1. Where and how do you get inspiration for your stories and characters?
As a writer, I try to be a good observer. To tell stories, I need details—physical details for settings and other physical descriptions, as well as a variety of specifics to help my characters seem real. Some of the characters in my books have attributes I’ve noticed in people close to me. In Fablehaven, Seth is recklessly curious in some of the same ways as my younger brother Bryson. I try not to fictionalize an entire person—I just borrow bits and pieces.
The other component is daydreaming. Before I write my stories, I see them like movies in my mind. I partly get to know the characters through prolonged imagining. The better I get to know them through daydreaming, the easier it becomes to stay true to them in what they think, say, and do. Also, as I write, everything I have a character do or say helps me get to know them better.
2. If you weren’t a writer, what would you want your profession to be?
The only job I would prefer to writing would be to explore other worlds through wardrobes and rabbit holes. I tried to do that as a kid. When it didn’t work out, I opted for writing instead, which allowed me to imagine the kind of adventures I wished I could experience. If I couldn’t write novels, I’d make a living with words some other way. Before I made a living writing novels, I wrote advertisements.
3. Do you test out your stories with your own kids first? How much do they get to help you with the writing and editing process?
My daughter Sadie has read all of my books. Now that she is getting older, she gets to read them before they are published. But my oldest is nine. My kids fill my life with love and give me a reason to live. I expect as they get older, they’ll help more with the writing. My wife reads all my stuff chapter by chapter as I write it and gives me my first feedback. She’s the only person who gets to read my books that way, and she provides very useful reactions.
4. What’s your favorite breakfast food?
Eggs Benedict. But I like lots of breakfast food—bacon, omelets, pancakes, hash browns…don’t get me started.
5. How do you get past writer’s block?
Usually it hits because I’m writing a bad scene. I have to go back and find how to make the scene interesting and important. Sometimes I discover that the scene was unnecessary, so I have to kill it and write an alternate scene. Taking some time away from the project sometimes helps, like going on a walk, getting outside.
6. Of all the books that are out there, which book do you wish you had been the author of?
Harry Potter. I love it and it is still the best series in my category. But I could never have written it. I’m not British enough. Which works out, because I’m very happy doing my own thing.
The way my job works, I get to create the books that I wish existed. I have a variety of books in me. Candy Shop War, Fablehaven, and Beyonders all have different feels and they appeal to slightly different readers (although many readers, like me, enjoy them all). I have many more stories that I’m eager to share.
7. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t stress too much about getting published. Let writing be a rewarding hobby. Give yourself time. You don’t have to succeed tomorrow. It isn’t now or never. Read books that you like. Pay attention to how your favorite writers build their scenes. Practice building your own scenes. Take it seriously, but don’t burden yourself with needing to succeed all at once. It takes time to get good, and it takes lots of time and effort to get your start.
8. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Video games. Especially Zelda.
9. Fablehaven was your first big hit. What were your thoughts when you first learned you had hit the New York Times bestseller list?
I hoped it meant that people would keep paying me to make up stories.
10. How do your beliefs affect your writing and your speaking engagements?
My beliefs are a big part of who I am. I have deep convictions. I don’t put my specific religion into my books, but my sense of right and wrong is reflected in the choices and consequences my characters must deal with. My view of life influences how many of my characters see the world. I try to write books that I can proudly share with my kids and my friends.
11. You set the world record for the largest marshmallow war ever as part of your promotion for your newest Candy Shop Wars book, Arcade Catastrophe. How did you come up with that idea, and how did it go?
My publisher came up with the idea. They thought it was a natural fit for a series called “The Candy Shop War” and I agreed. We threw enough marshmallows to break the record. People seemed to have a fun time. It was crazy, and a little painful, but still enjoyable. All that remains is to see whether the Guinness people accept our documentation of the event.
Check out the video from the marshmallow war below: