Interview Questions for Hoobler blog tour:
Hi, I’m Thomas Hoobler. My wife Dorothy and I have co-authored lots of books for adults, young adults, and children. Lately she has been researching a big non-fiction project, and I’ve spent my time writing YA novels. This isn’t a new category for us. We won an Edgar for the Best YA mystery back in 2005, for our novel set in 18th-century Japan, IN DARKNESS, DEATH. My current book, COME SIT BY ME, has a contemporary setting–a high school where a school shooting has taken place the previous year.
Q: Come Sit By Me is an intense book. Where did the idea first come from?
A: Well, it’s in the air. As everybody knows, one of these horrible shootings happens pretty regularly–not just in schools, but those seem to be common. An editor we knew was looking for a thriller series, and I suggested some plots, one of which was a school hostage situation. He told me emphatically he would never considering publishing such a book, and I realized he was afraid that the next time there was some event like this, they would open the shooter’s locker, find this book, and blame the publisher. So it’s kind of a forbidden topic, which I think is a shame because books give us a chance to think about and discuss what they’re about–and this is certainly a topic that people talk about in every school in the country.
The locker gave me the idea on how to start the book. It’s not giving anything away to tell you that in the first chapter, Paul, a boy who is new to the school, is assigned the locker that used to belong to the shooter (who died in the shooting). That makes Paul curious about the shooter, and he sets out to learn more.
Q: How long did Come Sit By Me take you to write and then edit?
A: I’m a pretty fast writer, and this was a short book, but still it took about a year to do a first draft, mainly because I had to find the voice of the shooter. Then I worked to put things in focus, which involved editing certain key parts of the book. Understand that I myself didn’t know why the shooter had done it–at least not when I started the book. It’s hard to say how long the editing took because sometimes I put the book aside and worked on other projects to let the ideas percolate.
Q: What kind of reader are you hoping to connect with, with this book?
A: Well, I was aiming mostly at teenage boys. When you say that to publishers, they throw up their hands and tell you that teenage boys don’t read. One editor told me outright that her house only published books for girls. However, my wife and I get emails all the time from boys who have read–and enjoyed–our Samurai Detective series. One of my favorite letters was from a boy who said our book was “too good to be a book.” Maybe he’ll turn it into a video game. We did a library talk where a lot of the audience were boys, and the librarian told us afterward that she was astonished to see them. Maybe if publishers offered more books for boys, more boys would read.
For that reason, I tried to make the male characters in Come Sit By Me real teen-age boys. One reviewer said she was “shocked” because one of the narrators commented unfavorably on some girl’s looks. I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. It wasn’t anything vulgar or sexual, but I wondered if this reviewer had ever encountered any real teen-age boys.
Q: When you’re not writing yourself, who are your favorite authors to read?
A: I love mysteries, and Come Sit By Me is sort of a mystery. I read everything by Donna Leon, whose detective works in Venice, Italy, and by Cara Black, whose books are set in Paris. I have also read all of Michael Connelly’s books, set in Los Angeles. My wife started a Dickens book club and we’re reading through all the books by Charles Dickens. They’re mostly long books, and we aim to finish one every three months. Dickens’ last book was a mystery, but he died before he could finish it and people have been trying to guess the ending ever since.
Q: What are you currently working on?
I often have more than one project, because if I’m stuck on one of them, I move to another. I’m doing a sequel to another YA novel, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WITCH FOR, which will be published next year. The first book is about a girl who comes to live with her aunt and finds out that the aunt is a witch–a good witch, mind you. The girl finds a book of spells that she uses to solve some problems at school–or tries to, with disastrous results. It actually turned out to be a funny book, which is totally different from COME SIT BY ME.
I’m also working on a chapter book for young readers about a boy whose new neighbor is an alien–not just from another country, but from another world. Finally, my wife and I are working on a nonfiction book for young readers about the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906. Very exciting. Part of a series published by Grosset & Dunlap.