David Michael Slater is the author of:
The Sharpest Tool in the Shed
Seven Ate Nine
Ned Loses His Head
Jacques & Spock
The Ring Bear
These picture books are fun and colorful, but also thought-provoking and possible springboards for very meaningful talks with children. :o) But David doesn't just write picture books. Coming soon to a bookstore near you (October to be exact) is David's first novel for middle graders and teens, The Book of Nonsense. The Book of Nonsense is the first volume of the Sacred Books series. Young readers who want to puzzle over clues in books will have their interest piqued by the story of Daphna and Dexter (twins who hate each other!), their mysteriously significant thirteenth birthday, a book full of nonsense discovered by their book scout father, a terrifying old man who runs a large shop full of books on magic, and the threads that tie all of them together.
Read on to learn much more about David and his work!
Can you tell us about your road to publication as a children's book writer?
Sure. I wasn't one of those kids who always knew I wanted to be a writer, not at all. I wasn't a big reader, either. In fact, I was as likely to read Cliff's Notes as my assigned books in high school. (Don't tell Mrs. Calabrese!) I was in graduate school for English when I came across the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. After reading the first one, "The Circular Ruins," I suddenly knew I wanted to write. At that time, I had no thoughts of writing for children, though. I started writing adult short stories, some of which were published in tiny magazines no one has ever heard of. Which was great as far as I was concerned. One of those stories wasn't quite working, and it seemed to me the idea was better suited for a picture book. So, I tried it. Then I wrote a second because it was so much fun, and that turned out to be CHEESE LOUISE!, my first published book. After that, while I started teaching middle school, I began writing for kids and adults, and then teens as well.
Do you have any writing rituals? How do you prepare/research for your books? What is your "writing time" like?
I really don't have rituals, unless reading e-mail and surfing the web to procrastinate while I'm writing counts. Since I teach full time and have a family, I grab whatever time I can find. I use a laptop, but have had to stop writing while lounging on a couch (can you say repetitive stress?). Speaking of the web, I do nearly all necessary research there.
I think it is great that you teach Language Arts and Social Studies to seventh graders! How does your teaching influence your writing?
Well, I do write for teens, so working with them every day keeps me in touch with them. I think my writing influences my teaching as well because I try bring my experience into the class. I have some credibility with the kids when I tell them what they need to do to improve their writing.
And even more importantly, you are a father. Does your son influence your writing in any way?
Well, the silliness we engage in is a source of ideas. For example, I wrote Jacques & Spock after we folded a basket of laundry and were left with one lone sock. It was drooped over the side of the bed, so I asked my son (about four) what it was going to do without its brother. He laughed. I wrote the story. Also, he came home from school one day and asked me why Six was afraid of Seven. When he told me it was because Seven ate Nine, I asked him why. He didn't know. And so I wrote the story.
I noticed the fun play on words in your picture books. Is that something you do very consciously? Do you purposely set out to play with words in order to entertain readers?
It reflects my sense-of-humor, I think. I like to joke with word play. And I like to entertain myself when I write picture books. It's been gratifying to hear from parents who are thrilled to have a book they don't mind reading over and over. And it's fun on school visits to see different age groups "get" different jokes hidden in the texts.
I also noticed that your picture books usually start with dialogue. What effect are you hoping to achieve by starting a story with dialogue?
It's often a good way to immediately establish both a scene and character personality differences. Picture books are all about efficiency, so I look for ways to kill lots of birds (oops, no killing birds in picture books : )
My favorites among your works are The Ring Bear and its companion book Flour Girl (an excellent set!). Where did you get the idea for The Ring Bear and Flour Girl?
Thanks! My sister phoned a few years ago to tell me she’d just returned from a wedding. Prime teary time was upon the scene when she leaned over to her five year-old and whispered, “The ring bearer is coming.” He heard “ring bear” and promptly panicked and ran screaming up the aisle. No, my sister didn’t think it was amusing when the wedding came to a screeching halt as she chased him down in her heels, but well, I sure did hearing about it. When I put down the phone I began writing THE RING BEAR. About a year later, after hearing me read THE RING BEAR, a sixth-grader wrote me a thank-you note in which she said, “I could TOTALLY relate, because I made the same mistake when I was little with “Flour Girl,” instead of “FLOWER girl.” And so another book was born. (Thanks, Amber Pasternak!)
There is some buzz about your new series for middle graders and teens being controversial. Why would some readers find Sacred Books controversial? How will you deal with the controversy?
I don't expect an problems with Volume I: THE BOOK OF NONSENSE (due in Oct.) We are expecting objections to build with each book, though, and don't want to be naive about the Sacred Books series as a whole. With each book (all five are completed), as the deeper and deeper secrets are revealed, there will be folks who disapprove. It's hard to explain why without giving away plot points, but I can say that the series has been called an original concoction of Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, and the Da Vinci Code, if that helps. But I'd like to say that I have no problem with people deciding the books aren't for them or their children. I am all for choosing books that fit young readers. I'm really not sure how we'll deal with calls for "banning" if there are any. I guess that's a bridge we'll cross when we come to it.
When you were writing the Sacred Books series were you aware that you were writing something potentially controversial?
Actually, not until I completed the third book and realized where it had all gone. It's a bit unusual for an author to complete an entire series before the first one is published, but it's been a real blessing because I've been able to weave the books together closely. There are hints in book one that only become clear in book five.
If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for your books to be award-winning, or for your books to be bestselling? Why?
Wow. That's a doozy. I'll be honest — a bestselling book at this point will make it easier for me to spend the rest of my life shooting for awards!
What are you working on now? What's in store for readers from David Michael Slater? :o)
I am working on revising my screenplay, MOCHA COLA HIGH, which has just been optioned by Right Angle Studios. It's a satire about a globe-dominating corporation that uses special "elite" high schools to, well, dominate the globe. My first wordless, picture book, THE BORED BOOK, will be out in early '09, and a new set of six later on in the year. Also, my first novel for adults, SELFLESS, is due this Dec. 20th. Details about all this on www.davidmichaelslater.com.
Thank you, David!