Below is an edited transcript from our interview with David Lubar. The transcript is divided into the following sections:
How He Became a Reader
I became a reader through the amazing good fortune of having a librarian for a mother, so she always made sure there were books available and she also knew that when I was reading I wasn't talking. So books were essential to her survival and to mine.
As a child one of my favorite books was part of a series called "Freddie the Pig" about a mystery solving, poetry writing pig who lived on a farm and, to the best of my knowledge, never became a meal. The books were actually re-released. As I grew older I became really enthralled with science fiction and fantasy. I read a lot of Heinlein, Asimov and all those wonderful books that are still available today.
Where Do the Ideas Come From?
I get my ideas in many different ways. Sometimes I will actively sit down and search for an idea by writing openings and titles. Other times I will just stumble across something or notice something. For example if I walk in to one thin strand of sticky spider web, I don't just brush my face and say "ick." I think, what if a kid ran into a thousand of those. Anything that happens to me, anything strange or different or unusual could be the germ of an idea-or an idea about germs.
Competition from Video Games
Well, I acknowledge that there is competition from video games and other distractions, I feel that if I make my book fascinating enough, give it a plot, end every chapter with a cliffhanger, and fill it with ideas I will capture enough readers to steal a bit away from "Doom" and "Myst" and whatever else they're distracted with.
I do not let the existence of competing media effect what I write about. I just write the idea that interests me the most and excites me the most, which is not necessarily the most commercial idea. I will wait until an idea sets me on fire, figuratively, and then I will dive in to it.
I'm often asked how I write humor which appeals to readers who are significantly and substantially and sadly far younger than I am. And I think the best answer I can give is that that's pretty much where I stopped maturing, so I'm not reaching down to them, I'm reaching parallel and outward.
The sort of feedback I get in my fan letters is mostly of the sort that "I enjoyed your book because it made me laugh" or "I enjoyed your book because it was exciting." I just basically get feedback that validates my goal, which is not to convey a message or to make a point or to write the next great American young adult novel, but merely to entertain. As I say on my website my goal is to delight and entertain my readers and if I do that, it's been a good day.
Appeal to Struggling Readers
It's really hard for me as a writer, to answer a question about why my books appeal to reluctant readers. I'm often asked questions that are really better asked of teachers or reading experts, but that will not prevent me from making a wild and probably a completely wrong guess. I believe my books appeal to reluctant readers because they have short chapters, they have cliffhangers, lots of things explode, lots of wacky things happen, and, most of all, the key to all of it is, beneath everything there is a plot. I do not believe in writing stories that are just about a character. No matter how interesting a character is, if nothing happens to him, you don't have a story. I think plot is essential for luring in the reluctant reader, as are explosions and farts.
I am often asked, "What is it with the weenies?" For those of you who aren't in the loop, I have three story collections with a forth one coming, each of with has a title story containing the word "weenies." The first one was "In the land of the lawn weenies." Many a teacher has drawn a laugh by pronouncing it "long." However, to answer the question, the weenies began as an affectionate term of disdain for neighbors who are friend of mine who love their lawns more than life itself. And my wife and I would always refer to them as lawn weenies-sort of like, you hotdog, you hamburger, you weenie. And when I had an idea to write a story about a kid who moves in to a town where everyone was a lawn weenie and called it, "The Land of the Lawn Weenies," my publisher seized on that as a title story that would be ideal for the right artist. And thus began the whole kingdom of the weenies.
Why Lubar Became a Writer
I became a writer for many reasons, one of which is that I loved philosophy and studied it. And once you leave college and open the want ads, you discover there's a glaring omission in the Ps between photography plumber and pizza chef-- no one's hiring philosophers. So having been in love with reading and enjoying writing all through college and earlier, I decided I would sit down and make my living as a writer.
