Q: Many of your books are set in suburban Connecticut. This one features New York City as its prime location. Why did you decide to change your location and actually make New York City a character?
A: When I had an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (right where Mitty lives), I fell in love with the city. I loved everything–the people, the parks, the libraries, the concerts, the walking, the languages being spoken. Since I raised my three children in the suburbs, I kept wondering what it is like to grow up in an apartment building
in New York. I wanted to write a book in which New York City was just as important a character as the hero, because that’s the way you feel when you live in New York–New York is your constant companion, your antagonist, your hope.
Q: You present your main character as a slacker and a privileged boy who gets away with things by using his charm, and yet readers like him–and it seems you do as well. Why did you create such a character?
A: It’s so appealing to lie around and do nothing much. In fact, kids often revel in doing nothing much and
are admired for it and might even brag about it. But in the end, it’s what you do that counts. Will you stand up and do good things when it matters, or hang around and do nothing? This is Mitty’s test.
Q: The Internet plays a large part in this novel. Indeed, this novel could not have been written even ten years ago. How do you feel about such an element in your book?
A: My readers have always known the Internet, but it’s new and still astonishing to me. The changes it has meant in our world are awesome and wonderful and terrible. I want my readers to think about its power and also its indifference–the Internet doesn’t care what’s on it or who uses it. You,my reader, have to care.
Q: America is a changed nation post-9/11. Do you believe there are good guys and bad guys?
A: The most important things in life are to decide what you stand for and then to stand up for it. Both are difficult. I believe kids know from toddlerhood what is right and what is wrong, what is fair and what is unfair,what is good and what is bad.The world around us has different ideas. Don’t let go of what you knew in kindergarten: the good guys need to continue being good and help people threatened by a bad guy, whether that’s a bully on the playground or a bully on another continent.
Q: It is exciting that the choices of a teenager might change the fate of a nation. Talk about why this matters to you.
A: It’s easy to feel that any one of us cannot make a difference. But every vote does count and every effort does matter. Everyone is crucial to how the world turns out.
Q: What was your writing process for this novel?
A: I’ve never been able to address this question well, because my style sounds odd even to me. I write a bit of an outline–really a short story of what the book might be–and then I just hurl myself at my idea using no particular order or technique until I’ve compiled hundreds of miscellaneous paragraphs. Usually I find that these sort themselves into a chronology and a story line that may or may not match my original idea, and then I lean into my characters and spot the ending, and through it all, I feel this intense excitement, as if I’m uncovering some treasure that was always there, it just needed me to dig.
Q: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
A: Practice. If you want to play the piano, you practice scales and chords every day. If you want to play basketball, you practice free throws. Writing is no different. Classroom assignments don’t count. Practice paragraphs on your own,and beginnings of stories, and descriptions of people, and dialogue. No need to finish anything–after all,you don't ever finish practicing basketball, do you? I do not recommend keeping a journal. First-person narratives are boring to the reader, and you don’t want to be boring. Practice writing in the third person, like this: “Mitty slept so soundly that people could sit on him and watch television, have arguments and clean up after a sick dog, and Mitty would never know.”