I love to hear from you and to answer your questions. I have an email address for this, but… You have to go to the bottom of this page to get it. Why? Because before you write to me with a question, I would really appreciate it if you would read the Frequently Asked Questions on this page to see if the answer you are looking for is already here. (The most popular questions, by far, are #1 and #2 on the list.) And you should probably check out my blog as well, which has a nice, handy list of topics, many of which address questions that I get asked a lot.
If you still don’t see your answer, then feel free to write, and I will do my best to answer you as quickly as possible, though sometimes, it might take a while because I am 1) traveling for work 2) traveling for fun or 3) horribly behind on my writing because I have been traveling too much.
Here are the questions I get asked the most:
Are you going to write another book in the Spy School series? Or the FunJungle series? Or the Moon Base Alpha series?
Yes. Yes. And er… no. I am ending the MBA series for now (if you search my blog, there’s a post about why) but continuing with the other two series… and starting a new series, Charlie Thorne, which began with Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation in 2019 and will have a second book in spring of 2021. You can get release dates for all my upcoming books on the right hand side of every page of my website — or get more information about those upcoming books on the Books page of this site. (Just click the ‘Books’ tab.)
How many books will there be in each series?
I honestly have no idea. I am going to keep writing these three series until I run out of ideas for them.
But JK Rowling said she knew exactly how many books Harry Potter was going to be while she was writing it! How can you not know?
Not everyone writes the same way. And except for JK Rowling, I have never heard of an author knowing exactly how many books there would be in a series from the start. (Plus, I think there is a relatively good chance that the JK Rowling story is a myth.)
Are you going to turn any of your books into a movie?
Spy School has been acquired by 20th Century Fox, which has been acquired by Disney. I have written several drafts of the screenplay. This is by no means any guarantee that the movie will get made. But it’s a start.
Can you please tell me what your next book is about?
I post updates about upcoming books on my blog, as well as the books page for this site, so check there. (You might have to scroll through a few blog entries to find the most recent updates.) Keep in mind, however, that I don’t want to dole out too much information about each book ahead of time; it’s more fun for you (and all the other readers) if you don’t know too much about it. There are more surprises that way. So, if you don’t see the answer to your question, there’s a good chance that’s because I don’t want you to know it.
When is your next book coming out?
It might seem crazy that this is one of the questions I get asked the most, seeing as I have my book release schedule for the next few years on every single page of my website, but apparently, a lot of people don’t notice it. So… if you want to know the answer to this, please look to your right. The list of release dates is right there. (Though you might have to scroll up a little.)
Are you going to do any crossovers between your series?
No. I don’t have an idea to do a crossover that excites me. Until that happens, no crossover.
I have a great idea for a crossover! If I send it to you, can you use it?
Oh. Well I also have an idea for another book in one of your series. Can I share that with you?
Sadly, it would be better if you didn’t. Although I am extremely flattered that people enjoy my books enough to write to me with suggestions, there is no way I can accept ideas from readers. I am often thinking several books ahead, meaning that I have put months (or even years) of thought into the story for a book before I ever start writing it. So quite often, when you’re suggesting an idea for a future book to me, I’ve already worked out most of that book already — or I’ve already thought about the direction I want to take the characters in — and your suggestion most likely doesn’t fit into what I already have in mind. If you really, really, really want to share an idea with me, you can do that; just please don’t feel upset or dejected when I tell you I can’t use it. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea; only that it won’t work in the story I want to tell.
Are you going to visit (insert the place where you live) soon?
Again, my upcoming visits are posted on every page of my website. So just look to your right (and maybe scroll up). Also, I only list my public visits, not my school visits, because the public can’t come to my school visits. If I’m coming to your school, your librarian should have informed you about it. If that hasn’t happened, you need a new librarian.
Can you come visit my school/hometown/local library?
Maybe. Check out my school visits page for details on how to arrange that.
Can you write me into one of your books?
Awwww. Why not?
Because if I wrote everyone who asked me to write them into my books into my books, my books would be nothing more than giant lists of names, which wouldn’t make for a very exciting read. It’s a lot of work to craft a book, and trying to shoehorn random people into them doesn’t work very well.
So… There’s no way I can appear in one of your books? Because I really, really want to be in one.
Well, there is one way you can make a cameo. On occasion, I auction off an appearance in my books for charity. On those occasions, I will blog about it to let my readers know when it’s going to happen. However, keep in mind that getting into the book isn’t cheap — but, like I said, it’s for charity. I don’t keep any of the money, and it always goes to a good cause.
Can you send me one of your books for free?
