Q: Why do you write?
CPC: I write because I love to. I'm very, very fortunate to have found
something that I love doing that also earns my living. But to be honest, I'd
write even if I weren't being paid to (Don't let my publisher know!) Writing
has always been a sanctuary or a refuge for me, any time I'm stressed or
anxious or worried I find that a couple of hours expressing myself by writing
always seems to have a calming effect on me. I'm sure there's some
philosophy that says one of the best ways to deal with any of your problems is
to take a deep breath and step away from them for a while, writing does this for
Q: What is your favorite thing about writing?
CPC: Besides the soothing effect it has, I think my favorite part of writing
is being able to use my imagination and creativity to make new ideas and people
and situations come to life. I often tell young people that as a writer you are
very powerful, that you can make absolutely anything happen. I have a great deal
of fun doing this, as the writer you are the puppet-master and can control
everything. Believe me, that is a whole lot of fun because it ain't something
that's going to be happening very often in real life!
Q: What is your least favorite thing about writing?
CPC: I really have to dig deep to answer that because I enjoy every aspect of
writing. It's great to create a story and then to submit it to your editor and
see what her reaction is to it. It's great to have your editor tell what her
suggestions and ideas for the story are. It's great to explain to your editor
why her ideas and suggestions are bizarre and to ask her why is she trying to
ruin my story. It's great to finally finish the editorial process and
turn the book over to the publisher and watch all the wonderful things they do
with the cover and publicity and the job of turning my writing into a book.
Probably the only thing that isn't great is the time when I know I'm very
close to finishing the actual writing of the story and I'm overcome by this
sense of loss. I think it's because I know I won't be "talking" to the
main character anymore, it's sort of like what you feel when you know a friend
is moving away and you probably won't be seeing her again.
Q: What is your writing schedule?
CPC: I try to make the writing as regular and regimented as possible. I
usually get up at around 5 a.m. and read what I wrote the day before. Some of
the time, after I read, I think the writing's very good and some of the time I
feel embarrassed by what I've written. You have to learn not to pay too much
attention to these feelings. You're still too close to the writing to judge it
objectively and need time before you can really say if it's good, bad, or
otherwise. But I think it's good to have an idea where you need to go with the
After that I head to the library around 8 a.m. and start the actual creative
writing process where I tell the story and figure out what will happen next. I
do this until 11 a.m., then go play basketball and try to get back to the
library by 3 p.m. to work some more.
It really depends on the story though. If I'm burning to write it, I can go
eight or nine hours and still be fresh with it. If it's coming slowly to me,
three hours of writing can seem like forever. I'm finding that there is no
hard and fast rule as to how much I write each day. I do think it is important
to look at the writing as a job though and to commit to it like you'd have to
commit to a regular nine-to-five. But believe me, I've had plenty of
nine-to-fives and this is a whole lot more pleasant.
Q: Which of your books is your favorite?
CPC: If you ask some authors that they will tell you that they have no
favorite, that their books are like their children and they could never choose
one over the others. I say, baloney! Of the books published so far The
Watsons Go to Birmingham1963 is definitely my favorite, for two
reasons: 1. I love the story, and 2. I was working in a warehouse unloading
trucks when it was finally published and because of that book I no longer work
in a warehouse unloading trucks.
One of the books I'm working on now, Elijah of Buxton, just might
Watsons Go to Birmingham1963 out of its spot though. I've never
had a story come as easily and quickly as this one has, and it has been a joy to
write and it's been one surprise after another.
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
CPC: Once again there is no set answer to this question. Watsons and
Not Buddy each took about a year to finish, but while I was writing
Watsons, I also wrote another book called Mr. Chickee's Funny Money. Bucking
the Sarge took almost four and a half years to write and Elijah of
Buxton, if I keep going at the same pace, will take seven months. Every
story is different and there are so many different factors that come into play
that I don't think you can accurately predict how long a story takes to
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?
CPC: My favorite author is Toni Morrison. Her books are sometimes difficult
to read, but the poetry of her language keeps me going over them again and
again. I've read Beloved seven or eight times and I still am
surprised by so much of the writing. The first time I read it I felt as though I
was lost in a fog, but as I read it again and again, I started to see different
things. I started to feel what Ms. Morrison was telling me and it was a
revelation. One of the reasons I love the book so much is because of what it
talks aboutslavery. I can't imagine a more difficult subject to write
about, but Toni Morrison does it with such grace and style and expertise that
you know you are in the hands of a master.
I'm also a big fan of Mark Twain, one of the bravest of American writers.
Other favorites include Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Jim Thompson (one of
the few authors who has me dying laughing), Walter Dean Myers, Chris Crutcher,
Jerry Spinelli, and Jacqueline Woodson.
Q: How old are you?
CPC: I'm the same age as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.
But seriously, I was born in 1953. But this can be a lesson to those of you who
want to write: Be patient with yourself. Writing, particularly fiction, is
something that takes a lot of time and experience to get a good hold of. I
didn't finish Watsons until I was 40. I felt very deeply that I could write.
It just took many years for everything to come together. Don't give up! Write
for the love of writing and you can't go wrong.
Q: What are you working on now?
CPC: Mr. Chickee's Funny Moneya light fun story about the
adventures of a little boy and the Future Scientist Of Flint Club that he has
put together. I'm also working on a a picture book called Last Minute Lulu
that I'm strongly hoping will be illustrated by a fantastic artist in
California named Yuyi Morales, and the story, Elijah of Buxton, takes
place in the early 1860s in Buxton, Ontario, which was a terminus of the
Q: Do you draw from your own personal experiences when you write?
CPC: Very much so. In The
Watsons Go To Birmingham1963, a lot of times people would say to me, "Is it autobiographical?" And I would say,
"Not at all." But then
they'd ask, "Well what about this?" and I'd say, "Well, yeah that
happened" and "Yeah, that's like my sister" or "That's like my
brother," and I didn't even realize how autobiographical it was.
Q: Do you identify with any of the characters from your books? And if so,
CPC: I'm asked that by kids a lot, particularly about The
Watsons Go To Birmingham1963. They ask, "Are you Kenny or
Byron?" So what they're actually asking is, "Am I a juvenile delinquent,
thug hoodlum or am I a kind, sensitive, loving, intelligent, sweet little
boy?" And I think I'm probably the sweet little boy. But seriously, all the
characters are composites, and I think there are parts of me in them, there are
parts of my brother, and there are parts of all friends that we've known.
Which I think make it interesting. None of them are exactly as any one person
is. The characters all have a little bit of me in them, and I think if it's
something that'll grab a readerthat is excitingI think there does have
to be a part of you in it.
Copyright (c) 2004 by Random House Children's Books.