Your vision of the union of Santa Claus and Miss Suzie McEase is both fun and original. What made you choose to have them meet in such a way?

For me, it was important that the Clauses meet for a very practical reason before any magic or chemistry sparked between them. Tearing out the bottom side of your pants and needing someone to sew it shut because you can’t, couldn’t get anymore practical! My wife Suzanne, not only plays Mrs. Claus but also hand sews my Claus costumes, so having Miss Suzie McEase sew together Santa’s suit was not so huge a stretch of the imagination. And yes, I DID blow out my britches one Christmas Eve long ago. They say, “Art imitates life.” How true!

Would you consider this book somewhat of a love story?

Oh yes – most definitely. It couldn’t be otherwise. I lived in France some years ago and actually fell in love with my wife in Paris. The French call love at first sight “le coup de foudre,” or a clap of thunder. I subscribe to that description of falling in love. It’s like love smacking you upside the head and rattling your brains. For me, how romantic and how true that is. Surely Mr. and Mrs. Claus felt that thunder at first sight – I believe it must feel that way if love’s born of the heart.

Who do you think will enjoy The Great Mrs. Claus the most?

I’ve thought a bit about that, but who really knows? Enjoyment, like beauty lies in the heart of the beholder. It may be a child, it may be a grandparent, or it may be that same child reading the book again with his or her own grandchildren one day who’ll enjoy it most. It was a real joy for me to create the book – I hope readers will feel that. As an artist, I just feel one does one’s best to create the work - how it will connect with an audience remains a total mystery.

Who did the illustrations?

A wonderful artist and friend named Cesar De Castro. We’ve done many projects together, and Cesar has worked at many of the major animation and entertainment studios in Los Angeles. His gift is one in a million. Cesar and I first started collaborating on this book years ago. His style has a fantastic sense of play that draws the reader in. He excels at not only drawing people and animals, but he also has this incredible eye for architectural design and detail. Through the “Mrs. Claus” illustrating process, we often met in the back of a favorite restaurant to act out many of the scenes and character moments in the book – a real collaboration. The restaurant servers thought we were nuts, but that process actually helped both of us more strongly visualize the life of the book.

Cesar provided the black and white line drawings, but let me add that Art Baez, the book’s lead designer provided most of the coloring. I think Art almost went blind coloring our more than 450 elves and animals found in the Great Mrs. Claus North Pole Maps! His strong creative eye pulled all the loose ends together.

We all plan to team up for the next book in the Claus Diaries series.

I like your use of the rhyming scheme in Sparky's story; did you decide to use this because of the classic story The Night Before Christmas?

The Night Before Christmas was certainly an influencing factor. I’ve told that poem from memory literally hundreds if not thousands of times over the past 25 years, so it’s etched into my consciousness. The poem’s meter and rhyming couplets can certainly hold an audience.

In the book, Sparky is dealing with two easily distracted and impatient adolescents. Rassle and Klee-Klee are bursting with hormones and youthful energy. He knows he has to compete for their attention, so his use of telling the Great Mrs. Claus poem lends a splash of theatre to his cause. Poetry can be fun, you know!

The Great Mrs. Claus offers a number of morals to readers, including, “no one is perfect, we all have our flaws,” and “you're never too young or too old to show love.”

What was one of the most important lessons you remember learning when you were a child?

Unconditional love. No matter what kind of trouble I found myself in, my parents were always there for me. And yes, we were not a perfect family, but always a deeply loving family.

When I was 14 and just beginning high school, I had a serious accident that hospitalized me for several months. My folks never left my side during that time. Dad needed to work, but he always made it back to the hospital to check in on his boy. My mom was my guardian angel. She did practically everything for me during that time – I can never thank her enough. I’ve tried to pass that quality of love along to our own children. I hope I’ve done a good enough job of that.

The Great Mrs. Claus gives a good account of Santa's history from adolescence to adulthood. How did you arrive at that?

It’s important that readers consider a Santa with a past, and that he developed over many years into the wise and experienced legend he’s become. I also wanted my version of Santa’s history to be instilled with a healthy dose of human believability. In my mind, Santa didn’t just add water to himself and “POOF”, instantly appear fully-grown, mature and informed as the polished Santa we know today. Through his own set of ups and downs, he earned his stripes and the right to his greatness – and the same for Mrs. Claus.

And of course I wanted to show how Mrs. Claus helped him pull that greatness all together. In life I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of a good woman – Santa never did, and we see where it got him!

What made you choose to have Santa Claus come from such humble beginnings?

