I grew up a free-range child in Idaho, where summers had one rule: Be home by dark. After college, I became a Forest Service smokejumper, parachuting to fight wildfires in the western US and Alaska. I married my college sweetheart, Barbara Radding, and we spent our first year together in Ecuador. There, Barb taught school, we adventured, and I wrote. Back in Idaho, Barb taught while I smokejumped. I published my adult novel, Aura, about an epileptic artist who paints past lifetimes. When Barb was selected as the backup to Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe, we moved to Houston, where Barb trained with her Challenger crewmates. The Challenger accident changed many people’s lives. It made us realize that we needed children. Our two fine knuckleheaded sons were born back in McCall, Idaho, on the shores of Payette Lake. There, I did NPR radio commentaries, wrote for hire, and published several books, including two photo essay books and another adult novel. Santiago and the Drinking Party tells an action-philosophy story, set in the upper Amazon. When NASA called Barb back to become an astronaut in 1998, we all moved from the Idaho mountains down to Houston, and a whole different style of life. Barb resumed training and I worked with Johnson Space Center’s Oral History Project, writing the history, Shuttle-Mir: the U.S. and Russia Share History’s Highest Stage. Our boys, Adam and Ryan, helped me write my middle-grade novel, The Boy Who Spoke Dog. We are proud of how it turned out.
I had always wondered just how dogs thought, and why dogs did what they did. When we started having children, I started wondering how children’s minds worked, and the answers I got are in The Boy Who Spoke Dog. There are other thought-pattern influences, too. For example, I once spent three days on a meadow, on the Aleutian Peninsula, watching eighteen grizzly bears going about their business. Their lives had nothing to do with human beings, and I realized what a unique and rich society the bears had evolved. They were kind, greedy, grumpy, funny, popular, lonely, conniving, brave, timid, bossy, and cruel. But they were not like people. They were bears. And they didn’t need me (lucky for me!). Later, when I started telling the boys bedtime stories, they wanted wilderness stories about our dog Moxie. So I began to weave together everything I had ever experienced, imagined, or read about dogs and children in the wild. I used as my models my favorite adventure stories: Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Call of the Wild, The Jungle Book, My Side of the Mountain, and others. The Boy Who Spoke Dog comes out of all that, and out of everything I’ve ever done.
I am now working on the sequel to The Boy Who Spoke Dog. Maybe it will be titled The Boy Who Returned. Maybe Jack gets back to the island, but maybe Moxie has had experiences in the meantime. And maybe Jack accidentally brings to the island a brave, independent girl and an evil man – who has a cat!