Genius at work

Where do you get your ideas?

Everybody asks this question, and no writer really knows the answer. Things come to me — usually characters, sometimes situations, occasionally places or images. They hang around when I take a hot bath. They sit down beside me in the yard. They sneak up behind me when I’m hiking. Usually the ideas are something I’ve been thinking about and have set aside. Occasionally they arrive full-blown. The first three pages of my play Tough Call came that way in the shower of my in-laws’ house in Boise, Idaho. Where do I get my ideas? If you find out, please let me know.

When and where do you write?

I like to write in the morning. I find that if I get in two or three hours a day, I can finish one novel or play per year. Which is why you’ll find me each morning at a computer in my room down the hall, racing the sun to see who will get started first.

Of all your books, which is your favorite?

I love all my books in different ways, but at any given time my favorites are usually my first book and my most recent book. My first book, That’s What Friends Are For, told the story of a boy whose best friend dies of leukemia, and it was partly autobiographical. My most recent book is Lord of the Mountain, and after several years of work on the story it’s great to have it finally see the light of day.

Which do you like better: books or plays?

I love both, and both are quite different from each other. With a book I not only write the story but direct it, create the scenery, do the makeup, and play all the parts. I have control, and I relish it. But when I’ve been writing books for a while, I find myself missing plays, in which the writer’s task is simple: What will the characters do and say next? You don’t have to dress them or get them across the room or describe the mysterious way they move their eyes. You just write down what happens next and let others handle the rest.

What are you currently writing?

I’ve recently finished four novels, and all of them are being published by Albert Whitman & Company in Chicago. The first was Night on Fire, a story about the Freedom Riders in 1960s Alabama (Fall 2015). The second was Dreambender, a dystopian novel on the power of dreams in an uncertain future (Spring 2016). The third is Room of Shadows, in which a boy’s anger summons the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe to modern-day Baltimore (Fall 2017). My latest is Lord of the Mountain, about a boy in 1927 who witnesses the birth of country music in his hometown of Bristol, Tennessee (Fall 2018).

What is your family like?

They’re great fun. You’d like them. My wife, Yvonne Martin Kidd, has a beautiful smile that brightens the room when she walks in. She’s really smart. She’s the director of marketing and communications for the Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University. And what can I say about our daughter, Maggie? She studies science, math, and Chinese at Northwestern University in Chicago and is the light of our life.