Readers, please email me your questions. I will do my best to answer them.
Q: Why did you decide to become a writer?
A: I think that writing chose me. Creativity and art have a way of wanting to burst out into the world. An idea can be noisy in the head and heart. It must be given its freedom. There is no choice. I imagine all artists—be they writers, painters, musicians, or dancers—feel that they have a need and an obligation to express themselves. For me, writing is next to breathing.
Q: Where do you get your ideas for your books?
A: Anywhere I can. Sometimes, my ideas come from my dreams or experiences. I remember a number of childhood visits to my great-aunt Mary’s canyon backyard. It had dense shrubs and trees, which made the place dark and silent, and a mossy cistern pond that was so mysterious. I imagined that a big black snake lived in it and came out at night when no one was around. That garden must have left quite an impression on me since it sparked ideas for one of my books.
One day, two of my fifth-grade students off-handedly shared with me their habit of whacking rotten fruit with a Ninja sword! That idea found its way into one of my books. My daughter was talking about henna tattoos, so one of my characters suddenly became a tattoo artist.
Another time after an unusual, fierce rainstorm in San Diego, I was walking my dog Jimmy Lambchop through the nearby park. I saw some downed eucalyptus trees. They looked so pitiful with their old black roots exposed, so I immortalized the trees in one of my stories.
Q: Why do you write mysteries?
A: I have loved the mystery genre since childhood when I used to read Nancy Drew. I even wanted to be Nancy Drew. Because of her, I think that the art of detection took root in me and never let go. It’s in my blood and bones. Maybe even in my DNA!
Q: Who are some of your favorite children’s authors?
A: Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew mysteries), Phyllis A. Whitney (Mystery of the Green Cat; Secret of the Samurai Sword), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), Tara Ellis (Samantha Wolf mysteries), Lauren St. John (The White Giraffe), Wendelin Van Dranaan (Sammy Keyes, and Flipped), and Roland Smith (Elephant Run).
Q: Which of the four detectives is your favorite?
A: Aw, gee! I can’t play favorites. I love them all.
Q: Where and how do you write your books?
A: Wherever I am when an idea hits me. I stop and make a note on my cell phone, a restaurant napkin, or a scrap of paper. When I’m at home, I work on my laptop at my writer’s desk. First, however, I outline my story with paper and pen by trying to devise chapter titles. Then, I fill in the scenes and actions. Sometimes, interesting events occur as I write that I didn’t expect!
Q: What was your first childhood memory?
A: I was three years old. I remember being three houses up the block in my friend’s backyard playhouse, which was shaded by an old loquat tree that we often climbed. My friend, my twin sister, and I were pretending that the playhouse was a two-story house by building a staircase inside it with big wooden blocks. This led to the top of a built-in cabinet. Even then, I was captivated by staircases and still am!
Q: What is your favorite childhood memory?
A: My grandparents lived in my house when I was growing up. I loved that because I could be close to them and know them. Before I started school, my grandmother always found fun ways to entertain my twin and me on rainy days. Often, she would gather us around the dining room china cabinet, open the glass door, and tell us stories about her dishes—where she got them, the scenes on them, and which relatives ate from them. Then, we would go to the kitchen and make cinnamon rolls from scratch and put them on one of those fancy “company” dishes from the cabinet—after sampling a few of the treats, or course. And I can’t leave out my grandfather, who could blow and link cigar smoke rings on command from his overstuffed living room chair.
Q: What was your favorite subject in school?
A: Reading, writing, language, and spelling. In higher grades, those were called English.
Q: Which of the detectives is most like you?
A: Well, all four to some extent: I have Lanny’s love of reading, words, old movies, and detective stories. Lexi and I are both emotional and “hands-on.” I have Moki’s dry sense of humor, love of pineapple, and fear of snakes. And Rani and I are both synesthetes. But all four of our detectives have much more courage and poise than I had at their age. I hope that you take after them!