The author was interviewed by Scholastic students.
What inspired you to write Scorpions?
I like playing basketball with my sons in the park. One kid we played with stopped coming to the park. I thought he had just lost his interest in the game, but then I read that he had shot someone. This bothered me quite a bit, and when something bothers me, I write about it. The issue, in my mind, was the kid having a gun. That's why I gave Jamal the gun in the book.
Do you have children?
I have three children. A lovely daughter (5"), a son (6") and a baby son (6"). I have often written about them or their friends.
What are your hobbies besides writing books?
In my spare time I play the flute or annoy my cat. Sometimes just playing the flute annoys the cat.
How many times do you have to rewrite a story line?
I rewrite the story line as many times as I have to so that it 'feels' right. This can be as many as seven to ten times. Once the story line is done, I start the actual writing — which consists of ten pages per day. So, if the book is sixty pages it takes six days. The rewrite takes about three times longer than the first draft. This is really quite fast.
What made you decide to write about basketball in Hoops?
I loved to play basketball as a youngster. I'm 6” and played guard. Since this was my interest as a young person, I think it's natural that I write about it. Hoops was an obvious outgrowth of my interest, as most of my books are.
What is your favorite basketball team?
My favorite basketball team is the NEW YORK KNICKS!!
If you had a choice, what would you do beside writing books?
If I had my choice I would be a star player in the NBA (who wrote in the off season).
Why didn't you become a basketball player?
I didn't become a professional basketball player because I wasn't good enough. I was good, but you have to remember that there are more guys in your school than there are in the NBA.
How did you get the idea for writing Dangerous Games?
Dangerous Games was an idea that came to me when I saw my own kids get carried away with a game they were playing. It all started out in fun, but...
Have you written any new books lately?
My most recent books are Slam, which is about basketball, and Harlem, which is about Harlem, where I spent most of the first seventeen years of my life.
What was your favorite book when you were little?
My favorite book as a youngster was probably Tom Sawyer. I also liked Little Men.
When you were growing up, did you want to be a writer?
I didn't know I was going to be a writer. In fact, I didn't know that there was such a job as an author. No one really encouraged me to write, it was just something I loved to do.
Why did you write your first book? What was its title?
I wrote my first book as an entry into a contest. I won the contest, and the book was published. It was called Where Does the Day Go?
Where did you get the idea for Glory Field?
As a small child, I often heard stories about land people had lost in the South. When I grew up I found out that many African Americans had once owned land, but had lost it because banks wouldn't lend them money, or because they didn't understand the legal obligations that land ownership involved. So the idea really came from my own background. The information about slavery was largely researched, but my own family had been slaves in Virginia prior to the Civil War, so there have always been family stories circulating.
Is Cool Clyde, Fast Sam, and Stuff based on your own childhood?
Fast Sam... took place in Harlem in my old neighborhood. All the characters, Binky, Light Billy, Carnation Charlie, etc.. were friends of mine. I guess I was most like Stuff.
Do you write on your computer, or do you write by hand? Do you ever play computer games?
I write directly on the computer. When I was thirteen my father bought me an old Royal typewriter. I figured that made me just about an OFFICIAL writer. I began writing virtually everything on that glass-sided machine. The computer was a natural for me. I do my day's work and then print out each day. I like to see the pages pile up — it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I occasionally play poker on the computer. I've made thousands and thousands of dollars! Unfortunately the computer doesn't pay up.
What is your next book about?
My next book (that I write, not that will be published) will be about a kid who gets involved with a stick-up and a murder. The book begins with his trial.
Do you think racism has changed much from the time of the Civil War to now?
I think racism has changed over the years. All people now have the chance to get a free education. This dilutes the effect of racism to a marked degree. I don't think that racism is that much of a factor in American life today. Surely it's not as much a factor as the media would have you believe.
When do you plan to stop writing books?
I plan to retire from writing seven (7) minutes before I die.