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When I first got serious about writing I was in college. I wanted to write stories for adults then, as I had become a reader of literature. So that’s what I did. I wrote short stories for an older audience. Something never felt right about them, however, and there was a playfulness there that seemed not to fit with what I was trying to do. I remembered one fall that the most fun I ever had reading was as a kid, and I thought maybe I should try writing stories I would have loved as a boy.
2.) What part of Cal's story came to you first? Was it the orphanage? Cal? The center of the earth? Or something else entirely?
The fall I decided to write for children, I had no idea what to write about. I was committed to writing a children’s novel, though. So I came up with the biggest ideas I could. These ideas floated around, waiting to be connected. I looked at a globe one day and thought, what if there were screws through the axis points of the Earth, and not merely through models of it? I overheard a friend of mine ask another friend, “What if the world was inside out, you know, so you could look across from one continent and see someone on another continent?” (My world isn’t inside out, of course, but my friend’s funny idea got me thinking about the Earth as a setting in new ways.) And I had this character in mind, this character who was already talking to me, who had flaming red hair and was always getting in trouble because of it. (In my life, many redheaded people have been loud and vivacious; I realized years ago that these people couldn’t possibly truly speak for the entire redheaded population.) When I was a kid vacationing in northern Minnesota with my family, I would spend hours skipping stones. It’s still one of my favorite ways to spend my time. One day, I watched this southpaw in his twenties skip stones like I’d never seen before. He threw so effortlessly and skipped each stone at least 25 times. He was so much better at this activity than anyone else I’ve seen in my life, and the memory stuck with me.
I don’t know which of these ideas counts as the first one. The first scene I wrote featured Bartholomew Rogers. He was in Antarctica, making a strange discovery. For years, this remained the opening scene of my novel—until I realized that this really is Cal’s story, and readers better meet him first.
Cedar Fort, my terrific publisher, kept me in the loop the whole way. They asked me for ideas and later my feedback. In many ways, that cover is better than anything I ever dreamed of. So much of my story’s there: the cereal box-shaped orphanage, Aunt Roberta the maple tree, and of course Cal himself, skipping a stone. I asked that they include the orange, spider-webbing Mantle, as well, and they honored my request. My favorite touch, perhaps, is the use of the hole in the Mantle as the O in StOnes. Nick Serr, the illustrator, of course deserves much of the credit.
4.) When did you start calling yourself an "author"?
I’ve been composing stories for as long as I could write. To be honest, though, it wasn’t until the publication of my first novel, Dizzy Fantastic and Her Flying Bicycle, that I began calling myself an author. I was a writer before then, but not an author.
5.) Who did you have in mind when writing this story?
I read and read and read as a kid. When I wasn’t playing some sport (real or made up) with my twin brother and friends, I was reading. Like most kids, I enjoyed pretty much everything I read. I didn’t discriminate too much. I just liked how stories entertained me. My favorite writer, though, hands down, was Roald Dahl. I read every one of his books at least a dozen times. (The BFG, still my favorite book of all time, I read 25 times, I bet.) As an adult, I can articulate what I liked back then: that Dahl spoke honestly, even as he created marvelous fantasy, to kids. He trusted us to understand what was real and what wasn’t. He allowed the bad guys to be genuinely bad. Sometimes I wish I could go back to reading as I did then, when I fell so deeply under great storytellers’ spells. I write now to myself as a 10-year-old boy. I want to thrill kids like I was in the ways that Dahl (and others) thrilled me.
6.) If you could recommend your novel to ONE child, who would it be. (Not a real person. For example, "The shy 12 year old boy sits in the back row to read during math class").
Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth is targeted at smart 9- to 14-year-old readers who like when their authors trust them and believe in their intelligence.
7.) What's next for you?
Well, I plan to spend as much time as possible with my beautiful wife. Readers can learn more about her in Dizzy Fantastic and Her Flying Bicycle, which she inspired. We have an energetic dog, as well, who’s waiting to go outside and do her business right now; I’ll take her out in a few minutes. I teach middle- and high-school students. I write for and with them, and I’m lucky enough to read their work, as well.
I’m writing a YA novella that is also a writing text. My narrator is a senior in high school who’s gotten rich writing essays for his classmates. He has a solid business model, and he’s writing this book to share that model with the world. I’ve written poems that I hope will one day grow into a collection, and I’m always working on other projects, too (such as a sequel to Dizzy Fantastic and a novel about a superheroic janitor from another planet).
8.) Here's a character question: Calvin, if you could have one wish, regardless of any restrictions, what would it be?
To meet my mother and reunite her with my dad. Oh, and to eat something, anything, besides cheetah-cake.
Now for the "Speed Round"
- Last song you listened to.
I’m not sure. My students and I watched the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet a month ago, and I can’t get the soundtrack out of my head.
- First thing you did when you got up this morning.
Took the dog out. Showered. Put on a tie. Edited a story I wrote.
- Coffee or Tea?
Coffee ice cream. Iced tea. For breakfast, pineapple-banana-orange juice.
- Rain or sun?
If I’m playing football outside or writing inside, rain. Any other time, sun.
- Your last splurge.
The $6 Little Caesars’ pizza I’m about to purchase.
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Andy Hueller is nicely giving away a signed, personalized ARC of Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth to one lucky follower. Use THIS form to enter. (Comments are appreciated, but will not enter you into the giveaway.) You must be 13 years or older to enter. Ends June 2, 2011 at 11:59 PM EST.US only (sorry).
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Read my review of Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth HERE.
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Visit author Andy Hueller on his website.
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Leave a Comment: Answer any amount of the "speed round" questions for yourself.