1. There are some wildly imaginative—and hilarious—characters in You Can’t Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please. How did you come up with characters like a talking parking meter?
Well, I was coming out of a store and a parking meter started talking to me. He said he was depressed because no one ever parked in his spot. He hadn’t had a quarter in two weeks. He was starving to death. I felt really bad for him. I fed him fifty cents and said I’d put him in my book. That made him very happy.
2. Do you have a favorite character?
I love the Bridgelings but they’re not my favorite. Please don’t tell them that. If they ever found out they wouldn’t let me walk across them to other universes. And for goodness sake, don’t tell the Kundabons they’re not my favorite. If they find out, they’ll toss me in their hairy cages.
If you must know, my favorite character is the boy or girl who opens up my book and starts reading it. In a weird sort of way, the reader is actually part of the book. They bring it to life through their imaginations. They step into the story. They may not realize it but it’s true. For all of you who have already read my book, I bet you smell like a cloudfish.
3. Do you see a little bit of yourself in Giles, the 13-year-old narrator? If so, what?
My capacity for mischief. Causing mischief is a real strength of mine, just like it is for Giles. I love mischief. I absolutely love it.
4. The alien characters in You Can’t Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please sometimes relate closely to humans: one is a realtor, one is a lawyer. Explain the process of creating your characters.
I go to coffee shops in LA where aliens hang out. I try to get a table right next to them so I can eavesdrop on their conversations. They usually whisper because they know humans are listening. Fortunately I have excellent hearing.
5. If you could create your own planet and live there, what would it be like?
No bullies, no bombs, no tears, no litter, no smog, no lies, no greed, no hatred, no jealousy. Lots of dancing. DJ’s would be more powerful than politicians. Everyone on my planet would be a poet. We would all speak in rhyme. Brussels Sprouts on my planet would taste exactly like cheesecake. Every child would have his own forest.
6. Some readers have identified with the book’s “green” theme. Did you set out to write a story about environmental awareness?
Absolutely. But I wanted it to be a grand adventure, something that would inspire children, make them believe they could do something monumental. Cleaning Manhattan in one day is quite monumental. And of course, the story had to be funny. Even if there’s a good message, it still has to be funny. Otherwise, the message might bounce off the kid’s soul and never get in.
7. Giles feels especially ordinary compared to his talented siblings. Do you think a lot of kids with siblings feel this way? What makes Giles extraordinary?
Sibling rivalries happen all the time. The key in my book is that Giles comes to terms with his jealousy of Bobby. He has to, so they can work together in harmony and perform the quest.
What makes Giles extraordinary? He isn’t a goodie-goodie and yet he is still a hero. I think it’s hard to be a hero these days without being a goodie-goodie. Somehow Giles pulls it off.
8. You Can’t Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please makes readers laugh out loud with its great plot and cast of characters. Why do you believe funny books are good for kids? What makes you laugh out loud?
We adults like to think we’re the only ones who have problems. But kids get their share of lousy stuff. Laughter helps them deal with it.
What makes me laugh out loud is when an alien with two heads tries to impersonate a human. As though I can’t tell you’re an alien. I mean, come on.
9. Did you have any favorite books as a kid? If so, please list a couple and briefly state why.
My favorite book as a kid was the Encyclopedia of Monsters. It had sharp fangs and a tail like an alligator. I used to walk it on a leash. Its favorite food was boring books. I fed it every book that ever bored me! The Encyclopedia of Monsters will be a character in one of my future books. Keep on the look out!
10. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A professional basketball player.
My entire life centered around basketball. Morning, noon and night I had a basketball in my hands. I must’ve bounced a basketball fifty trillion times as a kid.
11. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I was hiking in the woods one day. A giant pen fell from the sky and hit me in the head. The pen was bigger than a baseball bat. I took this as a sign.