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The turning point was when I hit my 30th birthday. I thought, if really want to write, it's time to start. I picked up the book How to Write a Novel in 90 Days. The author said to just write three pages a day, and I figured, I can do this. I never got past Page 3 of that book.
I usually give a book 40 pages. If it doesn't grab me by then, adios. With young adult books, you can usually tell by Page 4 if it's worth the time. The author establishes the conflict early, sometimes in the first sentence. The themes of hope, family, friendship and overcoming hardship appeal to most everyone.
I can't understand why the front pages of newspapers can cover bird flu and swine flu and everybody is up in arms about that and we still haven't really woken up to the fact that so many women in sub-Saharan Africa - 60 percent of people in - infected with HIV are women.
At the school I attended, the clergyman who ran the cathedral school in Shanghai would give lines to the boys as a punishment. They expected you to copy out, say, 20 or 30 pages from one of the school texts. But I found that rather than laboriously copying out something from a novel by Charles Dickens, it was easier if I made it up myself.
I think kids want the same thing from a book that adults want - a fast-paced story, characters worth caring about, humor, surprises, and mystery. A good book always keeps you asking questions, and makes you keep turning pages so you can find out the answers.