HANS NESS didn’t particularly like literature classes in high school. But he did love words, so he started his career as a 7th-12th grade English teacher, where he got to teach literature and writing the way he wished he were taught. And now he writes the type of stories he liked to teach — ones with deeper layers of meaning and thought-provoking questions worthy of class discussion.

Ness takes inspiration from storytelling across all media. He admires how animated movies in particular are written to engage all ages, so on the surface kids see a funny adventure, while adults may appreciate the nuances of the character conflicts. Acting in community theater was one of his hobbies, where he learned how characters connect with the audience. In college, he studied psychology, which he uses to add dimension to his characters. He also dabbles in art and helps sketch ideas for the illustrations.

Ness’ brisk writing style makes each word count. He indulges in the sounds of words, composing interludes of lyrical prose and verse, and scripting casual dialog in fun dialects. His distinctive humor ranges from wry to laugh-out-loud.

Born in Silicon Valley and currently living in Pacifica, California, Ness is also a prodigious tech-head. After teaching, he founded the ed-tech company

Rolo the Pet Earthling is Ness’ debut novel. The idea first came when writing a video about psychology. He imagined how outsiders would explain human behavior, so he wrote a pet guide from the perspective of aliens who keep earthlings as pets. As he had the video illustrated, the characters came alive, and they had a story to tell. He is now working on a sequel.

To peek inside the author’s mind, this Study Guide explains each choice Ness made in writing this story.