I managed to do the sit down part, the living part turned out to be a lot harder. But, as I was just beginning to get established, I got lured away to the video game industry and spent many years designing and programming video games, including "Home Alone" and "Frogger 2" for the Gameboy, but in my heart I always wanted to write again. I kept writing, but in 1994 I made the decision to stop programming games and get back to books, because books don't have bugs. Books don't freeze and hang. Books are eternal. If you look for one of my games that is five years old, you won't find it anywhere other than a flea market. If you look for one of my books that is ten years old, it will be on the shelves and that's one of the many reasons that I prefer writing books.
Not Just for Boys
I'm sometimes asked if I have boys in mind as my target audience when I'm writing, and in truth I usually have lunch in mind when I'm writing. I don't really focus on the boys, I just focus on what amuses me. And since I'm a boy I guess it's natural that what amuses me would tend to skew toward the icky, creepy, explosive, noisy, loud, gory side more than the pink and frilly.
However, I think the ability of girls to appreciate a good lit fart is vastly underrated in our society.
Advice for Aspiring Writers
The best piece of advice I can give to anyone who wants to write is one simple statement, "Writers don't pay. Writers get paid." So many people want to write, so many people want to get published that there are scammers out there. It's the same with anything where there's a lot of desire. A lot of people want to be models so there are places that will scam you and pretend to teach you to be a model. It's the same with many different things. Number one, you do not pay people to publish your book. You do not pay them to set it in print, unless you know exactly what you are doing and you're doing a small printing just for yourself and your friends. If your story is good enough for people to buy, it is good enough for people to pay you for it. The other advice I can give for young readers who want to be writers: read broadly and read a lot of different things. Don't just read - if you're reading a book and it stinks, you can't just say, "This book stinks" and throw it out the window. You have to say, "Why does it stink?" Go back and find, what's wrong with this book, why are you not enjoying it? If a book is great, you can't just say, "Oh, I love this book!" You need to go back and find how did he do this magic trick? How did this writer weave this illusion? How did he suck me in? This is what you need to do if you want to write.
If you're stuck and you're trying to come up with ideas, bear in mind that you don't need to think up a whole idea all at once. You can look for an interesting title that inspires an interesting story. You can look for an interesting opening line and it makes you think of the next line. That makes you wonder, what happens next? I have a story called, The Evil Tree, and I wrote it because I wrote one sentence - "One day when Patrick was walking home from school he spotted a tree with a door in the side." When I wrote that, I didn't know who Patrick was, I didn't know why there was a tree or a door, but I wanted to find out so I kept writing. You could write the ending. You could think of someone solving a problem - that's the end of you story. All you have to do now is the easy part - how did they get in this mess? It's a lot easier to figure out how someone got in a problem than to think up a solution, so if you think of the solution first, the hard part is finished with. You could speculate, you could write "what if" questions. What if I found a thousand dollars? What if a space ship landed in my backyard? You can do so many different things. You can just pay attention to the stray thoughts that float through your mind, because every pun, every joke, every stray thought could potentially become a story.
Speaking of weenies, which we spoke of previously, one of my current projects, which I just finished, is my 4th short story collection. It has 35 more stories-some are funny, some are scary. The title story is about two kids who get in to an escalating war of pepper eating to see who can eat the hottest pepper. It ends badly. Flames come out of body parts and the story is called, "The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies." That's the title story for the book and it comes out in the spring of 2009. Followed soon by a series I'm working on for younger readers called, "Nathan Abercrombie, Top Secret Zombie." The first book is tentatively titled, My Rotten Life, and the catch phrase for the whole series is "being half dead isn't all bad."
One of the things I feel most strongly about, as far as reluctant readers, is that at the highest levels the short story collections and anthologies are not given as much recognition as they deserve. A lot of people dismiss the story collections, they very rarely get on the best book sand quick picks list, but from my own experience in the schools, short stories are a great way to hook kids in to reading. Because, a story is not threatening. A kid who looks at a 200-page novel and thinks I can never get through that, can read a three- or four-page story. I'm biased of course because I write short stories. I feel that they're underappreciated, but I feel that if you ask around and if you ask the kids you'll find that that's something that almost all of them can be talked or tricked in to reading.