Because selling books is the way I make a living and support my family. Giving them away costs a lot of money. Yes, I lose the money for the sale, but I also have to pay for the book myself (authors don’t get unlimited supplies of their own books) as well as postage, which can be pricey. If I did that for every single person who asked for a free book (and there are a lot of you) I’d be bankrupt.
I want to be a writer. Can you give me some advice about how to do that?
Sure. First of all, write a lot. Hopefully, you are already doing this and enjoying it. If you are not enjoying it, then you really shouldn’t become a writer.
Second, it is okay to mimic the style of a writer that you like. That’s not plagiarism. It’s homage. And besides, your style won’t be exactly the same as theirs anyhow. Read their books, see how they make the language work, and learn from that.
Third, while all writers are flattered by fan fiction, it might be a better use to your time to try to create your own stories and characters. After all, you can’t sell fan fiction to a publisher.
Fourth, be prepared for rejection. Most of the authors I know (including myself) had many books rejected. Or the same book rejected many times. Almost no one got published on their first attempt. But… Know this: If every writer had quit writing after their first rejection, there would be almost no books in the world. The only reason we have books is that people didn’t let a little thing like a rejection or two (or thirty) stop them.
I want to be a writer, but I can’t come up with any ideas. Can you give me some?
Um… no. I work very hard to come up with ideas. And, I hate to say this, but… Really, I think what makes most people a professional writer isn’t the writing; it’s the ability to generate ideas that excite them. If you can’t come up with ideas that excite you… then maybe writing isn’t for you.
Now, here are the answers to some other questions that I don’t get asked quite as often, but often enough to warrant answering them here:
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Philadelphia, PA but moved to Washington DC when I was five. When I was seven, I moved to San Antonio, TX, where I stayed until I graduated high school.
Where do you live now?
Los Angeles, CA, which isn’t nearly as bad a place as the rest of the country seems to think it is.
How long have you wanted to be a writer?
For as long as I can remember. I was writing stories in kindergarten. (I still have quite a few of them.)
Where did you go to college?
The University of Pennsylvania, which I could not possibly recommend more highly. It was a fantastic school, I had a wonderful time, and I made some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for there.
Where do you get the ideas for your books?
Ideas can come from all sorts of places: visits to museums and zoos, books or magazine articles I have read, travel to amazing places, conversations I have had with interesting people — and even the occasional spy movie. Basically, I try to learn as much as I can about everything that interests me and the ideas follow.
What was your inspiration for the FunJungle series?
When I was in college, I studied biology and ended up doing a project at the Philadelphia Zoo, where I studied capybaras, the world’s largest rodents. (In fact, for a brief time, I was one of the world’s foremost experts on capybaras, but that was really only because no one else was studying them.) While I was there, I hung out with the zookeepers a lot and began to hear lots of great behind-the-scenes-at-the-zoo stories. I ultimately realized that a zoo was a fantastic place to set a story. Before ‘Belly Up’ became a book, I actually sold a story set at a zoo as a movie and as a TV show, but neither of those ever got made. So when I was offered the chance to write a middle grade novel, I jumped at the chance, because I realized this was finally the perfect opportunity to tell a story set at a zoo.
What was your inspiration for the Spy School series?
This is honestly an idea I’ve had since I was around age seven. I saw my first James Bond movie and instantly started to imagine myself as James Bond’s son, Jimmy Bond (Double-O Six and a Half). I even wrote a Jimmy Bond story around that time: “The Kid With The Golden Water Pistol.” So I’ve known the idea of kid spies would be cool and funny for a very long time.
What was your inspiration for the Moon Base Alpha series?
One of my best friends from college, Garrett Reisman, became an astronaut. This gave me a lot of access to NASA, and through Garrett, I got to see the reality of being an astronaut, which was quite different that what was presented in all those IMAX movies you can see at your local science center. My editor at the time thought that would be a great basis for a book series, so I came up with Moon Base Alpha.
What was your inspiration for the Charlie Thorne series?
This series was influenced by a lot of different things. To begin with, when i was a kid, there wasn’t quite as much fiction written for kids as there is now — so all of us ended up reading stuff that was written for adults. So I read a lot of what my parents were reading, particularly Robert Ludum novels, which always seemed to have an innocent person drawn into an international plot where their life was in danger and there was action and intrigue in cool locations all around the world. At some point, I started thinking that it would be cool to write a story like that for kids. But I was also inspired by a traveling exhibit on Albert Einstein that I saw twice at two different museums, and by reading about geniuses, and studying chemistry in high school, and lots of other things that all wove together over the years into this idea.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
There are lots of different ways I do this. Sometimes, I collect names and combine a first and last name that I like and save it for a character some day. Sometimes, I might give a character the first name of one friend and the last name of another. And sometimes, I just make up a name on the spot.
