Saturday, September 27, 2014


Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about favorite movies, and we were talking about The Princess Bride. I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t love that movie. It’s almost perfect. Anyway, I mentioned that William Goldman and I happened to attend the same high school and summer camp (albeit about 37 years apart).

“William Goldman,” I said. “You know, the guy who wrote the book.”

My friend replied, “It was a book?”

Yes, it seems that mainstream films sometimes erase memories of literature. So I’m going to remedy that by ranking the 84 best movies that were books first. It’s a bit of a challenge, mostly due to an embarrassment of riches. From 12 Angry Men to Apollo 13, from The Graduate to The Player to The Firm, Hollywood has been poaching literature for decades.

Friday, September 19, 2014


On this day 101 years ago – Sept. 19, 1913—an unknown amateur golfer made an 18-foot putt that transformed the sport.

My motivation for writing the children’s book FRANCIS AND EDDIE (Why Not Books, 2013) didn’t necessarily come from the fact that I think it ranks as perhaps the greatest underdog feat in championship sports—the tale of Francis Ouimet beating the best golfers in the world to win the U.S. Open. It wasn’t even because it struck me as the ultimate local-boy-makes-good story—a kid who literally lived across the street from the golf course in Brookline, Massachusetts, right near the 17th hole. He taught himself to play be sneaking onto the course in the dark and the rain, taught himself so well that he qualified to compete in the national championship, then sank an ultra-clutch putt on that very 17th green to shock the world and catapult golf onto the front pages for the first time.

No, that’s not why either. It’s because of Eddie Lowery.

Ouimet’s prospects were so dim that his regular caddie opted instead to carry the bag of a French pro, figuring he could share in some prize money. During a practice round, a boy named Jack Lowery had been an able replacement, but only minutes before Francis’s scheduled tee time for his Tuesday qualifying round, Jack was nowhere to be found. That’s when a tiny fellow, just four feet tall, came running up to the practice green and offered five words that would launch an iconic partnership: “I could caddie for you.”

Eddie Lowery was Jack’s little brother. He was skipping school. He was ten years old. “My bag’s as big as you are,” said Ouimet, but it could be that the golfer saw a bit of himself in the boy, an underestimated kid reaching for respectability. Or, perhaps he figured he had nothing to lose. “All right then, Eddie, let’s go,” he said. “Just please call me Francis.” And that is how, over the next several days, a child stood at the center of this extraordinary athletic saga.

Friday, September 12, 2014


A few years ago, author Judith Schalansky published a widely praised book called The Atlas of Remote Islands. She pairs full-color cartographic drawings with compelling narratives about lore and legend and science and history, the aim being to celebrate the cartographic unknown.

That’s one way of exploring uninhabited or sparsely populated blips of land amid endless seas. Another way is to read some classic fiction.

As setting goes, every island is brimming with possibilities that affect plot, character, mood. It is isolation and introspection, seclusion with no place to hide, a place that seems both manageable and unfathomably mysterious. It is new life or a slow death, terror or revelation. Or sometimes all at once—just re-read Lord of the Flies, which was published 60 years ago this month.

So it is no wonder that many renowned authors have taken their readers to remote islands for some of their most famous stories—authors like Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Virginia Wolff, Agatha Christie, and Michael Crichton. And they’ve stranded iconic characters like Long John Silver and Robinson Crusoe, Piggy and Prospero. Island protagonists (and antagonists) have been shipwreck survivors, prison escapees, accidental adoptees, treasure hunters, exiled rulers, explorers, mad scientists, and murder suspects.

So let’s take a trip to some uncharted isles. No Hawaii here (sorry, James Michener). No United Kingdom (sorry, Bill Bryson). Jamaica is by no means overlooked and secluded, so we’ll steer wide of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. No Long Island (sayonara, Gatsby).For that matter, no island of Manhattan.

No, here we celebrate remote (usually) spits of land—the kind that become lead characters in the story. Agatha Christies A Caribbean Vacation doesn’t count. But Indian Island from And Then There Were None? You bet. Any good island explorer seeks out the unusual—or at least the legendary. So break open a coconut and have a seat for this installment of the Why Not 100—34 unforgettable island settings:

1. The Island of Despair

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is the shipwrecked tale that inspired all others. There’s even a genre of “desert island story” known as a Robinsonade. Crusoe is stranded with two cats and a dog on what he calls the Island of Despair (probably based on the Caribbean island of Tobago). He excavates a cave, builds a canoe, hunts, grows crops, makes pottery, fends of mutineers and cannibals, and rescues a fellow whom he calls Friday. The first edition, published in 1719, actually credited the title character as the author, and many readers believed it was a travelogue.

2. Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson left us with iconic characters—Long John Silver, Billy Bones, Ben Gunn. And an iconic scenario—an island bearing lost pirate treasure. Captain Flint calls it Skeleton Island. To protagonist Jim Hawkins (and to Stevenson for a book title), it’s Treasure Island. The duality symbolizes the risk and reward of the adventure.

Friday, September 5, 2014


I wish an author had visited my elementary school back in the day. I was just beginning to become enthralled by the written word—Judy Blume and Roald Dahl and J.R.R. Tolkien. The chance to see a real live author, up close and in person? I’m sure I’d still remember it.

It is that thought that drives me when I visit schools as a guest author, telling students about how I became a writer, about the fun stuff I get to do as a writer, about where my ideas come from. When the kids and I create a goofy story together, and I see their eyes light up, it sustains me. It makes up for the occasional times when the school seems to regard my visit as an afterthought. Or when the librarian hasn’t bothered to stock my books. Or when some first graders are intent on playing with the Velcro on their shoes.

Yes, an author visit is—in my humble opinion—a fantastic way to inspire young readers and writers. But not every author visit is created equal. And it is often the efforts of the host that make the difference.

With that in mind—and now that school is back in session—we at the Why Not 100 are turning this post over to an author who is to school visits what cheerleaders are to school pride. Michael Shoulders is energetic. He is fearless (you’ll see what I mean if you ever get to see him rap one of his books). And he loves his job. A former educator who has written more than a dozen picture books (including T is for Titanic, G is for Gladiator, and Say Daddy!), he is the kind of author every school librarian dreams of finding.

Take it away, Mike…