Talking with Daniel Pinkwater
Kid Reporter interviews author of The Neddiad
Author Daniel Pinkwater (Photo: Courtesy of Children's Book Group, Houghton Mifflin Company)
Recently, I spoke with Daniel Pinkwater, the author of The Neddiad. This children’s book is about three friends, a shaman, and a ghost who attempt to save civilization. It’s a great adventure story with a cast of unusual and interesting characters. I found those characters aren’t too much different than the man who created them!
Q: What gave you the idea to write The Neddiad?
PINKWATER: I can’t say because that’s the wrong question. People always ask you what gave you the idea or where did you get the idea from? You know ideas are all over the place. You have ideas, I have ideas, and we have 60 ideas a minute. None of them are any good. Not yours, not mine.The question should be: What do you do with an idea once you get it to make it work as a book? Do you want to ask me that question?
Q: What do you do with an idea to write a book?
PINKWATER: Let’s say I have an idea, and it’s a lame idea, like there’s a kid and he lives in a neighborhood in Chicago like the neighborhood I lived in. And he goes to the movies, he hangs out with his friends, and maybe has a parakeet. What if his father was really wacky? And what if they had a conversation about a restaurant in California and then they decide to go there? And what if they took the train there? That’s how it works. What if?
Q: How long did it take to write it?
PINKWATER: I started in the fall. I started in the fall just about the time of the autumnal equinox. That is to say when day and night are just as long as one another. I finished in the spring just about the time of the vernal equinox, which is when you’re coming out of winter. The days get longer and when days and nights are just about the same length as each other.
Q: What was the best part about writing this book?
PINKWATER: The best part about writing this book was getting up every morning, going right to the computer, and finding out what had happened the night before in my head.
Q: How did you come up with idea of a shaman?
PINKWATER: Well, shamans are sort of like in societies something like a priest, something like a magician, and something like a teacher. I thought it would be nice to have one so the kid, who of course is young and doesn’t know everything he’s going to know, meets someone who supposedly knows more, who can sort of give him direction.
Q: Is the Brown Derby a real place?
PINKWATER: It was a real place and I had eaten there. And it was shaped like a hat. A big derby hat. A round kind of hat with a big brim.
Q: What made you think of the personalities of the characters?
PINKWATER: Well, I don’t think of the personalities of the characters. They just happen. After you start writing about them, they start doing their own thing. And so after a little while I started to know who Neddie was. Neddie is a nice kid. He’s not proactive. He doesn’t make thing happen but kind of reacts to them. And he observes them, and goes along with things. And then when he has to be, he’s brave. His friend Shamus is clever. He comes up with things all the time. And their friend Al is kind of quite and kind of shy. He has a secret which is really great. His father works for the circus.
Q: Why did you choose to use prehistoric animals in this story?
PINKWATER: Cause I dig them. I like them. Don’t you? That’s why I put them in.
Q: Do you believe in ghosts like Billy the Phantom Bellboy?
PINKWATER: I don’t know. I don’t know one way or the other. Some people believe in ghosts and some people say there aren’t any. And I don’t know. It would be cool of there were.
Q: Why did you base this story on a stone turtle?
PINKWATER: When I was actually a kid, I actually took that train. I actually stopped in Albuquerque and I actually went to an Indian building which was still open then. An Indian guy actually sold me, not a stone turtle, but a turtle rattle. He said, “Here kid. This is what you want to buy.” I had just enough money for it. And I bought this turtle rattle. And much later I found out that it was a very important sacred thing.
Q: Is the Hermione Hotel a real hotel?
PINKWATER: Yep, I lived there.
Q: What do all the villains have in common in this book besides wanting power?
PINKWATER: They are stupid. Villains are always stupid. Because if they get what they wanted things would be worse.
Q: Why did you pick the coliseum for the climax?
PINKWATER: It’s big. I thought it would be cool and also I knew that in the real Roman coliseum they built it so it could be flooded. They would actually have Naval battles with ships in the coliseum. I wanted water. I needed water for the creature to come out of and for Neddie to dive into. I thought that would be a cool way to do it.
Q: Have you ever been lost or missed an important train like Neddie?
PINKWATER: Sure. I also stopped a train once. You know, I don’t know if they still have them, but you pull the cord and the engineer stops on the break for an emergency. I fell asleep on the train. I woke up. It was pulling out of the station and I jumped up. I wasn’t even thinking. I pulled the cord and the train just jammed to a stop. I opened the door myself. I jumped out and the conductor was hollering at me: “Kid you stopped the train and that’s against the law.” I was running up the tracks.
Q: Why did you choose to become an author?
PINKWATER: I didn’t choose to become an author. I drifted into it. I am suspicious of people who choose to become an author because it seems to me they haven’t got good sense.
Q: What movie stars did you go to school with in private school?
PINKWATER: Arial Flynn’s son was my friend. Joe DiMaggio’s son was my friend.
Q: What made The Neddiad the best book you wrote so far?
PINKWATER: Well, it’s the way I felt when I was writing it. I felt it was easy. I could do everything I wanted to do. I discovered I knew how to do it finally after one hundred books. It was like a pitcher who would pitch a perfect game. What I learned was when he’s going to pitch a perfect game, he knows when he gets out of bed that morning that’s he’s ready to pitch a perfect game. When I started writing the book, it felt right and nothing went wrong, and nothing was too hard, and I never said, “I’m in trouble.” Everything I needed to do, I knew how. And so maybe it wasn’t the best book I ever wrote, but it wrote the best of any book I wrote.
Q: Is Daniel Pinkwater your real name?
PINKWATER: It may be.
"An Adventure Story Plus"
Find out more about The Neddiad in Kid Reporter Michael Carboni's book review.
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Michael Carboni is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.