I couldn’t imagine his childhood any other way. I felt it was his humble beginnings and personal struggles that made possible his huge capacity for human compassion and kindness. Somehow depicting a “holier than thou” Santa or Mrs. Claus born and raised from a life of wealth and privilege just seemed wrong.

Like a child’s heart, I also believe Santa’s heart is a “humble heart”, a heart that knows and understands the power of simplicity, love, laughter and happiness.

In some of the illustrations, the North Pole’s icecaps appear to have thawed.  Is that a sign of the times?

It is.  With today’s heightened understanding of global warming, who can ignore the effects of our melting polar icecaps?  I wanted to depict a North Pole that somewhat keeps pace with our modern realities of what’s happening to our planet.  Not to worry though – Santa and Mrs. Claus’ world will never be underwater – they won’t tolerate that.  Besides, the elves are clever problem solvers and they’re helping the planet go green!

The visual and sensory descriptions throughout the book are extremely vivid. How long has your vision of the North Pole been developing?

Since I was a very young child growing up in snow country. Back in the day, I’d play in the freezing cold from sunup to sundown. With my brothers and neighborhood kids, we sledded, ice-skated, rolled snowmen, burrowed tunnels under snow drifts, made crude igloos (all of which fell in on us – how do Eskimos do it?), had snowball fights that resembled meteor showers, pulled icicles larger than tribal spears off awnings (yikes!), and if this doesn’t sound too corny, we made snow angels that looked like they could take flight with the slightest breeze. What could be more fun than snow, as long as there’s a warm place to retreat to!

Is the Mrs. Claus in your book like anyone we’d meet today?

Yes, I think we all recognize traits of Mrs. Claus in the people we know today. Traits like humor, intelligence, stick-to-itiveness, compassion, playfulness and tolerance.  Personally, she possesses traits shared by my wife, my mother and a few other outstanding women in my life.  None of us are perfect, but what a wonderful personality package to aspire to!  People understand Mrs. Claus is Santa’s wife, but beyond that, they really didn’t know who this woman is.  As my wife portrays her, she is a lot more than Santa’s passive sidekick.  Her Mrs. Claus is intelligent, funny, compassionate, opinionated… a real leader and distinct person – she is definitely larger-than-life and fun, fun, fun!

Klee-Klee and Rassle are both vibrant personalities. Are the young elves based on children you know personally?

Yes, but neither Klee-Klee nor Rassle represent a single person I know. In fact, those characters were created from a collection of specific children’s personalities and traits in our own family, our friend’s families and the children we’ve entertained over the years at our live performances. The great benefit of performing Santa Claus is that you get to meet, listen to and share stories, dreams and wishes with so many children at a time when they’re emotionally supercharged. Believe me, I’ve met some very bright, energetic and enlightened kids as Mr. Claus. And I’m happy to report, that just like Rassle and Klee-Klee in the book, the world is still turning out some pretty awesome kids!

What advice do you give to parents when their children reach Rassle's age and say that they've outgrown the need for kisses and all that silly stuff?

Touching is good for the soul. Everyone, especially children need to feel connected and considered. It may not be with a kiss, but a hug, an arm around the shoulder, a playful nudge or a handshake can all make a child or adult feel loved, present and accounted for.

How important do you feel it is to show affection for those you love throughout the entire year and not just during the holidays?

Mighty important, because you never know when it will be your last time to show it.

Here’s what I mean.... My father, whom I was very close to, died suddenly, accidentally. I clearly remember our last conversation, as if it was yesterday. We talked briefly in the kitchen after midnight before going to bed. He leaned his hip against the edge of the countertop near the sink. He was wearing his boxer shorts, the big loose kind we middle-aged men like to wear and nothing else.

Dad worked late that day and just finished packing his luggage with my Mother. Before sunrise that next morning, they’d be gone for a 10-day snowmobiling vacation. It was a few days after Christmas, and he wanted me to vacation with the family between Christmas and the start of the New Year. I couldn’t go because of a job, and he told me how much he’d miss me on that trip. “Sure you don’t want to go?” he asked, double-checking. I wanted to, but work needed me. We both grabbed a drink from the fridge, he said something, we laughed about it, and then we hugged. That was the last time I saw him alive. I can’t remember what was so funny then, but I can still feel that hug we shared over 23 years ago.

With my Dad, I have no regrets, no second-guessing. That last hug still reminds me of his love.

You mention in the book that Klee-Klee looks to Mrs. Claus as a role model. Do you believe Mrs. Claus should be a role model for all readers?

