Ask Eric

Eric enjoys answering questions from his readers. Submit a question and it might even be posted here on his website.

I love hearing from my fans, especially when they ask questions and share thoughts about my books. Don’t be shy. Let me hear from you!

Katherine from Maryland asks: When will you make a new book?

Eric answers: I’m always working on something. I have a new book called Nicanor’s Gate that will be out soon. I just sent in the manuscript of my first graphic novel. It’s called Jason and Jonathan. Dov Smiley is the illustrator. We had a great time working together. We both hope the story becomes a book some day. I’ll let you know what develops.

Joshua from Texas asks: When were you born?

Eric answers: October 30, 1946 in Brooklyn, NY.

Eli from Texas asks: How do you know what to write?

Eric answers: You don’t. You start with a vague idea about something that interests you or something you’d like to learn more about. You come across and interesting story that you think readers might enjoy. There’s something going on in the world that concerns you that you think you’d like to discuss. You think of a situation and characters who might find themselves in that situation. How would they handle it? What would they do? Slowly a story starts to take shape. You write it; think about it; write some more; think about it some more, making changes and improvements all along the way. Finally you get it to the point where you’re ready to share it with other writers or with an editor. They give you ideas and suggestions and the process begins again. As you can see, it’s not a quick process most of the time. That’s why, when people ask me how long it takes to write a book, I answer: “As long as it takes.”

Marina from Pennsylvania asks: My daughter and I absolutely love your books. Would you ever consider something about Baba Yaga? Thank you!

Eric answers: I did, years ago. Megan Lloyd illustrated it. The book is probably out-of-print, but you might see if your local library can find a copy for you. Here’s an Amazon link:

Are you allergic to anything?

Bad writing.

According to the passage, why did Aaron Meier come to the United States?

Nice try. I’m not doing your homework for you. Read the story together with the question and look for a sentence or two in the story that answers it.

Do your books have elements of your culture in them?

They sure do! But I write for all readers, children and adults, no matter who or where they are.

What is your process of writing books?

Think of a character or characters who have a problem. How do they solve it? That’s your story.

How long does it take to come up with a new story?

As long as it takes. Every book is different.

Where do you get your ideas from?

I get ideas from the same place you do. The world is full of ideas. It’s a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open and learning how to recognize a good story idea when it shows up. Another source for good ideas is to write about things that actually happened to you. If you like, you can use your imagination to make the story even more interesting.

What should I add to make my horse story better? It’s about a quest.

I can’t make suggestions about a story I haven’t read. Share it with your friends and ask them. Are you satisfied with it? That’s what matters.

What genre of books do you like writing best?

Folktales and story picture books.

What are the top two books you’re going to write in the future?

I don’t know. They haven’t been written yet.

What is the name of your newest book?

Look for Hank and Gertie, Right Side Up, and Why Worry?

Have you ever had a book that was too long to be a book?

That happens with picture books. They usually aren’t much longer than 1500 words. They’re even less than 500 these days. In that case you have a choice. See if you can cut down the text or rewrite it as a chapter book.

How old are you? (Too lazy to figure it out.)

I was born in 1978. (Don’t expect others to do the work.)

What is your brother’s name?


What is your favorite city to go to?

Paris, France.

How long have you been in the neighborhood where you live?

We moved in in 1978. Do the math.

Who motivated you to become an author?

Other authors whose books I admired. No one really motivates you. You have to motivate yourself. No fairy godmother taps you on the head with a magic wand and says, “You’re an author.” If you want it, go out and make it happen. It all depends on you.

Do you have any pets that aren’t cats, fish, or dogs?

Yes. I have a pet corn snake. His name is Pirate.

What inspired you to write Moby Dick?

It was the challenge of taking Herman Melville’s long, complicated, magnificent classic novel and distilling it down to a 28 page picture book. Andrew Glass, the illustrator, and I both agree it was the best and most glorious challenge we ever had.

What is your favorite color?


What is your favorite animal?

I like all animals. I especially like tropical fish and snakes.

Do you like reading cookbooks?

Yes, especially if they’re about baking bread, making pizza, or making barbecue.

Have you ever met Jeff Kinney?

No, but I think he’s a darn good writer and cartoonist.

How do you figure out how to be an author?

Read books and articles on the subject. Talk to authors when you can. Join professional groups. Learn as much as you can about the publishing industry. Then write something!

What is the lesson of Joseph and the Sabbath Fish.

I think it’s that kindness and generosity are always rewarded somehow, in some way.

Have you written any adult books?

No. Never wanted to.

Have you ever met J.K. Rowling?

No. I’d like to. I think she’s a fine writer. Friends who have met her say she’s a very nice person.

Do you like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson?

I think they’re both fine series. Well worth reading.

Do you regret writing any of your books?

Not at all! I’m proud of every one of them.

Why didn’t you add the beginning to Iron John?

