Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from you childhood?
I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas and I still vividly remember when the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division arrived in the city to insure that nine African-American students could attend Little Rock Central High. It was an awesome and dramatic historical moment and one I will never forget. That event shapes the backdrop for The Great Pretender. It’s not an autobiographical novel in the strict sense of the term but I tried to make the setting as realistic as possible. A few specifics like the Race of Life really did happen to me but the story itself comes straight from my imagination.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always loved stories. Even as a kid I drew an adventure comic strip. Finally it dawned on me I couldn’t draw worth a flip so I gave up the pictures but kept writing stories.
In your novel, The Great Pretender, the main character is a 12 year old boy, but the themes of the book are very adult. Did you write the book for adults or as a middle grade novel?
Both. I think we’ve gotten a little carried away with the concept of genre and categories. There’s no reason a book can’t appeal to adults as well as younger readers. I’ve never liked the idea of using a formula that places a book in a rigid category. A good story is a good story.
Do you regret writing in different genres and not specializing in one?
Not in the least. I’ve always had great admiration for writers who work in a variety of writing forms. William Goldman, for example, has achieved great success writing novels, screenplays and memoirs. Thomas Fleming writes solid history books as well as engaging novels. I think different ideas and different themes lend themselves to different types of writing. Sometimes an idea works better if the protagonist is a young person who hasn’t experienced much of the world while another idea might work best from the point of view of an old man who knows the score. And, of course, history, including local history, is full of interesting, true stories that call for a completely different type of writing.
What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing about college basketball in the 1950s?
I think it was to explain how different the game was a half-century ago. The players were smaller and used shots that no one shoots anymore. It was a much more regional game in those days. There was very little TV coverage. No three point shot or shot clock. Yet somehow, I needed to convey the idea that, at its essence, it was still the same game.
What inspired you to write a book about the history of college basketball and its impact on U.S. culture?
I was a history teacher for many years and always liked social and cultural history. I’ve also been a life long basketball fan. Combining the two sounded like a lot of fun. Which it was.
Do you have a favorite story from Hoop Crazy?
My favorite story from the book actually isn’t even about basketball. It’s about friendship. It’s the story about how a player named Maurice Stokes was injured during a game and became a paraplegic. His friend and teammate, Jack Twyman, stepped in and became Stokes’ legal guardian and took care of him the remainder of his life. It’s really an inspiring story that transcends sports.
Since you wrote a book about basketball, it’s probably a fair guess that you’re a fan. Do you play any yourself?
I was lucky to play on a great high school team and have been playing basketball ever since. I played full court pick up games well into my fifties and still like to shoot baskets. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.
What piece of advice would you most like to share with authors preparing to publish their first book?
I would say get ready for one of the most enjoyable experiences of a lifetime. When Bantam published my YA novel, Fallout, I felt like I was walking on a cloud for several months. As far as I’m concerned, the whole process is great – the idea for the book, the writing, finding an agent, seeing your work in a bookstore or on Amazon. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Enjoy every minute of it.
What is the last book you read and why did you read it?
I just finished Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic, which is a wonderful piece of American history. It’s about the assassination of President James Garfield and she really makes history come to life. I’ve also almost finished the YA novel Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s a great read.
Do you have any plans for upcoming books?
Absolutely. I’m putting the finishing touches on a young adult novel that’s a love story set in an oil camp in Venezuela on the eve of World War II.