Infrequently Asked Questions (IAQs)
If you could be an animal for one day, what animal would you be?
A squirrel. Squirrels really know how to have fun! If I could have a second day, I’d be a giraffe. How awesome would it be to look at the world from way up there and to move with such grace?
You write the Bunnicula books as Harold, the dog. Do you wish you were a dog?
One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to use your imagination to inhabit your characters. So, as Harold, I have “been” a dog many times. I wouldn’t want to be one in real life though, because:
- Dogs eat meat. I’m a vegetarian.
- They sometimes eat other stuff that’s really gross. I have my standards.
- Think of how they greet each other. Ew. No thanks.
Why is there a doll’s head in your office?
Okay, this isn’t entirely an infrequently asked question. Mark asks me this regularly. He just doesn’t get the whole doll’s head thing.
So here’s the story: I love toys. What can I say, there’s a reason I write for children! I have wooden toys and mechanical toys and puppets and all sorts of playthings around my office. I was in a flea market once and saw this doll’s head, and how could I resist? I mean, she has a tear painted on her cheek! I had to wonder why. Maybe she was lonely and needed a home. Well, I gave her one. Simple answer.
If The Misfits were a song, what song would it be?
I love this question. It was asked of me by a seventh-grader in a school I was visiting. I couldn’t think of an answer right away, so I asked her if she had a song in mind. She did: “People Like Us,” sung by Kelly Clarkson. That made me think of the song I would pick, which is “True Colors,” by Cyndi Lauper.
Do you play music in the background when you write? What’s your favorite kind of music?
I love music, but I need quiet when I write. When I’m not writing I listen to music a lot. I love different kinds, but I particularly like folk music and singer-songwriters, because I appreciate strong lyrics that use a few words to tell a story or shed light on the human condition. I also like music that’s full of feeling, what I call “dreamy” music, because it takes me somewhere when I listen to it. I go to hear live music as much as I can. To me, there’s nothing more magical than being in the presence of really talented musicians, performing music they’ve written themselves.
Do you sing or play an instrument?
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. Mark and I sing together almost every day. He plays the guitar. I often sing the harmonies, but sometimes I sing the melody. I’ve played the piano, the cello, and the guitar—though none terribly well. I played the cello back in the seventh grade. I decided after a break of . . . well, a lot of years . . . that I wanted to take it up again. So I’m studying and playing the cello now.
Were you ever in a movie?
Yes. I worked as an actor and model for a couple of years when I was in my twenties. I was an extra (that means someone who’s in the background and doesn’t have any lines) in a movie with Barbra Streisand. I modeled for ads that appeared in national magazines and even on the New York City subway. I also acted in a number of TV commercials. One of them was for a game called Screwball. You can view the “1970s Screwball TV commercial” on Youtube. I’m the “little” guy on the far right standing next to the biggest sports superstars of the day: Tom Seaver, Bob Griese, and Earl Monroe. I put “little” in quotes, because I’m actually 6’2”. To make me look smaller than those superstars, they had the three of them stand on boxes and told me to keep my arms close to my sides so I’d look short!
Do people get starstruck when they meet you? Do you ever get starstruck when you meet other authors?
The answer to both questions is yes. I remember being in a bookstore once doing an appearance when I noticed a woman peeking around the corner of a shelf as other people came up to me to have their books signed. Finally, she approached me and said, “I love your books so much, I just had to make sure you were a nice person before I could meet you.” I get that, totally! When I meet another writer—or a singer or actor or someone else whose work I really admire—I worry that a) I’ll like them, b) they’ll like me, and c) I’ll make a total fool of myself.One time I met Janis Ian, a singer-songwriter I admire enormously. I couldn’t get any words to come out of my mouth. She put out her hand and said, “Let me make this easier. Hi, I’m Janis.” Then we talked for a few minutes, I got her autograph, and she said, “Sure!” when I asked if I could have my picture taken with her.
If you don’t know her music, you should check out two of her most famous songs: “At Seventeen” and “Society’s Child.” She wrote “Society’s Child” when she was thirteen, and by the time she was fifteen she was a star!
What talent do you wish you had?
I’m pretty talented artistically, so if I weren’t a writer I can imagine myself being a singer or an artist. What I can’t imagine being is an athlete of any kind. That’s the talent I wish I had: a talent for sports.
