About the Author
Ted Sanders lives in Illinois with his family. He loves to write and loves to teach people about writing. He used to be able to run fast, but now he only runs when chased—and even then, not very far. He is the pickiest adult eater he knows.
FAQ (Fourteen Answerable Questions)
If you have a question for me, there’s a chance I’ve already answered it here. If I haven’t, you can contact me here.
Where exactly do you live?
My very fabulous wife Jodee and I live in Urbana-Champaign, a smallish twin city in Illinois that’s home to about 230,000 people. We live in the Urbana part.
Why did you set THE BOX AND THE DRAGONFLY in Chicago?
I grew up in northern Illinois, in a pretty small town about an hour outside the city. I traveled to the city a lot as I was growing up, visiting the great museums there and exploring the Loop and walking by the lake. And even though I wouldn’t want to live in a big city, I always have loved books that feature kids venturing into the city alone—books like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I originally considered setting The Keepers in Urbana, but decided Chicago was a more exciting place to tell a story, a place that could hold more adventures and secrets.
What inspired you to write THE KEEPERS series?
In part, a bit of bad luck.
I’d been writing for awhile, mostly short stories. I was teaching and getting published in literary magazines and doing fine. But I had also worked in a children’s bookstore years before, and I collected children’s books, and I always imagined writing a novel for kids some day.
Meanwhile the idea of Horace’s box—the Box of Promises—had been floating around in my head for a long time, but I coudn’t find the right story to put it in. And then one June, I was suddenly out of a job. I was pretty devastated, and worried about money and my career and so forth. I was trying to figure out what to do. Right in the middle of that, for reasons unknown, the idea of the Box of Promises came back to me, and brought a whole bunch of other ideas with it. Within a week I had the characters and the world and a rough plot sketched out. All the extra time and energy I had from being underemployed that year ended up going into the writing of The Box and the Dragonfly. So really, losing out on that job was the spark that made the series happen.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Occasionally I choose a name just because I like the sound of it, or because it seems to fit the character. That’s what happened with Chloe—it just felt right for her.
More often, though, there are very specific reasons for the characters’ names in The Keepers. Many of the names have some kind of hidden meaning or secret reference, or maybe a play on words. See if you can figure any of them out.
If you had a Tan’ji, what kind of power would you have?
I think I would want an oraculum like Mr. Meister has, except I would want one that enabled me to see very long distances. I’m always obsessively observing the world around me, and I would love to be able to see everything bigger and better and clearer.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Mostly, yes. I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, and all through my teenage years. But around the time I turned twenty, I stopped writing for a while and kind of gave up on it. I was frustrated with myself, and frustrated with my writing—I was never happy with anything I tried to write.
And then I just sort of lived for a while, and experienced life. Even then, writing was never far from my mind, and eventually, I went back to college when I was 32 and took a creative writing class. I had a great teacher who encouraged me—and challenged me—and I’ve been writing ever since.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I teach creative writing at the University of Illinois. I also love to play board games and video games with my family. I really enjoy movies and TV. I collect lots of things, too—toys, dice, boxes, marbles (just like Horace). I like to build things, in my own very amateurish way, and I’m addicted to learning. I also very much like to travel the country by car. I’ve been to every state except for Hawaii and Louisiana (not sure how that happened), and most of southern Canada. Alaska is the only state I’ve visited that I didn’t travel to by car.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I genuinely like to read middle grade fiction. I also like mystery and fantasy and horror and all sorts of things. But when I’m writing, I usually read nonfiction books—books about science, nature, and how the world works. Lately I’ve been fascinated by books about climbing.
What’s your favorite book?
Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I first read it when I was about ten, and I’ve read it probably twenty times since then.
Do you have any kids?
I have a son who is just finishing high school, and a step-daughter who is just starting. They are both avid readers, and are my most honest critics. Like seriously, they could back off a little bit. But I love them dearly.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, we live with four cats—two white and two black, just to make sure cat hair will be visible on any color clothes you want to wear. One of our cats, Loki, is the inspiration for Horace’s cat in The Keepers. But my best-buddy cat is Jack, who is chubby and kind of lazy, like me.
What’s your favorite food?
Pepperoni pizza. All day.
Who is your favorite scientist?
Issac Newton and Charles Darwin are the scientists I admire the most. Newton was crazily brilliant, a one-in-a-billion genius, who probably contributed more to mathematics and science than anyone else. Darwin, meanwhile, journeyed far and made real-world observations that later led him to brilliant new ideas. I deeply admire how he was able to correctly theorize so many aspects of evolution, decades before we even knew about DNA. And I find much beauty and inspiration in his grand idea that all life is interconnected.
Did you have trouble thinking of fourteen questions?