Wednesday, February 2, 2011


She asked in her e-mail, “Please be as detailed as possible with your answeres.”

1)  Where do you usually get inspiration for your children’s stories?

The happenings of other people – both young and old – are the inspiration for my writing. Case in point: I called my mother out in Arizona one Saturday and said, “Mother, you don’t sound too good. What is the matter?’ She answered, “I was having company over for dinner tonight. Then I discovered a roach in my kitchen this morning. I called the exterminator because I didn’t want my guests to know about the roach for fear they would lose their appetites. The exterminator knocked a big hole in the wall of my kitchen trying to catch that roach. He hit a water pipe with his hammer and broke it. Water came shooting out and flooded my kitchen. My kitchen is destroyed. I had to cancel my dinner party and it is going to cost me a fortune to restore my kitchen - all because of a little roach.” When I heard this I said, “That’s terrible news, Mother, but thank you for the story.” And that’s how I came to write and illustrate “Henry’s Awful Mistake” about a duck who finds an ant in his kitchen (I didn’t think anyone would want to read a story about a roach) and how he literally destroys his house trying to get rid of that pesky ant.

      2) Is there any subject you try to avoid while writing?

I avoid the subject of murder. In my mysteries for young readers including my Detective Mole Mysteries, my Piet Potter Mysteries, and my Miss Mallard Mysteries there is never a dead body to be found; my detectives go after crooks who commit thefts or acts of deception. Humor is the mainstay of most of the books I write and illustrate, which would not be possible if a bloody murder is being investigated.

      3) Are there subjects that you focus on more than others in your writings?

There are three: Mysteries, Biographies, and Picture Books. The three receive equal attention in the over 200 fiction and non-fiction books I have written and illustrated.

      4) Is there a typical format you use when writing?

I write a first draft on a yellow legal pad. I put everything down that comes to mind and keep on writing until I think I have come to an end. Then I read it all over and declare that what I have written is a mess. But then I will see a paragraph or a sentence that strikes me and I’ll say, “Now, that can make a story!” And this becomes the basis for a story for a book.

      5) Is there a certain time of day that you write?

I find I work better after 4 PM. Up to that time I am sitting and agonizing about what to write about.  But I never leave my chair until I have put something down on paper. Once I have done that I am committed to finishing the story until it is done. 

      6) How long does it usually take for you to complete your writing?

Not long. “Henry’s Awful Mistake” was created over a weekend in rough dummy and manuscript form and presented to a publisher on a Monday, and was immediately accepted. However, one story took over 20 years to finish. It is a story about an ancestor of mine who had been a messenger for General Washington during America’s Revolutionary War. The book is called “Daughter of Liberty.” It was a tremendous research job that involved searching genealogical and historical records at many libraries to find out  exactly where my great, great, great, great, great aunt Wyn Quackenbush Mabie was at different times during her adventure to rescue some valuable papers for Washington. She rowed across the Hudson River to New York Island (now called Mannattan) from New Jersey and back to rescue his papers from his former headquarters that had been invaded by the British. When I was at a library researching material for a certain book, I would also look for information about Wyn. That’s why it took so long.

      7) Are there any other tips for writing you would like me to know?

I have always followed the path of Winston Churchill’s words which are: “Never give up! Never give up! No, no, never, never give up!”