Louis Sachar fills the 'Holes' in his book collection

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 1:52 a.m.
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Author Louis Sachar, shown with his dog, Watson, has written a sequel to the enormously popular young adult book "Holes" titled "Small Steps."

The Washington Post


FYI: "Small Steps"

By Louis Sachar; Hardcover; 272 pages; Delacorte Press; $16.95.

Stanley Yelnats, X-Ray, Squid, Magnet, Mr. Sir and, of course, Armpit.
If those names don't make you think of one word, then you haven't read one of the great kid books of the last 10 years (or seen the very good movie version of it). We'll pause now while you say the word aloud: "HOLES."
Fans of that book will be busy this week reading Louis Sachar's newest novel,"Small Steps," which picks up two years after "Holes" ends. Sachar spoke about the sequel that isn't quite a sequel, why he's so good at keeping secrets and the trick to being a writer.
Q:Did you always plan on writing a sequel to "Holes," and why did you pick Armpit as the main character?
A:"I certainly never planned to write a sequel, and I'm not sure I'd call this a sequel. I was intrigued by what life would be like for Armpit. Unlike Stanley, he returns from Green Lake not as some sort of vindicated hero but as someone with a criminal record. There's some racism to deal with - plus this horrible name stuck on him. He had a lot to overcome."
Q:Armpit is older and there are some more mature themes. Do you expect your audience is older, too?
A:"I don't think too much about the audience when I'm writing. ... I'm aware that 'Holes' was read by kids as young as 8, up to adults. I know a lot of those readers will want to read this book. I keep that in mind. But basically I'm writing a story that appeals to me."
Q:Unlike "Holes," there's a strong girl character in "Small Steps." Is that on purpose?
A:"With 'Holes' I was troubled that there weren't very many female characters. I tried to put them in where I could. But the setting didn't lend itself to girls.
"When I start a book, I usually don't know where I'm going. I just start with something that intrigues me. In this case it was Armpit, X-Ray and a ticket-scalping scheme. It wasn't until I was well into the first draft that Keira became a (major) character."
Q:Is it true that you don't talk to anyone about your books while you're writing them?
A:"True. I think by keeping it bottled up inside me, it really focuses my energy on getting it done."
Q: What's your writing day like?
A:"I jog in the morning and then write for about two hours. There are times when I'm really excited and can't wait to get back to it. But there are days when I don't know what's coming next, and I really have to force it."
Q:What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?
A:"Just start. Get something down on paper. From there you can figure out what it is and build on it."
A first read from 'Small Steps'
Here's an excerpt from the first chapter of Louis Sachar's book "Small Steps," a sequel to "Holes": A rusted Honda Civic drove noisily down the street and parked across from the mayor's house. Armpit had finished digging his trench and was attaching PVC pipe. The mayor had gone back inside.
The driver-side door had been bashed in, and it would have cost more to fix than the car was worth. The driver had to work his way over the stick shift and then exit on the passenger side.
The personalized license plate read: X RAY.
"Armpit!" X-Ray shouted as he crossed the street. "Armpit!"
The guys at work didn't know him by that name, but if he didn't say something X-Ray would just keep on shouting. Better to answer and shut him up.
"Hey," he called back.
"Man, you're really sweating," X-Ray said as he came near.
"Yeah, well, you'd sweat too if you were digging."
"I've already dug enough dirt to last one lifetime," said X-Ray.
They had met each other at Camp Green Lake.
"Look, don't call me Armpit around other people, all right?" Armpit said.
"But that's your name, dawg. You should never be ashamed of who you are."
X-Ray had the kind of smile that kept you from hating him no matter how annoying he was. He was skinny and wore glasses, which were now covered with clip-on shades.
He picked up Armpit's shovel. "Different shape."
"Yeah, it's for digging trenches, not holes."

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