1. Who was your target audience? Though I originally thought of it being a young adult novel, not only because the narrator is 13 years old but because of its darker elements such as the hint of sexual abuse, I now realize after reading several reviews (including yours, thank you) that it is more geared for middle grades (ages 8-12). But I also wrote it as an adult fable that would appeal to readers of all ages.
2. Where did your seed idea for The Family That Wasn't come from? At the time I wrote the first draft (1990), I was reading a lot of James Thurber. I was especially drawn to his semi-biographical book, My Life and Hard Times, in which he wrote about these incredibly wacky family members. He also wrote several collections of adult fables. So I started thinking about writing a fable in which a boy who sees his family as so impossibly crazy that he can’t stand living with them another moment. So he invents and new and improved family, and he begins to inhabit this magic world he has created from his imagination until he realizes his mistake and sets off on a quest to find his real family.
3. What is your favorite part of The Family That Wasn't? I have two favorite parts. One is Chapter 10 – The Quest – in which John sets off on his cross country odyssey to find his true family and the reader is introduced to one of my favorite characters, a sea captain-like truck driver who talked to John “of all the voyages she had taken with her great wheeled ship.” My other favorite part is in the last chapter where John realizes that “words are powerful stuff. You think that just because you arrange and compose them on the page you still have control of them. But once you set them into motion, words have a life all their own. No telling where they might go. Sometimes they’ll take you to places strange and wonderful. And sometimes they’ll take you to places all too real and terrifying.” Yes, there really is magic in words.
4. What was the hardest part of the book to write? I think it was the beginning when I had to set up the characters and family history into motion so that it all made sense, in a weird sort of way. That’s why I spent some time establishing their genealogy and showing how it was that such a crazy family could ever come together in the first place. And I had to discover exactly where this story was going.
5. Start to print how long did it take for you to complete The Family That Wasn't? I think I finished the first draft in less than a year. And over the next 20 years or so, as I sent it out to various traditional publishers, it went through several more major revisions and minor tweakings until I began to worry that I was going to edit the very life out of it. It was at that point that I decided to publish it. I think it is very important for an author to know when a work is finally finished.
6. Did you ever thing about giving up? In my heart I always knew the book would eventually be published. As for giving up on writing, I think about doing that almost every other day. But since I can’t imagine a life without writing, I never quite succeed in quitting the habit.
7. In one sentence tell the reader everything they need to know about The Family That Wasn't, GO! “A humorous fable of how our families live inside us.” (I read somewhere that you need a good “elevator description” of your book so that when someone inevitably asks you “What’s your book about?” you’ll have a ready answer.)