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Profiles of Louis Sachar

by Sherre Sachar

louis sachar by carla sachar

Louis Sachar. Photo by Carla Sachar

“Are you really Louis Sachar’s daughter?” A fifth-grader asked me that my first week of kindergarten. Word spread rather quickly on the playground and I was suddenly thrown into the world of people who really loved my dad’s books. Until then, I didn’t realize that his books had so much influence on that many people.

My dad sees himself as two different people: a writer and a dad who just happens to have the exact same name. I consider myself very lucky. I come home every day after school to find him waiting for me to play, because his work day is over. He likes to challenge me in video games, pinball, basketball, or to help me with his favorite thing of all, my math homework. When he travels, he calls every night, even if it’s from an airport, the waiting room of a restaurant, or his hotel room, to see if I need help with that day’s assignment. Dad loves logic problems and pretty much anything that deals with numbers, other than taxes. That’s something we have in common (the numbers — not the taxes).

Dad loves to play duplicate bridge at a local bridge studio or on his computer. He used to play a lot of chess when we lived in California. He is very competitive so he often played in tournaments. Now his love is bridge. He didn’t even know he liked it, until one day he was invited to play in a weekly game. He and his partner (who is very good) won . . . and that was the beginning of his new hobby. Another game of numbers! It didn’t take him long to earn all the points he needed to be a “life master.” When he is in Austin, if he isn’t in his office working, you can find him at the bridge studio.

When I was little, Dad sang his favorite songs to me at bedtime. Some adults thought it was strange that I was singing Bob Dylan and Randy Newman music by the age of two. Because I was so young, Dad knew I wouldn’t understand the more adult subject matter of the lyrics, but these were the songs he knew by heart, so he sang them. As I grew older, I pressed him to explain the stories of the songs to me. I’ve learned a lot about love and life and war and peace from these musicians and my dad. We share a love for their unique styles of writing and singing (and protesting).

Getting fresh air and exercise are important to my dad. He used to run every day in San Francisco, but it was the foggy weather there that inspired that bit of fitness. Here in Texas, there are few days he feels are cool enough to encourage running. The dogs insist on outside activity, though, so besides their daily morning walks, we enjoy taking long family hikes in a neighborhood park with them. The whole family volunteers weekly at the Austin SPCA, walking those homeless dogs and giving them a few minutes of hugs. (You could definitely refer to us as dog people.)

One of my dad’s toughest rules is that he will not talk about anything he is writing while his story is evolving. We might know it is a Marvin Redpost book or another Wayside School book, but that’s it. He doesn’t want anyone giving him suggestions; he says it interferes with his creative process. When a book is finally complete, he’ll let mom and me read it. I tell him if something is hard to understand or just doesn’t work. My mom gets caught up in looking for all the errors like the school teacher she is. We both love the day when Dad says, “OK, my book is finished. Anyone want to read it?” It’s really neat to be the first to get to make comments to him about his work. He gets very nervous while we are reading and paces around the house. If it’s a long book, he just finds something else to do while we read. He always wants lots of comments from us as soon as we finish reading it. He likes to hear us talk about what we think is funny, and waits patiently to see if we really “get it,” since some of his humor is kind of deep.

“Are you related to the Sachar who writes children’s books?” “Did your dad write those Sideways Stories?” These are questions I’ve heard all my life, from teachers, other students, librarians, clerks in bookstores, even people we meet on vacations. These phrases have become as common to me as “hello” or “what’s your name?” — especially since Holes has been winning so many awards and Dad has been in the news. I have also learned that I have to share part of my dad with all the other kids in the world. We just love him for two different reasons.

* * *

by Carla Sachar

When I met Louis, he was already a published author, had just passed the California Bar exam, and was preparing his first court case. I learned very quickly that he had mixed feelings about what he really wanted to do with his life. He had just spent a lot of time and effort earning his law degree and knew he could probably support himself doing law work. He had also had the good fortune of having his first two books accepted for publication. Common sense told him he should proceed with his career as an attorney, but his heart pushed him to keep writing. Thank goodness his heart won the battle.

