Evan Smith: Small Steps, the sequel to Holes, took nearly eight years to come out. Did you always know you had another book in you?
Louis Sachar: Oh, not at all. Who knows where my thoughts come from? I was very much involved in working on the movie [version of Holes, which was released in 2003]. That’s one reason why I haven’t written anything sooner—the turmoil of that whole experience. Although in the end I was really happy with the movie, there were times when I was exasperated with everyone. When I was writing the script, [the producers] gave me all kinds of notes. They would say, “Why don’t you try writing it this way? Why don’t you have the characters do this?” Unlike writing a book, when you write a screenplay, you take orders from other people. So there was a moment when I was feeling really down about the movie, and I remember coming up with this idea in my head for a book about Armpit and X-Ray [two characters from Holes]—about the real X-Ray talking the real Armpit into going to Hollywood because they didn’t get compensated for the movie.
ES: Kind of a metasequel.
LS: You know, they were going to demand payment, plus they didn’t like the way their characters were portrayed. I was toying with that. But I ended up liking the movie, so instead I thought I would just write a story about them—about X-Ray talking Armpit into investing all his hard-earned money in a ticket-scalping scheme.
ES: Were they always going to be the focus of any sequel?
LS: Yeah, I was done with Stanley and Zero [the main characters from Holes]. I never thought I wanted to write about them anymore. They had reached a good place.
ES: At what point did you know that you had enough of an idea to sit down and write the new book?
LS: My process is to start with something even if I don’t know if it’s enough of an idea. I start a lot of books that don’t really go anywhere. Well, I wouldn’t even really call them books. I sit down and think, “This might be an interesting situation,” and then I start writing. If it’s not going anywhere, I start writing something else.
ES: Most people who want to be writers will probably be shocked to hear that a successful author has the same kinds of fits and starts as the rest of us.
LS: Any idea you can think up and plan out isn’t going to be that good. There’s no way I could have thought up all of Holes beforehand, not with all of those interconnected stories. You start writing, encounter problems, and ask yourself how you’re going to solve those problems, and then new ideas spring up that are better than what you started with. A lot of what unfolds is really bad, too. But I rewrite and rewrite. I do at least six drafts of every book.
ES: How different is one draft from another?
LS: Extremely. Especially the