Yes I do. Although no one can be perfect, in my mind Mrs. Claus comes close to it. She’s enlightened, wise and one very cool lady. She celebrates people for who they are, while she protects and honors who she is. If Rudyard Kipling had not written his famous poem “If”, I believe Mrs. Claus would have. Above it all, she possesses the power of laughter. On The Great Mrs. Claus book cover, she’s cracking up a group of elves with a silly joke – that’s your typical Mrs. Claus. I happen to believe that laughter cures all, or something close to that. She’s worthy of our admiration.

Both Klee-Klee and Rassle love the gifts they receive from Sparky. What is the most memorable Christmas present you have ever received?

Good question. There are so many to remember, but a particularly memorable one was one I received just a few years ago that took 20 years in the making. It was Christmas Eve, 2007, and my wife and I had just finished our last Mr. and Mrs. Claus performance of the season. We were exhausted and walking along the sidewalk in Old Pasadena looking for a place to eat dinner when my cellular phone rang. I answered it to hear a Chinese voice wishing me “Merry Christmas” on the other end of the line. At first, since my cell number is private, I thought it was a prank call and I almost hung up before the caller convinced me to hang on.

It turned out the caller was a former Chinese student who shared a Christmas Eve celebration with my wife and myself in central Mainland China exactly 20 years to the day prior to that call. He’d remembered how special that experience was at Christmastime, and he wanted us to know that. He was thinking about us that evening – at that very moment, and he wished us a Merry Christmas. My wife and I stood frozen on the sidewalk, flabbergasted and deeply touched by his gesture.

You never know how your life will affect another’s. His call was a profound reminder that even our most random acts and human exchanges can matter. What a gift!

What are some of your hobbies or favorite pastimes outside of writing?

I love to read of course.

Travel is tops on my hobby list too. Hans Christian Anderson once said, “To Travel is to Live!” and to me, he hit the nail on the head. I feel the most alive and curious when I’m out of the country, on the road, and away from my usual surroundings. I actually collect some of my best writing leads when traveling abroad. Since my teenage years, I’ve been fortunate to live in Guatemala, China, France, Hawaii, Canada, Ohio and California and travel to dozens of other countries, states and provinces. The variety and influence of other world cultures has definitely shaped who I am. Having said that, America is a blessed country, and I’m always proud and joyful to return home and be domestic.

Collecting art glass is another hobby of mine. I’m always on the prowl for unusual art glass pieces of the hand blown variety. My collection has grown into the hundreds by now. On my trips to Italy, I always save up to buy one or two special pieces of Murano art glass – that glass is exquisite.

At one point in the story, the North Pole is hit by a violent snowstorm called the "Black Arctic Snow."  Did you have a real life experience with such a storm?

Two actually.  As a kid growing up in Ohio, I particularly remember the blizzard of 1977.  It snowed a lot in those days, and after this one spectacular snowstorm, the snow measured higher than 2 feet deep.  School shut down for nearly 2 weeks, and we kids played outside until we were blue in the face!  My hands ached from shoveling our sidewalks and driveway, and high winds in our area created snowdrifts that completely covered a few of our rural one-story houses.  We even rode our snowmobile over the rooftop of a house buried in a snowdrift below us. Now that was a snowstorm.  

My other “black arctic snowstorm” occurred in 1998.  I’d traveled to Iceland with my family and we we’re ending our last day on the trip by warming up in a bubbling hot pool of geothermal water known as “The Blue Lagoon.”  It’s a world famous place to visit both for its scenic beauty and the water’s curative powers.  As we looked out beyond the North-Atlantic Ocean’s horizon, we saw a massive black wall of weather that filled the sky quickly moving straight for us.  As it neared, we could see lightening striking inside its blackness.  Within minutes, we were engulfed in a blizzard of ice, snow and high winds strong enough to knock a grown man off his feet – I know because it knocked me off mine!  Blizzards and storms have always been a part of my life.

Will this book provide answers to many age-old Christmas mysteries?

Some, but I hope not all! That way there’ll always be plenty more mysteries and discoveries to write about. The Great Mrs. Claus will certainly fill in some gaps about why Mrs. Claus is who she is.

When will your next book be released?

The plan is for February of 2011.  That will be the first book from the “diaries series” – the intimate journal entries of Mr. and Mrs. Claus.  It’s a compendium of all things North Pole if you will – and chock-full of secrets and surprises.  It’s well under way and in the works.  I’m extremely excited about this project!