A Conversation with Carl Hiaasen, Author of Squirm, an October Kids’ Book Hangout Selection

Calling all young readers grades 1 through 6! On Saturday, October 20, at 2 p.m., Barnes & Noble will host its second Kids’ Book Hangout, a fun social event where burgeoning bookworms can discover books, participate in activities, and celebrate reading along with other local kids. Attendees can sign up for the event online, and find your local store here. We’ve partnered with Penguin Random House to feature wonderful books for young readers, including Carl Hiaasen’s Squirm. This wild adventure follows Billy Dickens from Florida to Montana, on a high-stakes quest to track down the dad he has never known—and whose life he just might have to save. We talked to author Hiaasen about his inspiration, his favorite character, and his advice for young writers.

What was the inspiration behind Squirm? Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

For Squirm, I had an idea to write about a boy trying to track down his real father, who has some mysterious, faraway job. I set part of the story in Florida and part of it in Montana, which is my second favorite place in the country. Billy, the main character, is my favorite. All the cool stuff—and the scary stuff—happens to him. Kids from Florida don’t have much experience dealing with grizzly bears, so there’s a steep learning curve for Billy. He’s also the one who ends up bringing two very different families together, which also requires a special skill set.

What has been your favorite moment in your writing career so far?

The success of Hoot, my first novel for young readers, was a totally wonderful surprise. I had no expectations whatsoever, and suddenly I was getting hundreds and hundreds of letters from kids all over the country saying how much they loved the book. And I still get boxes of letters about all the novels for young readers. It amazes me, and I try to respond to every one. The books are also taught in many, many schools, which I find incredible. It made my mom very proud.  Me, too.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Unfortunately, there’s no formula for being a successful writer except hard lonely work, persistence, and some luck. But it all begins with getting the words out of your head, so I always advise aspiring writers to begin by keeping a journal. Even if they do only a paragraph or two every day, they’re still exercising an important intellectual muscle. And gradually they’ll develop a style of their own and be able to see themselves getting better as time goes on. Once you get some confidence, then you can start shaping ideas into stories or book chapters. Expect rejection letters at first. I got piles of them. Grimly set them aside and keep writing.

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