KH: Not until they bring out the spicy ketchup, my new favorite condiment. So in the meantime, keep away. No, wait, I’ll share. But now just try to segue out of a potential French fry fight into a conversation about middle-grade literature.
HC: Hmm. Try this. Your novel Sure Signs of Crazy has been published as a middle grade book, but I think it skews older, and any adult who’s read To Kill a Mockingbird should love it, since your main character writes letters to Atticus Finch. Were you aiming for the middle school reader when you wrote it?
KH: Impressive segue.
HC: Thank you.
KH: No, I didn't envision the story for middle-grade readers, but I really wanted to capture the life of a twelve-year old, so maybe it was subconscious. The story began because I'd received a letter from a reader of my first novel, Janeology, which asked me: Whatever happened to Jane's daughter, Sarah? This question really piqued my curiosity. I began writing with a huge “what if” in mind: What if you had a giant family secret and always lived in fear that everyone—from the lady who bags your groceries to the boy you have a crush on—would find out? You, too, might end up talking to a plant like Sarah does. Plants don’t tell your secrets!
Now what about you and your terrific adventure novel, WWFITSAHISTW? Whew, is that a title abbreviation or a town in Wales? What was your “what if” when you began writing What We Found In The Sofa and How It Saved The World? Was there a question that kept you up at night and made you want to write this story, or did you find a zucchini-colored crayon in your sofa and ponder its origins?
HC: Not too many people know that the actor Richard Burton was born in a town called Wwfitsahistw. It’s just north of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which is in the Guinness Book as the Town Name Least Frequently Tweeted. What was the question? Oh, origins of the book. One morning I walked by an old sofa dumped by the side of the road and I wondered, as any writer out looking for discarded deposit bottles would, whether there might be enough change between the cushions to get myself a cup of coffee. There wasn’t, but I did find the germ of an idea, which is why I always carry hand sanitizer. I started writing the book when I got home.
KH: I’m amazed you were able to pronounce that Welsh name with your mouth full. And by the way, that last French fry is mine.
HC: Definitely. Now, so far you’ve written three novels that take place in Texas. Your upcoming one, Courage for Beginners, is practically a love letter to the Lone Star State, and I was wondering how you manage to write such intimate and human stories in such a big and sprawling place. Any thoughts on how environment affects the creative process? If not, what’s your favorite color?
KH: Thanks for saying that about my writing, and Zucchini Green is my new favorite color. What I love about Texas is the can-do spirit; the attitude that hard work yields success and that it’s okay to dream big. I think this is a universal quality that people everywhere are drawn to. So I like to bring that aspect out in my characters.
HC: Harper Lee is an obvious influence. What other books and authors do you feel you owe a debt to, and why? In the formula “readers who enjoyed X, Y, and Z might also enjoy Sure Signs of Crazy,” what titles would you hope first come to mind?
KH: Yes, Harper Lee and her fantastic book is one of my long-time favorites and my book wouldn't be possible without the creation of a character like Atticus Finch. As a reader, I love coming-of-age stories that show a young person in a tough situation, and he or she works it out with hope and courage—whether they be in the children's arena or in adult fiction. So if you're like me, you would love Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now, Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster, and Jayne Pupek's Tomato Girl. These are books I reread constantly. And recently, I've become a huge fan-girl for Twerpby Mark Goldblatt.
And for Sofa, the connection to A Wrinkle in Time must mean it’s one of your favorites, right? I'm curious, Henry, what books on your shelves are your perennial favorites?
HC:Wrinkle came out when I was ten, so I read it before it had that big distracting gold medal thing on the cover. And yes, it’s been a major influence, along with some of the lesser-known books I was reading around the same time, like Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It, Evelyn Lampman’s Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek, and Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price. If I was smart, I’d now be reading somewhat more contemporary authors, but even though I’ve downloaded E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to my Kindle, I have yet to read it because its 1967 publication date makes it seem a little too recent….