Good question. It’s a long, complicated story and I only had 28 pages to tell it. Plus I had to leave space for the illustrations. I had to cut the story considerably. I’m glad you took the time to read the original.

What do you think happened to Iron John after he became human again?

I think he went back to being a faithful servant.

What is your favorite Greek myth?

Probably Jason and Medea. It’s in my book, but considerably cleaned-up. The original is very dark and violent.

Will you make any sequels to your books?

Probably not. I generally don’t like sequels. They’re never as good as the first one. Some authors like to live with the same characters for decades. I prefer to move on.

Have you ever written your own myth?

No. You can’t really write myths. Myths are religious stories that are centuries old. We’d call a modern myth a fantasy. Lots of exciting stories in that genre. Check them out.

Do you have any other mind-clearing tricks that you didn’t mention?

One that works well for me is to just start writing and not worry if what comes out is any good. It’s how you learn to swim. Jump in.

Where did you get the idea of writing Cactus Soup?

My editor wanted me to come up with a new version of the old story Stone Soup. I just moved it to Mexico.

If you were going to use a cartoon, what would it be?

It would have to be an original character.  Otherwise, you have to get permission to use it.

Does your family write books too?

No. As my wife says, “One crazy one is enough.”

What is going to be your first comic?

We just sent out the proposal. It’s called Jason and Jonathan. It’s an exciting story set in ancient times. Dov Smiley, a fine artist, is doing the illustrations.

Is your basement the only place you make books?

No. I sometimes write with my laptop on the dining room table.

Can you write a graphic novel about Godzilla?

No. Godzilla is a copyrighted character. I’d have to get permission and I don’t want to go through the trouble. I’d rather make up my own stories.

What inspired you to make the Three Little Tamales.

I was having dinner at a Mexican restaurant that served lots of different kinds of tamales. It doesn’t take more than that to get a story started.

Have you let your daughter write a book with you?

No. I’m not very good when it comes to collaboration. I like to run my own show.

What was the topic of The Three Cabritos?

I don’t think the story is fancy enough for a “topic.” I just moved Three Billy Goats Gruff to Mexico.

Do you have any kids?

Our daughter’s grown-up. My grandson will be starting his junior year in high school in September.

Will you make another book soon?

I’m always working on something.

How did it feel to draw your favorite books?

I don’t know. I wrote them. The various artists who worked with me created the pictures. I can’t draw to save my life.

Is there a park near your house? 

Yes. My house is three doors down from Grant Park in Portland, Oregon.

I love your books. Will you write more?

I certainly will. Writing’s what I love to do best. I’ll never quit.

Which book are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all of them.

Who gave you the banjo?

Nobody! I bought it myself. It’s a Gibson RB-3.

What was the longest book you ever wrote?

Probably American Leprechaun. No publisher wanted it, so I published it myself on Amason. I think it’s pretty good even if no one else ever did.

What are some of your hobbies?

Cycling, practicing my banjo, and scuba diving. I’m going diving in Hawaii nest week.

What is the main inspiration for your stories?

Folktales from around the world.

How many books did you read when you were in elementary school?


What was your favorite subject in school?

English, history, biology.

Did you change the story The Fisherman and the Turtle?

The Fisherman and the Turtle was adapted it from a famous story in Grimm’s Fairy Tales called “The Fisherman and His Wife.” Take a look at that one and compare the two. Both stories have a lesson. Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.

Which of your books was the hardest to make?

They were all challenging in their own way. And worth the challenge!

What have you improved in your writing?

I’ve learned that less is more. My last draft is usually the shortest. If something doesn’t move the plot along, develop character, or foreshadow something important, out it goes!

Can you retell the story of Kronos fighting Zeus?

That would make a good comic if someone hasn’t done it already.

Who is your favorite author?

One of my all-time favorites is Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain are also authors I read over and over again.

Did you have any other jobs before becoming an author?

I was a teacher and a college professor.

What book took the longest to write and publish?

My shortest book, I Took My Frog To The Library. Fifteen years!

What stories did your grandma tell you?

Mostly funny ones and scary ones.

What year did you start writing?

I began writing professionally, meaning I started sending stories to editors, soon after I got out of college in 1967. However, it was something I had wanted to do since I was in elementary school.

How do you become an author?

By getting an idea for a good story and writing it.

Do you like being an author?

I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.

What is your favorite genre to write in?

I’d say it was the story picture book. Retelling folktales is also something I enjoy. I’m really liking creating the script for comics.

How did your grandma learn those stories?

By listening to the people around here. There was no TV, no radio, no internet, and few books. So people told stories.

Have you won any awards?

Yes. Lots. Too many to mention here.

Why didn’t your grandma go to school?

Because during the time and place she grew up you had to pay to go to school and most people didn’t think girls needed an education.

Which do you like better? Greek myths or Hispanic folktales?

Both! A good story is a good story. It’s not a contest.

Have you met any famous writers?

