Even as a kid, I loved telling stories. Before I knew how to write, I used to record myself telling stories on a tape player—if you remember those or ever come across one in a museum. I also played with a lot of action figures. My best friend and I invented huge stories about why Skeletor was trying to take over the world. Thankfully, he never did, but I got a lot of practice making up stories!
When I was ten years old, I wrote a monthly fake newspaper. Some of the articles were silly, about monsters or aliens. Others reported what my family was up to (The Hanson Family Bakes Christmas Cookies! Steve Has a Piano Recital). I used to mail the newspapers to my grandparents and aunts every month. My parents even got me special bright-orange paper to print my newspapers on. Only the best newspapers in the world had electric-orange paper!
Every Christmas, my family and I made gingerbread houses (usually out of graham crackers). When we first started, they were the size of small, school-lunch milk cartons, but by the time I was in high school, we were all making houses bigger than cereal boxes.
My favorite subjects in school were art, writing, music, and math. I used to make sculptures out of glue and toothpicks. I took piano lessons for sixteen years. I’ve made short poem books for most of my life. In the summer I would get my friends together to record movies about math. I even studied all of those things (at least for a little while) in college. Even though I just write now, I’m glad I’ve done all those things because I love variety.
After college I wanted to laugh more, so I started performing improv comedy professionally in Minneapolis. Improv comedy is when people from the audience yell out suggestions and actors (like me!) create short, funny stories based on the suggestions. I performed for a year and did more than a hundred shows before quitting to move to New Zealand.
I never got a chance to live overseas when I was in school, so I moved to New Zealand when I was twenty-seven. I flew out there with two suitcases, a passport, and a hotel reservation for my first week. I had to figure everything else out when I got there! I eventually found a place to live and met some wonderful friends.
New Zealand is beautiful (green rolling hills next to the ocean with tall mountains in the background–check out the picture to the left!), so I spent every afternoon hiking on trails that started in the city. I also read and wrote every day, but most importantly I met my wife while I was there! She came back to America with me, and since then we have lived in Colorado and Minnesota. We have one child, and I’m lucky that I get to spend a lot of time with him.
I am a licensed scuba diver and have been on many dives in the Gulf of Mexico. One of my favorite ones was a night dive. The only light was from my flashlight and the moon. Every time someone kicked their flippers, the water sparkled because tiny sea creatures called plankton shimmer when they are disturbed. It was so cool to watch all the night fish (like crabs and lobsters) roam around the glittery water.
Questions About Me
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. We lived in a quiet neighborhood that was filled with kids. Even though the winters were cold (4-5 months of solid snow–look at the picture of waist high snow in our backyard), I loved it. Our neighbor had an awesome sledding hill in their backyard and my parents would take me skiing a few times a year.
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. I love to spend time outside. My wife and I used to hike in the Rockies every other weekend and I went for a short hike almost every day I was in New Zealand. I also love the arts. I took four pottery classes in college, studied piano for 16 years, and love to dance. I don’t do any of those things nearly as much as I’d like, but they’re still fun when I do.
Q. What’s your favorite food?
A. I love pizza. Every Sunday, my wife and I make pizza from scratch. I make the crust, my wife prepares all the toppings, and my son helps sprinkle them on the pizza. My favorite pizza toppings are onions, garlic and basil. I have even dressed up as a slice of pizza for Halloween!
Q. What’s your favorite color?
A. Blue! I love dark blues and probably wear more blue than I should. When I’m not wearing a Hawaiian shirt, I’m probably wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt. I have four different blue ones right now!
Q. What scares you?
A. I don’t like rattlesnakes. They seem very dangerous and sneaky.
Q. If you weren’t writing children’s books, what would you do?
A. I once applied to graduate school to get a PhD in Philosophy so I could be a college professor. I wanted to see if you could use classic films to answer and discuss tough philosophical questions. At the last minute, I decided I would rather write films than teach them, so I decided not to get my PhD. I also came close to being a potter and a music composer. I have actually worked as a web designer.
Questions About Writing
Q. When did you become an author?
A. I loved telling stories long before I even knew how to write. I had a very active imagination as a kid and I spent lots of time imagining other worlds. Sadly, I never thought I could actually be an author until I lived in New Zealand when I was 28. I wrote almost every day when I lived there and realized I loved it. I started by writing movies, but after a couple years I realized I would rather write kids books. I have tried to write at least five days a week ever since then—even if it’s just for ten minutes.
Q. What books influence your writing?
A. My favorite books as a kid were Encyclopedia Brown and The Book of Three (a story about wizards, kings and saving the world). I also loved the poetry of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. Jack Pretutsky’s poem called The New Kid On The Block was one of the first poems I ever memorized when I was in third grade. When I was an adult, I loved The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Harry Potter.
Q. What is your favorite book you have written?
A. I love Grandma Rodrigas and the Forty-Minute Fart. I had so much fun making up all the crazy characters. It still makes me laugh when I go back and read it. Most adults would say that’s a sign I never grew up :)
Q. What is your favorite book by someone else?
A. I can’t pick one, but some of my favorites are Sidhartha, The New Kid On The Block, and The Book of Three.
Q. How does your work relate to your life?
A. Dax and Zippa is very much set where I grew up. Dax is exactly like I was as a child—and Zippa does what I wanted to do, but knew I would get in trouble. Just like Dax, I knew my mailman (Mailman Jerry) and would often talk to him for a couple minutes if I were playing in the yard when he visited.
Q. Do you start with plot, characters or settings when writing a new book?
A. I always start with the plot. With some books (like Kid Space Detective), I had a very thorough idea of the plot before I even sat down to start outlining. With other books (like the first Dax and Zippa), I just knew I wanted a book about a kid that saved the day with quick thinking. The rest came to me when I brainstormed. I usually spend a lot of time brain storming and outlining. At least half of my “writing time” is spent outlining books.
Q. Do you write with a computer?
A. Yes. I know lots of people love the feeling of pencil and paper in their hand, but I can type so much faster than I can write. When I was sixteen, my mom gave me an article about the Dvorak keyboard layout. It’s like the keyboard on your computer, but all the letters are in a different place. The inventor put all of the commonly used letters in the easiest to reach places, so it’s easy to type quickly. That fall, I learned how to type with the Dvorak keyboard and have been using it ever since—just don’t ask me to use your keyboard or I’ll have a hard time finding each letter!
Q. Do you have any advice for people that want to be authors?
A. I got my start writing ten minutes a day. After a couple months, I had finished Butterflies Don’t Chew Bubblegum. Even though ten minutes might not sound like a lot, it adds up over time. Your life is probably busy with school, friends, family, and other activities – but there is always time for writing if you want to write. The other important thing to remember is that you get better with time. Don’t compare yourself to your favorite books. Just write because you love writing.
Q. What do you hope is in future?
A. Lots more books. I have a giant list of book ideas, and it grows faster than I can write them. I also hope that one of my books eventually becomes a movie.
Q. How long does it take to write a book?
A. Every book is different. It all depends on how clearly I can see the story before I start. I finished the first draft of Wizards In The West in a week (of writing 6 hours each day)—but it took 2 years to finish Kid Space Detective because I had to try lots of different detectives before I realized Boston was the right kid for the job.