Louis Sachar, author of beloved novels including Holes, There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, and Sideways Stories from Wayside School, has been releasing critically acclaimed children’s books since 1978. His newest novel for kids, Fuzzy Mud, tackles everything from biofuels to bullying. In an interview with Brightly, Louis discusses the scientific inspiration behind his new book, the writing habits he follows with each new project, and how his writing process and audience have changed over the decades.
Fuzzy Mud includes a biological thriller element involving genetic modification — what was the inspiration for biolene, or “fuzzy mud”?
I knew people were trying to create fuel from all sorts of things, so it didn’t seem all that farfetched for scientists to attempt to create some sort of super bacteria for that purpose. The strange thing is that just a few days ago I met someone, now in his early thirties, who told me he was a big fan of my books when he was growing up. I asked him what he did now, and he said he was a microbiologist working to create biofuels out of bacteria. I told him to read my new book.
From environmental issues to social issues, Fuzzy Mud presents the reader with many serious topics. Have you found that your audience has evolved or matured in certain ways over the years?
No, kids have always been smart, caring people, open to all sorts of ideas. The only one who’s changed over the years is me. I’ve been writing for almost forty years. It’s not that I’m more concerned about social issues now than I was before. Environmental issues have always been very important to me. With each new book I try to do something I hadn’t done before.
You are known for creating complex — and realistic — characters in your YA and children’s books. Are any Fuzzy Mud characters inspired by any real life people?
The main character, Tamaya, is in some ways based on my daughter, although she is now 28-years-old. Like Tamaya, she was a smart kid who just wanted to follow the rules, be good, and please her teachers and friends, but those types of kids often are overlooked, ignored, and considered uncool.
What’s your favorite thing about writing books for children?
The world is wide open to kids. They haven’t become cynical, jaded, or trapped like adults.
Do you have any writing traditions or habits that you follow with each new book?
When I’m ready to start something new, I work no more than an hour a day, just trying to come up with something that intrigues me enough to work on it the next day. Then I spend another hour the next day, just hoping to keep it alive. And so on, each day, trying to move the story forward. It’s almost like a science experiment. I leave it alone for twenty-four hours, then return the next morning to see if anything has grown.
Technology has evolved since the initial release of Sideways Stories from Wayside School in 1978. Has your writing process changed over the years as well?
For my first book, I used carbon paper. I really didn’t need to do that. There were Xerox machines. But that was my image of what a writer was supposed to do. Since 1984 I’ve been using computers, but my process really hasn’t changed. I do about five or six drafts of each book, starting at the beginning each time, and working straight to the end, with very little editing along the way.
For the first few drafts, I’m mostly concentrating on plot and characters. For the later drafts, I’m more concerned with how to tell the story in the most artistic way.
What’s your favorite grown-up book you’ve read lately?
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.
Louis Sachar is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Holes, which won the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, and the Christopher Award; Stanley Yelnats’ Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake; Small Steps, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award; and The Cardturner, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Parents’ Choice Gold Award recipient, and an ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book. His books for younger readers include There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, The Boy Who Lost His Face, Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes, and the Marvin Redpost series, among many others.