While telling customers and friends about What Happened to Lani Garver, I point out that the title is a statement, not a question. Why did you give narrative duties to Claire instead of Lani?
I've never really walked in Lani's skin. I have a friend who is very much like him, tho. It was an instinctive move. Claire is the character I describe as "so much like me that I can't hear her speaking off the pages like my other characters."
The She deals with legends and ship-to-shore communications. Have you ever experienced a storm, either on land or on sea?
I've never experienced a storm at sea (though after the waves today I'm a bit more respectful -- got thrown head over heels bodysurfing a biggie thrown up by the hurricane.) I was raised on a barrier island and have lived on several South Jersey barriers. I love them . . . can't think of a place I'd rather live.
What's your favorite urban legend?
URBAN legend? Not sure. I like all legends (relatively speaking) as they are the place where imagination meets truth. Truth is a seed that leads to stories. My favorite legend is South Jersey's Jersey Devil. About a mile from where I live, two hundred plus years ago, Daniel Leeds and his wife (known today only as Mother Leeds) gave birth to a thirteenth child, badly deformed. It was well known that when Mrs. Leeds realized she was pregnant for the thirteenth time she cursed the baby (who wouldn't?), so some people took her seriously. She kept the baby in the basement, but nearing its fourth birthday, it sprouted wings and flew up the chimney. In 1908, there were so many sightings of the Jersey Devil that school and industry closed one day.
Many of your novels deal with disappearances and deaths. When writing your first draft, do you typically know from the start how it will end?
No, I generally don't know how things will end up. For example, in The Night My Sister Went Missing, I didn't know until chapter ten whether the sister would be alive or dead. Around that time, the police interviewed the local surfing club. The answer appeared to me as I was writing that chapter. Things often happen this way in books. Its taught me not to worry about real life as much. Things have a way of working themselves out if we can relax.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I would say reading what I wrote the night before over my morning coffee. I write best when I'm too tired to remember it long afterwards. It's a state of relaxation that's a bit trance-like and surprising the following day.
Which, if any, of your novel concepts came out of nowhere? Did a character or concept ever pop into your mind and demand to be written?
I think Lani popped out of nowhere. I have a friend whose life Lani's is based on. When I first started the book, I expected Lani to be very much like Ric, but he quickly became autonomous, and I don't think he's very much like me. His name came to me one night while I was passing from the living room to the dining room. I wish I could say more than that, but some things just happen.
Why do you write for teens?
I think we call "get stuck" at a certain point in our lives when things went very well for us. Our bodies - and souls - move on, but a portion of our spirit remains where things were good. I can remember being 15 like it was yesterday, though I can't tell you where I left yesterday's sport section. Overgrown kid.
What are your top ten favorite books?
To Kill a Mockingbird, Stephen King's The Body, Gone with the Wind, The Secret Garden, C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain, Herman Ruacher's Summer of '42, Judith Guest's Ordinary People, and Joe Wilkins' The Skin Game. Look for a genre in that and you'll get a migraine.
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