Writing is his love. How unbelievable to have a chance to do something every day that you relish doing. Creating a story never seems laborious to Louis, and his self-motivation — he sits in his office at his desk five days a week — is incredible. His morning routine is especially important to him; that’s what gets his mind ready to be creative. He has had to make adjustments to that routine a couple of times: first, when we married, and later, when Sherre was born. In turn, we have learned what Louis needs and how to make sure he gets it.

When people come to visit us while Louis is working on a book, they soon learn that he doesn’t sit and chat over the breakfast table. Each morning he showers, dresses, makes himself a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, boils water for his tea, and prepares his breakfast. If there are other things going on in the house at this time, he just tunes them out. After eating and reading the morning paper — taking time to solve the daily bridge column — he heads upstairs to close the door of his office and do who-knows-what. When he is first getting started on a new book, we can often hear the rumble of his pinball machine in his office after only an hour or so of work. We’re always surprised when he says he is almost finished with a new book. Those few hours a day can really add up to time well spent for his readers.

Louis has a terrific workspace upstairs at the end of the hall, where he is less likely to be disturbed. The only others allowed in the office with him are our two dogs. They seem to know how important his task is, because they protect his closed door with determination. They each have a specific place to sit while they wait for Louis to finish his writing for the day. If they’re lucky, they all go for a refreshing walk when the work time is over. Every morning around nine o’clock they slowly make their way into his office and spend the next few hours lying on the floor staring intently at their master. Lucky and Tippy have insisted that they receive credit for their help in writing Holes and the Marvin Redpost series. Oh, what they could tell us of stories started but never completed!

Louis is a kid at heart. He loves playing games, being outside, and not working. (He doesn’t consider writing “work.”) All of us who enjoy reading his books wonder just how he is still able to tell stories from a kid’s point of view and be so on the mark with children’s feelings and attitudes. He vows that his characters are not based on himself or anyone he knew as a child, but once you know him, you can see a bit of him in everyone he creates. The situations he puts his characters in are so everyday that adults can remember being there. Children who read his books have either been through similar situations, hoped they would never go through anything like it, or have witnessed someone else living through it. His work crosses the boundaries of age and is enjoyed by young and old alike.

Although it becomes more and more time-consuming with every newly published book, Louis never fails to respond to his fans. The letters may sit in a pile on the floor across from his desk for weeks at a time. The class assignments to “interview your favorite author” may come in waves, but Louis always takes time to personally answer all of the mail from his readers. Most of the letters ask the same questions over and over, year after year, but still he answers them. Each child is important to him, so he is determined to give them all the respect they deserve.

For the last eight years, I have felt a little guilty for bringing Louis closer to my part of the world — Texas. He hates heat. Often just walking out of the air-conditioned house into a summer day can take your breath away. Imagine baking in that hot Texas sun, day after day, standing in a dry lake bed, with a limited supply of water . . . digging holes! It can only be your worst nightmare. We had no idea Louis’s loathing of this heat would be just the emotion to encourage him to create his latest book. His imagination never ceases to amaze me. He can twist and turn an extremely clever, complicated plot and return to tie up all of the loose ends. Only Louis could find the humor and the words to concoct such a tale as this latest book.

The Sachar family is very excited that the Newbery Committee has recognized Holes as an outstanding piece of children’s literature. We’re always proud of what he writes, and we know that others love his books because of the response of children and their parents when a new book is published. It is  wonderful for him to be honored in such a way for doing something he most wants to do. Our family has enjoyed the special recognition that the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award have given to Louis. He and his mom have had calls and letters from friends they haven’t heard from in years. Everyone shares in the pride of this special accomplishment for Louis . . . much as if they were somehow
a part of it all. And somehow, they probably were.

Sherre Sachar is twelve years old and in her first year of middle school. Her special interests include environmental issues and animal rights, and she hopes someday to have her own ranch where she can care for rescued horses and dogs. Carla Sachar is a former elementary school teacher and counselor. After fifteen years in education, she retired to spend more time with her family.

Louis Sachar is the winner of the 1998 Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and the National Book Award for Holes (Foster/Farrar). From the July/August 1999 special Awards issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Holes and Louis Sachar’s BGHB Award acceptance speech.

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