Do you do the covers for your books?
No. The covers for ‘Belly Up’ and the ‘Spy School’ series were all done by Lucy Cummins, who is incredibly talented. I absolutely love the design of my books.
What did you do before you wrote novels?
I wrote movies. Some of my films include See Spot Run, Repli-Kate and Showdown. I also have worked on many animated projects, such as Anastasia, Open Season 3, and Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers. And I have developed TV shows for ABC, Fox, Disney and Nickelodeon. You wouldn’t know any of those shows, however, because they never ended up on the air. (That happens a lot in Hollywood.)
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to do things with my kids: go to the zoo, visit museums, go to the beach. I also like to hike, ski, bike, play tennis and go canyoneering (which is like hiking, only you do it in a canyon, and occasionally you end up rappelling down a waterfall). And I love to travel.
Where do you like to travel?
I love going places where I can see animals in the wild. I have been to almost every major National Park in America (including Glacier, Denali, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Sequoia, Olympic, Acadia and the Everglades) as well as Patagonia, the Amazon, Central America and safari in Africa (five times).
What’s the most exciting animal viewing you’ve ever had?
I’ve had so many great experiences I can’t pick just one, but among the highlights are seeing elephants stampede a pride of lions in the Masai Mara, cage-diving with great white sharks in South Africa, watching a mother cheetah teach her cubs how to hunt in the Serengeti, seeing pink dolphins do flips in the Amazon, seeing a capybara in the wild for the first time, boating alongside a pod of killer whales for an hour in the Canadian Gulf Islands — and encountering a grizzly bear in Glacier National park along with famed zookeeper Jack Hanna while the grandchildren of the Von Trapp family from ‘The Sound of Music’ serenaded us. (If you think that sounds surreal, it was. And then an hour later, I had a very close encounter with a moose.) It’s worth pointing out, however, that you can have amazing wildlife experiences close to home, too. I’ve seen blue whales, bighorn sheep, bobcats and a mountain lion all within a few miles of Los Angeles.
Do you still write movies?
On occasion, although I have to admit, writing books is a lot more fun. In part, this is because I get to have so much more contact with my readers as a novelist. I didn’t realize that visiting schools or going to literary festivals would be part of the job when I started this, but I have found doing that to be really wonderful and rewarding.
Can you come visit my school?
I’d love to, if I can make that work. For details on how to make that happen, click on the ‘School Visits’ tab up at the top of this webpage.
Wow, you sound busy.
I am. In fact, I have to get back to work right now.
Wait! I read all the Questions and answers, but the question I have for you isn’t on there. So can I have your email?
Are you sure you read all the questions and answers above? You didn’t just skip all the way down here?
Yes! I swear, I read everything!
Did you also look at my blog index to see if I answered your question in a blog post?
Please go do it.
OK! I’m back! I checked the entire blog and didn’t see that you answered my question anywhere.
Really? Because it’s quite annoying when a kid writes to me to ask a question I have gone through the trouble to answer already without taking the time to see if I have already answered it.
I totally understand. Now, can I have that email? Pleeeeeeeeease?
Okay. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you don’t have email, or would simply prefer to send mail the old fashioned way, my address is below. Due to the large amount of mail I get, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a return letter. If you don’t do this, I will not be able to send you a response. It is quite expensive to have to pay for hundreds of envelopes and stamps every year, and addressing them all is very time consuming. Plus, I can respond to you a lot faster if you include an envelope and postage. Sorry.
Special note for teachers! If you are going to have students write to me and only include the return address of your school, please please please do not send letters after January. (Or if you do, have your kids put their home address on it, not the school address.) I get a lot of mail and often it is very hard to get to it all before the end of the school year. (P.S. This applies to every author. Not just me.)
OK. Now that I have got all that off my chest, here’s the address — and another reminder. (Because no one seems to be reading the one above.)
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE INCLUDE A SELF-ADDRESSED, STAMPED ENVELOPE FOR A RETURN LETTER!!!! IF YOU DO NOT INCLUDE ONE, I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO RESPOND TO YOU. I GET HUNDREDS OF LETTERS EVERY YEAR, AND THE COST OF RETURN POSTAGE FOR THEM ALL HAS SIMPLY BECOME TOO EXPENSIVE. IF YOU CAN NOT AFFORD A RETURN ENVELOPE, THEN SIMPLY EMAIL ME.
325 N Larchmont Blvd #111
Los Angeles, CA 90004