“In my head, there are pictures of what you have written. When I read your books and I stop, I always think that I had the TV on.” –Bridget M.
In fourth or fifth grade, Bruce Hale once told his pal nicknamed Billy the Kid that he wanted to be a children’s author—an about-face for a child who didn’t like to read before third grade. “I was running around causing trouble,” Hale says of his high-activity level. “[Although] I was into stories since I was really young. My dad was an amazing storyteller.” One day, the Hale family television died. “It was a sad occasion,” he says. His desperate parents read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes to him, and Hale was hooked. He and his pal Billy climbed their favorite tree to read classics such as The Wind in the Willows, Mad Magazine, and later The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Hale grew up in Southern California, and moved to Japan to write, cartoon, and teach English. “I used Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles songs as my text,” he says about his teaching experience. After a couple of years, Hale flew to Hawaii to crew aboard a boat in the South Pacific, but fell in love with Hawaii and stayed for eight years until he moved to his current home in Santa Barbara, California.
While in Hawaii he self-published a few picture books, but did not find his passion until he came up with the idea for the Chet Gecko series. A film noir buff, Hale easily slid into the hard-boiled detective voice that makes the series popular with kids, and a gecko as a main character seemed logical for an author in Hawaii. “I gave myself permission to be goofy,” he says, but he was two books into the series before he hit on the idea to parody his favorite film noir titles, e.g. This Gum for Hire and The Malted Falcon. Unknowingly, Hale launched a competition between friends and family members who submitted their title ideas to him. In order for him to use the title it had to make him smile and be a close enough tie to the original film for people to get it.
“I love the Chet Gecko books. I bet even my grandfather would love them, and he’s dead.”–Federico M.
Hale admits that his first Chet Gecko manuscript was long on voice and character, but short on structural development. The initial concept changed from easy reader to middle grade novel, with his editor providing the necessary instruction for constructing a successful mystery. With the release of The Malted Falcon, an Edgar Award nominee, Hale says, “I was really hitting my stride with the series.” An experienced cartoon artist, Hale conceived Chet Gecko’s look. His cartoon style worked well for the interior art in the books, but the covers required a fully-dimensional commercial style for which the publisher contracted another artist.
The Underwhere series is part narrative, part graphic novel about a world beneath our own where the inhabitants wear their underwear outside their clothes. Hale draws on past experience with film scripts to make the dialogue as terse as possible. Although Hale read comics as a child, his cartooning experience wasn’t quite right for the series, so a professional comic expert was hired to complete the graphic part of the books. “I didn’t realize it at the time,” Hale says, “but as a kid I read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books about Pellucidar—a world at the center of our world—and that must have gone deep into my subconscious.” After the release of the second Underwhere title, Hale happened across one of the Burroughs’ books. “Ah-ha! That’s what I was doing. It was a completely unconscious homage.”
Hale recharges his creative batteries with hikes, rambles on the beach, movies, books, and music. He sings tenor with Latin and a cappella jazz groups to shift the energy to a different part of his brain, so when he returns to writing, fresh ideas pour out. In school visits, Hale encourages students to express themselves creatively. “Creative intelligence is not always emphasized in schools…There’s some sort of alchemy that happens when you express yourself creatively. It feeds a deeper part of you.”
Although Hale bows to the demands of adulthood, he says, “There’s a part of me that never evolved past twelve years old…I’m plugged into what works and what doesn’t.” Hale attempts to find the fun in everything he does, and his books are his proof.
“Without your books sparking my interest in reading, I would have never finished the likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Merchant of Venice, or Of Mice and Men.” –William M. (high school sophomore)