I loved reading. It was like traveling to other universes without leaving the house. My house, I should mention, was a busy, busy, busy place. I was the oldest of seven children and all of us were always running around. My Dad loved to sing and we'd sing, too. Not a quiet environment. When I wasn't making noise with the others, I was escaping into another world in a book. Or I was roller skating. There was a school near our house and on weekends we could go there and skate on all the ramps and sidewalks. It was wonderful. We had a trapeze in our back yard and I loved swinging on it and doing tricks. And I loved twirling a baton.
What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
Any of the Nancy Drew books, ones featuring Pippi Longstocking and LITTLE WOMEN. I liked the first two because they were curious and planned their own adventures. I loved LITTLE WOMEN because I could relate to the thoughts and feelings of the four girls.
Did you write stories when you were growing up? at school? Or at home as a hobby? As a young child, or as a teenager, or both?
Some writers talk about how they wrote stories from a young age. I didn't do that but what I did do was plan stage shows. I would put together a stage in our back yard. It was usually the picnic table. We'd stand on top of it and sing. I'd get my brothers and sisters or the neighbor kids to do their own “act.” Then, I'd make tickets and the neighbors would have to get a ticket to come to our show. I don't remember that we sold the tickets. But I do remember we had an audience.
When you were a child did you ever have a moment when you decided that you were going to be a writer when you grew up?
I enjoyed writing stories for school. In 7th grade I wrote about an experience and my teacher sent it off to a magazine and my story was published-my first publication. During college I had a great English teacher. I wrote funny stories for him but didn't really imagine becoming a writer. I became a high school teacher. After a few years, I traveled to Africa and I was so fascinated by what I saw and so eager to share my experiences with my family and friends that I got really interested in writing about traveling. That's when I decided to be a writer. It wasn't until a few years after that that I started writing magazine articles. My first article was about a kinetic sculpture race, of all things.
What audience did you have in mind for your career as a writer - adult or children?
I wrote lots and lots of magazine articles for adults for several years before I ever thought about writing for kids. A magazine article I wrote on women inventors led to my first book, Women Invent! I got the idea from a conversation with my friend's father who was the inventor of the fabric softener Bounce! I asked an editor at a magazine if she would like to have a story about the story behind household inventions. She said yes but then she wanted to hear about household inventions created by women. By the time I finished the article I had lots of stories but since there were already two books for adults about women inventors, I decided to try to write one for kids. That's how I came to write for kids. Kids Inventing!, my second book, grew out of interest in Women Invent! When I talked to kids about women inventors, they wanted to know about girl inventors. I started doing research and that ended up in a book. Now I am working on other books for kids.
Do you focus on fiction or nonfiction? Which do you prefer? Do you find one easier than the other?
I'm a non-fiction writer. It's fun. I've tried fiction and even wrote some funny cartoons for Sesame Street but I love discovering real details about an event or a person. Lots of the research involves talking to people. I could never make up what people tell me or what I learn from watching them. Want to know what I mean? Would you believe I wrote a story on a bed race? People from a town in Northern California put on their pajamas and raced beds through the streets. At another event people ate food made from banana slugs. Can you imagine? Slugetti was one of the dishes. It was fun to write about.
I've also written articles on interesting people-some athletes and TV stars, on construction of famous buildings like the Disney Concert Hall and I've written about places I've traveled, i.e. Malaysia or Mexico or Hawaii. Writing non-fiction allows me to have adventures and then to write about them. That's why I like doing it.
Do you do other types of writing - for example, educational, nonfiction, magazine work?
I've written magazine articles, radio stories, scripts for educational films, study guides for educational films, and jingles for radio ads.
Was your first book accepted immediately? or did you experience a number of rejections?
I submitted a book proposal with a sample chapter to a bunch of publishers for my first book, Women Invent! A bunch of publishers turned it down but I didn't get discouraged. I was also trying to get an agent. After the first set of rejections, I sent the proposal out to more agents and publishers and hoped for the best. On the same day I got back a letter from both a publisher and an agent. Both said they were interested so I had the agent contact the publisher. That worked out well. By the time, I was sending out the proposal for my second book, Kids Inventing!, I had a different agent. She sent the book proposal (again with a sample chapter) to about ten publishers. Many of them liked the proposal but didn't want to publish it. The company that did decide to publish it was the best one I could have hoped for so I was lucky.