What are your three favorite foods?
What is your comfort food?
I have three (six, if you count the answer to the previous question), and they’re all from my childhood. One is a vegetarian variation of the chili my dad made. Another is mashed potatoes. And the third, and my absolute favorite, is oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies, which my mother called “oatmeal drop cookies.” I grew up making these first with my mom, and then my dad, and I’ve been making them on my own ever since. Here’s the recipe:
Oatmeal Drop Cookies
(I often double the recipe)
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 cups quick oats
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour (I use whole wheat flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips
Cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Add the 2 eggs, beaten, the vanilla, oats, and milk. Mix. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, and cinnamon. Mix. Finally, add in the nuts and chocolate chips.
Bake at 350° for 13-15 minutes.
Do you always eat your greens?
Pretty much. Broccoli, spinach, mint chocolate-chip ice cream. Being a vegetarian, greens are a big part of my diet. My daughter Zoey became a vegetarian before I did. She was seven when she decided she’d had it with meat and asked her mom and me if she could be a vegetarian. We said yes, and we made sure that she had a good source of protein at every dinner. She’s been a vegetarian ever since, and she inspired me to become one, too!
What are your favorite Christmas movies?
It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf.
What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?
What did you like best about being a child?
The freedom. I lived in a small town in a time when people left their doors unlocked and kids were able to roam the neighborhood freely. I had hours of unscheduled time to do whatever I wanted. I wandered and daydreamed and made stuff up and played with my friends and rode my bike and let my imagination run wild. I wish it could be more like this for kids today.
What’s your lucky number?
10. Here’s how it happened. When I was in the fifth grade (when I was 10 years old), we had a unit (we didn’t call them units then) on square dancing in gym class. It was one of the few times that gym was co-ed. We were told that the boys would pick numbers and the girls would call numbers out, and the matching numbers would determine the partners. My friend Jill and I wanted to be partners, so I told her in advance that I would pick the number ten, and that’s the number she called out. Not much luck involved, but that’s how 10 became my lucky number.
Since then, I’ve thought it was the perfect lucky number for me, though, because when you take the numbers in my birthdate, they add up to three tens. I was born on August 2, 1946.
8 + 2 = 10.
1 + 9 = 10.
4 + 6 = 10.
Cool, huh? And now you know how old I am, and when to send me a birthday card. Or chocolate.
When you were a kid, what books made you think, “This is who I am”?
When I was very young, I found myself in the pages of Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White; The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf; and Morris the Midget Moose, by Frank Owen.
Later, it was The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, and The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, that spoke to me. I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye many times, though maybe not as many as Charlotte’s Web.
Not surprisingly, all these books have to do with trying to survive when you’re different and don’t fit in.
Where is your favorite place to be?
Vermont, especially the northeast corner of the state, which is called the Northeast Kingdom. We go there a couple of times a year and it is the most beautiful, restful place I know. You might think I’d say someplace more exciting, like New York City, or Paris, but I’ve lived in or near New York City for most of my adult life, so I’ve had plenty of excitement. Besides, as you get older, it feels like time moves faster. Going to the Northeast Kingdom slows time down for me.
What is one word that says it all for you?
Kindness. In her song “Hands,” Jewel sings the line, “In the end only kindness matters.” I sometimes play this song as students are filing in to an assembly to hear me talk about bullying and name-calling. I am firmly of the belief that if we treated ourselves and other people with more kindness, there would be a whole lot more happiness in the world, and a whole lot less trouble.
By kindness I don’t mean superficial “good manners” niceness, however. I mean real compassion that goes deep, the ability to put yourself in another person’s place, stick up for yourself and other people, and do what’s right because you know in your heart it’s the right thing to do. Kindness grows out of understanding that our lives are short and they are precious, and that that’s a truth that applies to everyone.
Are you a happy person?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. I admit I don’t always show it. I fret and worry a lot and that can make me grumpy. When I get that way, Mark calls me Mr. Crabapple, or Eeyore. But even when I act like Eeyore, I’m really happy inside. I try not to lose sight of the fact that there are always reasons to be happy. All you have to do is pay attention.
Who is your favorite Winnie-the-Pooh character?