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David Patneaude

Interview by Pam Withers

David Patneaude is the award-winning author of ten middle-grade and young-adult novels, many of which emphasize sports and adventure. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, he has lived in the Seattle, Washington area since he was six. He got a degree in communications from the University of Washington and published his first book in 1993. With his wife Judy, a librarian, he has three grown children and loves being “Gramps” to twin boys.

His books are Someone Was Watching (a Dreamchaser Intertainment movie in 2002), Dark Starry Morning, The Last Man’s Reward, Framed in Fire, Haunting at Home Plate, Colder Than Ice, Thin Wood Walls, Deadly Drive, A Piece of the Sky (a Tennessee Volunteer State Board Award nominee) and Epitaph Road (a 2011 ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee). His publishers include Albert Whitman, Houghton Mifflin and EgmontUSA. His website is www.patneaude.com

Q: How keen a reader were you as a child?

A: I was a big reader. I read under the covers, read the backs of cereal boxes and read newspapers from an early age. My parents were both big readers. They always had a lot of books wherever we lived. I got to share those with my six siblings. I was the second oldest.

Q: What were your favorite reads as a child?

A: I loved adventure stuff: Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew. Earlier, I liked the classic picture books like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. There wasn’t a wide selection of books for kids then. When I got a little older, it was Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe. I liked anything scary, including scary comic books.

Q: What made you a keen reader?

A: I think my parents read aloud to me when I was real young, but mostly it was the modeling later. My dad always had his nose in a book. My mom always found time to read; she was a big mystery fan. Dad liked nonfiction. I found reading easy and I liked it. I remember going to the library for the first time and not believing they would let me leave with a giant stack of books. I walked out of there feeling so good that I had a library card.

Q: You often write about sports. Which are your favorites?

A: Soccer and basketball. I’ve coached my grandsons in soccer recently. I also like to watch football, and I’m a runner so I like track and field. I like all the Olympic sports.

Q: When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

A: I messed around with writing when I was young, but I didn’t share my work. I kept messing around over the years without any real focus. I took some writing courses on how to write adult short stories when I was in my thirties, but I didn’t do anything with those. Finally I signed up with the Institute of Children’s Literature (www.institutechildrenslit.com) for a reasonably priced, flexible correspondence course. I was raising family by then. I thought it would be interesting, and it was better than I expected. That got me focused. After a second course I started writing short stories for kids. I’m sure I used my young children for reference. After many rejections, a magazine finally said yes. I had more short stories published and then had an idea for turning one into a novel. It got rejected more than a dozen times, but I was pretty lucky it got published — four years after my first short story appeared.

Q: When you read your books aloud at school presentations, what’s your best technique for keeping the audience enthralled?

A: I keep the reading short (a couple of pages) and I pick a scene that casts light on the story and its characters. I’m not exactly theatric, but I try to make it interesting and I make sure I’m familiar with the passage.

Q: When did you start reading to your kids and what did they teach you about reading to kids?

A: I read as soon as they could understand. My wife is a librarian, so they got the double whammy. They joke that they were jinxed because they got a writer dad and librarian mom; they had no choice on whether they were going to be readers. We picked books they would like, and we let them pick things. They didn’t want us to quit once we got started. They’d lobby for a short book before bed if there wasn’t time for a long book. If it got late at night and I told them there was no time for a book, they’d say, “Not even Santa Mouse?” (a board book maybe 100 words long). All three grew up to become big readers and also writers. My oldest was a newspaper reporter, my daughter wrote for school newspapers and is now working on a picture book, and my youngest son is a filmmaker who wants to be a screen writer. So I guess it rubbed off on them.

Q: Did you read aloud to your kids even after they were able to read on their own?

A: Yes. We were reading J.R.R. Tolkien by the time I quit when they were eleven or so.

Q: What’s your best advice to parents of teens or pre-teens who want to influence their kids to read more?

A: When I read comic books as a youngster, my parents would say “That’s not really reading. Why don’t you read something worthwhile?” But thankfully, they didn’t stop me. Comic books introduced me to the fact that reading was kind of fun. Eventually I figured out that reading didn’t necessarily have to have pictures.

Q: What’s the best tip you can impart to young writers about captivating an audience through writing?

A: Show, don’t tell. Don’t waste time on narration and exposition. Those are necessary, but keep them to a minimum. Get interesting characters and put them in situations where they have to deal with conflict and make decisions. Keep your writing scenic, where people can see what’s happening on the page.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A novel in verse, a sequel to Thin Wood Walls, a basketball story and a picture book.

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