When I was small, I wanted to do everything my older sisters did: listen to Beatles albums, dress up our dolls, watch television shows. Left to my own devices, I liked making up stories, using my stuffed animals as characters, exploring our neighborhood on my bicycle, climbing on rocks at the beach, swimming, reading, and taunting my sisters.
What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
I remember jumping on my father after reading HOP ON POP. I loved all the Dr. Seuss books. I loved animal stories, too: RASCAL, THE YEARLING, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, and STUART LITTLE. As I got older, I liked adventure stories, like MRS. MIKE, about a woman who marries a Canadian man and they travel by dog sled to the far North. And as a teen, I read GONE WITH THE WIND at least six times. I’m not sure how that influenced me—or whether the influence was good or bad!
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?
When I was three or four years old, my mother used to hear numerous voices coming from behind my closed bedroom door and worry about me. She called a cousin who was a psychologist and asked if she should be concerned about me making up so many stories and voices. The cousin said that as long as I stopped by the time I went to college, I’d be okay! I stopped writing stories when I was in high school, when my English teachers begin assigning essays. I began to believe that I was not creative and couldn’t write. I hated writing essays—they’re still a struggle for me, even though I’ve published quite a few magazine and newspaper articles. It wasn’t until I’d been out of college for a few years that I regained my interest in writing stories, and then I had to find a very kind and supportive writing teacher to help me get over my fears about showing them to anyone.
When you were a child did you ever have moments when you decided that you were going to be a writer when you grew up?
I don’t recall having any idea as a child as to what I’d do when I grew up. I didn’t take my writing and storytelling seriously. It wasn’t until after college, when I felt a strong compulsion to write, that I began to consider working as a writer.
What audience did you have in mind for your career as a writer - adult or children?
After college, I worked with at-risk and adjudicated teenagers in wilderness challenge and community service programs. I started having ideas for children’s stories, and I took several creative writing classes to gain confidence in writing them. My ideas for adults began to take the form of non-fiction articles, which I submitted to magazines and newspapers. For example, a trip to Russia led to my getting articles published in Walking Magazine and the now-defunct Maine Times.
When you went to college, were you already pursuing a writing career? (or a career in illustrating? or just art in general?)
I had no idea what career I’d pursue when I went to college. In fact, I didn’t even want to go to college because I felt so directionless. I wanted to work and travel. I wanted to “gain life experience.” I did go to college, however, right after high school. I let my parents convince me that it was the best option. I spent one year at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where I had a lot of fun socializing and staying up late but fell asleep reading my textbooks. School seemed pointless to me. I tried again to leave, but my parents again convinced me to keep going, and we compromised: I spent my sophomore year in Bogota, Colombia, living with a Colombian family, going to school, and traveling. Then I spent my last two years at Mt. Holyoke College, where I still felt directionless but had figured out that I liked 1) reading Latin American novels such as Gabriel Garcia’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and 2) speaking Spanish, and 3) studying history. I elected to write a 70-page thesis in my senior year, and I found the process of researching and writing such a long paper both excruciatingly challenging and very exciting. I graduated with honors—and still didn’t have a clue what to do with my life, except for a vague desire to “be outdoors and help people.” That’s when I went to work with teenagers.
What gave you the idea for NOT LIKE YOU?
The inspiration for NOT LIKE YOU came from an image that came to me one day of a girl finding her drunken mother passed out on the floor of their New Mexico trailer. The girl was concerned and furious. I wondered, what brought these two to this point? How will the girl resolve her conflicting feelings of love and fury? How will she find a stable life and satisfying love for herself, having had such an unreliable mother? This girl’s dilemma intrigued me, and so I began writing Kayla’s story.
Have any of your books earned special recognition?
I’m proud to say that each of my books has earned special recognition. My first novel, THE SECRET OF THE SEAL (Crown, 1989) was an IRA Teacher’s Choice and won the Maine Student Book Award. My second novel, MY BROTHER HAS AIDS (Atheneum, 1994) received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and was included in the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age, as was my third book, the anthology YOU LOOK TOO YOUNG TO BE A MOM: TEEN MOTHERS SPEAK OUT ON LOVE, LEARNING, AND SUCCCESS (Perigee, 2004). My newest novel, the contemporary YA novel NOT LIKE YOU (Clarion, 2007), received a starred review in School Library Journal.
What do you most want the students to get out of your school visits?
When I visit schools, I want students to become more at ease and more confident with their own writing—and I want their teachers gain that as well. My workshops and presentations encourage all writers, but particularly the reluctant ones. I think that’s because I was a reluctant writer—and I now believe the reluctant ones usually have the most to write about. I’ve had many teachers say to me that I was able to get their most resistant students to write, and that doesn’t surprise me because I connect well with those students as well as with the more enthusiastic ones. There’s more about my school and conference presentations at my web site, www.deborahdavisauthor.com, plus lots of other info about me, my books, and writing.