Sure! Tomie de Paola, Leonard Everett Fisher, Ezra Jack Keats. I would have liked to have met Stan Lee now that I’m starting to write comics. He was a master!

What inspired you to write The Fisherman and the Turtle?

The Fisherman and His Wife is one of my favorite stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I wanted to give it a new setting to see what would happen.

Why do you write funny stories?

The news is always so depressing. I think we need to laugh more, and especially at ourselves.

What kind of books do you like writing?

Right now, comic books and graphic novels. I’m just starting to write my first one.

What inspired you to become a writer?

Mostly my love of books and stories. No other career seemed as exciting.

How many books have you written?

Over 140 with more on the way. 

What are you working on now?

This will surprise you: comic books! I’m teaming with an artist friend, Dov Smiley, to work on a comic book together. We’re hoping this will lead to more comics and perhaps even graphic novels. I’m certainly learning new skills.

What is your favorite book?

It’s impossible to pick a favorite book. My books are like my kids and I love them all, although they are different from each other.

Why did you write Tuning Up, your autobiography?

Several writer friends had done it. It sounded like an interesting idea and I liked the challenge. I do think that book needs an update. I wrote it many years ago and there are lots of other things I’d like to put in it.

How do you come up with such good ideas?

Thanks for the compliment. I think about a story for a long time, working out the plot and the characters. Then I write the first draft. And the second draft. And the third. And so on… I try to make sure that the story is fun to read, has a point, has a satisfying ending, and sounds good when read aloud. The sound of words and how they fit together is just as important to me as their meaning.

Where are you from?

I’m a New Yorker originally, although I live in Oregon now. My grandparents came from countries that no longer exist. My mother’s parents were from Austria-Hungary. My father’s parents were from what is now Poland, although it was part of the Russian Empire when they left. I think that’s why I’ve always been interested in stories from Eastern Europe.

How old are you?

Old enough!

Do you have any kids?

Our daughter is grown-up. My grandson is going to be a junior in high school.

Do you copy books or make them different?

I never copy. I like to retell old stories, reworking them in a way that makes the my own and expresses the ideas I’d like the story to get across to my readers.

Are your stories based on real events?

All stories are based on real people and events, although things may not have turned out the way they do in the story. 


When did you write your first book and what was it?

My first book was The Tartar’s Sword. I based it on a period of Russian history that interested me. It was mostly guys on horseback chasing each other around with swords. The book came out in 1974.

What book is coming out next?

Several new ones are on the way. The latest is Why Worry? Check it out. Here’s a link to my page on Vimeo. You can hear me read the story and share the pictures. Let me know what you think.

How long does it take to write and publish a book?

There’s no one answer. Every book is different. The best answer I can give is that it takes as long as it takes. 

How did you find a passion in making books?

That’s an interesting way of looking at it! I always loved to read. I loved books, stories, and folktales. My best answer would be to say I write the sort of books I would have liked to read when I was your age.

In Jack and the Giant Barbecue, where does Jack get barbecue? He lives in the desert.

Jack doesn’t live in the desert. He lives in TEXAS! You can always get barbecue in Texas. Texans love their barbecue!

Which is one of your new book ideas?

The latest would be the comic book I’m working on with Dov. It’s called Jason and Jonathan. We’re still working out the details. It’s a Hanukkah story set in the time of Ancient Greece. Dov’s artwork so far is extraordinary and exciting. We both hope the story becomes a book.

Have you written any dog books?

Yes, a long time ago. It was called Sirko and the Wolf. It’s about a friendship between a dog and a wolf. Dogs and wolves are friends, you know. There’s only trouble when people get involved.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

Seeing a story become an actual book that people can read and enjoy.

What made you think of Jack and the Giant Barbecue?

I love barbecue, Texas, and old stories. I tried to move an old story, Jack and the Beanstalk, to Texas to see what might happen. It was lots of fun to write. John Manders, the artist, was the one who suggested bringing in the juke box as a character. That was a great idea! Most of her dialog comes from the verses to old Country songs. Maybe your grandparents can point them out to you.

Do you like the series Spy School?

Can’t say. I’ve never read any of those books. I’ll check them out.

When did you decide that writing was the right job for you and why?

I knew I wanted to be a writer before I knew how to write. I was in kindergarten when I learned that people called authors create books. I knew at once that was for me.

If the fisherman’s wife could be satisfied, what would satisfy her?

For someone like that, nothing. Money and power become a drug. There’s never enough.

How long do you normally spend on a book?

It’s hard to tell. Every book is different. It goes through different stages, from idea to writing to revision to submission to editing and finally to publication. I never think about time. I think about making the story and writing as fine as possible.

Do you like being an author?

Yes. You have to love doing it to get through all the challenges that go with it.

Do you still like The Ballad of Jesse James?

You bet! It’s a good song with a good story.


Do you have a question you’d like to ask Eric? Send it in.

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