What is the strongest message you hope they take away from reading Gaff?
You picked out some excellent themes, but the one I felt was absolutely central to this novel was the question of bravery. What does true bravery mean, especially to boys who are forming ideas about bravery and cowardice as they grow up? I love the quote that my editor pulled out for Gaff’s page in the publisher’s catalog: “ . . . he (Paul) learns that being a man has nothing to do with wielding the power to hurt people and animals.” I hope I didn’t belabor this point, as I didn’t want to make the book a lecture against war or animal cruelty, but I’d be pleased if its readers might by affected by this message.
Many authors contend that to be a great author you have to be a reader. Do you agree or disagree? And, why or why not?
There may be some rare cases where reading is not a prerequisite for writing great literature, but wow!—How would the author know how to write? How to convey thoughts and emotions effectively in written form? How to discern what readers love to read, and need to read? Writing in a vacuum is good as an exercise sometimes, but a great author just about has to be an avid reader to develop, and then to share, his craft. This is a long way of saying—I agree!
If you could choose any author from children's through YA books to visit for a day, who would you want to visit and what would you do with him/her, what questions might you ask him or her?
I’ve decided to visit Arnold Lobel. Years ago (and three years before he died), he keynoted a Children’s Literature Hawaii conference and fell into step with me while we crossed the University of Hawaii’s campus. Or, more likely, I fell into step with him, as I’d promised my son Brandon I’d deliver a sealed letter to his favorite author. Lobel pocketed it after many thanks, and after several months, a letter arrived for Brandon, written in the author’s large, swirly, hand. Inside were drawings of Toad and Frog, and a letter that confirmed my suspicions that this tremendously busy man cared deeply for children—even ones he’d never met. I might not even ask him questions. I’d just sit with him on a comfortable sofa while he read to me and showed me his own favorite drawings.
To whom or what would you accredit your desire to become a writer?
The “what” was probably a writing contest where kids described why “My Pops is Tops.” My little essay won first place and a pair of shoes for my dad—a big deal, as money was very tight for us when I was young. Teachers encouraged me, too, but the realization that my own words could bring about positive things may have started with a pair of shoes for my dad!
Can you describe your ideal writing environment?
I’m sitting in it as I try to answer your questions. I’m blessed to be here in my small office which has warm-looking koa-paneled walls and a view of palms, a stephanotis vine with fragrant white blossoms, crotons, and my thriving herb garden visible through a bay window that looks out onto our sunny back yard. I’ve a good computer here, a beautiful painting I can look at when I glance up from the screen, and a wall of books behind me. I couldn’t ask for much more.
Do you set goals for yourself as a writer - for example, to finish so many pages in a day, to write for so many minutes/hours a day?
I have friends who do this, but I have to admit that I’m not always that disciplined. I tell myself that writers to have lives if they’re to have something to write about! But after a career of newspaper and magazine deadlines, I set (and keep) goals best when under pressure from editors and now, from myself.
I love how you infused Hawaiian culture into Gaff! I am ready to go and visit - to eat fresh pineapple and mango bread! You live in Hawaii, is that why you chose to set Gaff in Hawaii? (And do you have a recipe for mango bread?)
You‘ve paid me a real compliment, and I wish I could say I deliberately set Gaff in Hawaii and chose each detail to make Hawaii’s cultures become real for the readers, but Gaff wouldn’t have existed without these cultures. I say “cultures,” plural, because the longer I live here, the more I appreciate what Hawaii’s all about—differences in race, history, arts, languages, attitudes, religions and yes, diet, all are here to savor. Cultures affect stories effortlessly when you live in the Islands, another blessing of living and writing here. As for the mango bread, I don’t have a favorite recipe. As a newspaper food writer, I wrote about many foods, but just realized that I never wrote about mangoes. I’ll be glad to find one for you, though, if you have an over-abundance of mangoes available where you live and want to use them up!
Rachel, an 8th grader at one of the middle schools I work at, read your book (in one weekend...I might add). I asked her if she wanted me to tell you anything about what she thought and she said, "Just that I loved her book!" She does have a question for you:"How does she make her characters so complex?" Rachel feels that when she is writing she has a hard time developing her characters like you do in Gaff. Any advice about how you develop characters?
First, “mahalo” to you, Rachel, for loving Gaff. You are one of the first non-adults to have read it, so I especially treasure your brief “review.”
About developing complex characters, I can tell you what I’ve been told to do, and what I actually do. Many writers make pages of lists about their characters, even the minor ones. “Does he like or hate his name?” “What’s in the back of her closet?” “Her favorite snack?” “Her first memory?” “What makes him jealous?” Even though they might use only a bit of this information, it helps them view their characters better as real, complex, people.
As for me, I just begin writing. If I’m lucky, I start hearing the characters’ voices and after a while I trust them to guide me (or don’t trust them, which can also be interesting!). This works better with first-person narrators such as Paul, but all of your “viewpoint” characters must see, smell, taste, touch and hear things for you. It can be magical when you start wondering, “Where on earth did that come from?” Or, for me, “How did Raymond and Grampa Silva get in here?” They not only weren’t planned for, they also weren’t very welcome at first. But they could only have come from my memories and experiences, and somehow my imagination snagged them while I was writing.
These are just two ways to make your characters richer— listing things about them as if they were real people, or writing and trusting your instincts. If one doesn’t help you, your teachers or books on writing can suggest others.
How would you finish the sentence: “Writing is... easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” I stole that from Gene Fowler because it always makes me smile. It’s only fair. You make things hard for your heroes, so why should writing be easy for you?
Thank you so much for answering our questions! I loved reading Gaff and being able to get a sneak peek into your life as a writer! Aloha!
This book was provided for review and giveaway courtesy of Peachtree Publishers. Thank you! They have been great to work with, I suggest you visit their blog and/or check them out on Twitter at @PeachtreePub! And now for the giveaway! The giveaway is now closed.