all the time without any conscious volition on my part. I can’t help but write about it!
Q: I know that you’re a musician as well as an author. Do you feel like there are maybe certain things that can be expressed better through music rather than literature?
A: Hmm … great question. But I don’t have an answer. I will say that playing music provides a physical release for me that writing doesn’t. So the two serve different emotional needs for me, as a practitioner.
Q: What are some of your favorite bands and musicians? Why are they your favorite?
A: The Beatles are my all-time fave. Because, um, they’re the Beatles. Speaking of music, your latest book, Are You Experienced, takes place at Woodstock. What is needed to write a fictional book in a real place and time while making it as accurate as possible?
A: It takes an extraordinary amount of research. I read biographies of various Woodstock figures, as well as numerous books about the event itself. I also watched the documentary film repeatedly, went to the concert site and museum, interviewed several people who had attended the festival, listened to countless hours of music, and viewed tons of footage of Jimi Hendrix. Because Hendrix is a fairly major character in my book, I wanted to be sure I had a handle on his speech patterns.
Finally, I made a big chart of every hour of the festival weekend, which included information like which band was playing, the weather, and other stuff that was happening at that time such as food shortages or famous stage announcements. I referred to my chart constantly while writing the book.
Q: I felt a need to mention Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie because it was a book that really changed my opinion on a lot of things. It was the first book I couldn’t put down, and it inspired me to get into reading for fun. When I met you in middle school, I remember being so nervous to talk to you because you were really my first idol. Have there been any stories from your fans that you were truly amazed by? Did you ever think your writing could impact someone’s life?
A: First of all, wow — thank you, Declan! Second, to answer your question: I have been blown away by the responses people have had to my work. When I was a kid, my favorite novel was The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper, which I first read right around the time I was entering middle school. I got to meet Susan Cooper when I was 34, after my first book had come out, because we were both signing books at the same convention in Texas. My hands were literally shaking when I was face-to-face with her, because even as an adult and a fellow author, I was overwhelmed by how much her work had meant to me. I was a miserable kid during those preteen years, and her books were a lifeline for me. To think that my work could serve that function, or even anything remotely close to it, for anyone else, is kind of ridiculous to me.
My favorite reader stories are the ones that are closest to my original purpose in writing Drums. When a family member of a cancer patient says that Drums or its sequel, After Ever After, helped him or her to get through the cancer experience, I feel incredibly lucky that my work somehow got out there into the world and found its way into that person’s hands.