In His Own Words....

"...a way of memorializing my...past."


All four of my children's books are autobiographical. They're a combination of the everyday and the fantastic, like the books of my favorite author, Charles Dickens. The common ordinary stuff - the bullies, the scaredy-cat kid Lewis, the grown-ups, the everyday incidents - all come from my own experience. I grew up in a beautiful small town in Michigan. Marshall is full of strange and enormous old houses, and the place must have worked on my imagination, because I turned it into New Zebedee, the town in my trilogy about Lewis and Rose Rita. I've written about other places I've lived in, like Winona, Minnesota, which becomes Hoosac in The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn. Gradually, I seem to be working in the details of my childhood, my dad's saloon, my mom's money worries, and so on. Writing seems to be (for me) a way of memorializing and transforming my own past. I write about things I wish had happened to me when I was a kid.

I'm opinionated and my mind drifts off when people are talking to me, but I don't take myself seriously. And I like looking myself up in reference books.

Fifth Book of Junior Authors, 1983


"...I like to fantasize...."


I write because I like to fantasize, and because I love to talk. Also I have violent opinions which few will listen to, although they will respectfully plough through a book with these opinions.

Something About the Author, 1971


"...I have their [kids] kind of imagination."



...many of the things in my books that you think may result from conscious strategies are there...well, because they're there. Sometimes when someone asks a writer why he did this or that, all you can say is, it seemed like a good idea. My books combine my strong childhood memories with the books I've read, and, yes, lots of the characters (especially in the early books) are based on people I knew when I was young....

...The heroes of my books are loners and outsiders because that's the way I felt when I was a kid: if you're fat, brainy, can't play sports, and are physically cowardly, you don't fit in.... I do the kind of scary stuff that turns me on, and it succeeds with kids because I have their kind of imagination. I don't have a formula to follow.

My heroes have elderly eccentric friends because my grandfather was very close to me when I was little; he taught me to read and was a model of kindness and friendship that inspires me even now.

You Can Take the Boy out of Michigan, But..., 1987


"I have the imagination of a 10-year-old."


I had a compulsive need to fantasize [as a child]. I was overweight and the other kids thought I was weird and I liked to read. I was pretty much a loner until I made some lifelong friends in the Boy Scouts. I would walk back and forth between my home and Catholic school and have medieval fantasies featuring me as the hero. I was a little ashamed of it and wondered why I did it.

I cherish my childhood. It was true I was lonely but the more I look back on it I see how fortunate I was. I was never abused or wanted for anything. I did not lead a hard life. I was just a kid who had a lot of trouble relating to other people.

I have the imagination of a 10-year-old. I like coffins and bones and secret panels. Someone asked Dr. Seuss that question and his answer was personal retardation, his imagination was stuck around age 7. Same with me: I pay taxes and have all the adult problems but my imagination is that of a 10-year-old.

Author's Imagination Stuck at 10, 1990


"...[T]he center of my books is always the childhood...."


I write scary thrillers for kids because I have the imagination of a ten-year-old. I love haunted houses, ghosts, witches, mummies, incantations, secret rituals performed by the light of the waning moon, coffins, bones, cemeteries, and enchanted objects. And I agree with my favorite ghost story writer, M.R. James, when he says that spooky tales are most effective when the ghastly things happen to people who are going about their business in an ordinary, matter-of-fact world...[T]he center of my books is always the childhood of which I seem to have a nearly total recall.

Locus, 1991