When I was in grade school, my teachers decided I was just about the dumbest thing to come through the door in a long time. Whatever the lesson, whatever the subject, I would sit and listen to them with a lost, glassy-eyed expression on my face. If they asked me a question, I would struggle as if awakening from a nap, then frown, shrug, and shake my head. I didn’t know the answer. I usually didn’t even know the question.

What my teachers didn’t understand was that the moment they started talking, I teleported myself into a completely different world. Sure, I might be in the classroom, but it was a classroom where water was suddenly sluicing in from underneath the doors. Quick! I needed to rescue Nancy Bootman from the surging flood. Now we were being swept out the open window in a powerful waterfall, the roar so loud I could barely hear Nancy shout “Bruce! I love you, Bruce!”

I have never been able to pay attention to anything for more than a few minutes—the stories in my head have always been so much more entertaining. Only books could pull me out of my own imagination, and then it was only to plunge me into someone else’s.

One day in fourth grade I was assigned to write a short story. I’m pretty sure my teacher thought I’d turn in crayon drawing or something, which was why she was stunned to get 28 pages of long-handed prose.

For me, that writing assignment was a revelation. It had never occurred to me that I could take all the grand tales being spun by my feverish imagination and actually write them down. Now I could share my yarns with others. Now I could actually improve my stories—once I began putting them on paper, I saw ways to make them better, even stopping to rewrite scenes that I thought were finished.

Finally, all the stories in my head had a way out.

I started writing in fourth grade and never stopped. I faked my way through high school and nearly was flushed from college—I still can’t pay attention—and then had a series of day jobs. But always, continuously, I have written.

I am a newspaper columnist and a professional screenwriter, but my real love is the novel, for all the room it has for characters to come alive and breathe and face their challenges.

With the successful publication of A Dog’s Purpose, I was given a delightful and perhaps unique opportunity to basically write whatever I wanted, and the result is Emory’s Gift, a book that is at once a love poem to motherhood and a funny backward look at adolescence, a book that explores deeply spiritual themes and also touches on some of the most frivolous moments in a young boy’s life. For me it is the perfect melding of my passion for the written word and my utter enthrallment with the stories that still, to this day, bubble up in my brain.