I loved to play in the gathering of trees behind our house. There was an unofficial dump of sand, dirt, and this and that behind there too. A child’s dreamland! The neighbor kids and I found numerous treasures: parts of old cars, pieces of wood and cabinets from construction sites, and a broken doll, whose glassy eyes stared out at us. Sometimes we carried her around pretending she was sweet and innocent; other times she was a demon child. The doll, along with all of us, was a multitude of characters in the stories we acted out. We had a tree house, made mud pies and had treasure hunts and other adventures.
What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
My favorites included Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, The Moffats and The All of a Kind Family series and any book with large families in it, since I was an only child.
When you went to college, were you already pursuing a writing career?
I never knew it was an option. I double majored in elementary education and children’s theater. My passion was teaching and directing children’s plays. I moved from Wisconsin to California for a college with a children’s theater department. (I also moved for the nice weather!) My first careers were teaching elementary and middle school and directing plays for a children’s theater group. The jobs I had before I graduated: I was a shoe skiver in a shoe manufacturing plant ( it was awful -- I even had a Norma Ray moment in there.); a library page/assistant (loved it, – shelving and cataloging books was heaven); a summer school aide (also loved this); and the quirkiest of all . . . the Easter Bunny for a shopping mall. The real Easter Bunny couldn’t be there, so I had his gig.
What inspired you to start writing?
My decision to stay home with my son, Tofer (short for Christopher) when he was young. You know what happens when you have a baby and you’ve quit two careers to change diapers? Your brain turns to mush. I loved my son and I even didn’t mind the diapers, but I needed something creative to do during his nap time. So I started writing magazine and newspaper articles for adults. I wrote nonfiction and humorous personal experience pieces. Tofer didn’t understand I was a writer. He thought I was a typist. So I wrote a story about him to show him what I did for a living.
What gave you the idea for The ABCs of Writing for Children?
Several of us authors had spoken at a SCBWI conference that day, and later we gathered in a hotel room. We talked about the nitty gritty details of writing children’s books; discussed our agents, publishers and booksignings; gave each other our advice on plot, character, and voice; and rolled on the floor laughing with anecdotes that had happened to us at school visits and bookstores. Then I had an “ah-ha” moment. “Hey,” I said. “This is more important than our talks! This stuff should be in a BOOK!” Silence. They all looked at me. So 114 children’s authors and illustrators interviews are in this book. Richard Peck, Jane Yolen, Eve Bunting, Karen Cushman, Patricia Polacco, Rosemary Wells, Sid Fleischman, Bruce Coville, Chris Crutcher, Caroline Arnold, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Patricia McKissick . . .
What about John Muir and Stickeen an Alaskan Adventure?
I was reading a biography of John Muir when it mentioned his most exciting and memorable adventure was with a small terrier on a glacier in Alaska in 1880. I flew out of my chair, my own small terrier jumping out of my lap in surprise. I’m passionate about dogs and John Muir. So I rushed to the library to read his own words on the event. Second and fourth grade classrooms use my book in their classes as John Muir is part of the curriculum in these grades and it’s naturally a very dramatic, courageous tale.
Do you work on more than one project at a time?
Yes. I write a column for Byline Magazine, do some other freelance for magazines and newspapers, write fiction and nonfiction books. I don’t write two fiction books at the same time. But I can have different genres going at the same time.
What do you most want the students to get out of your school visits?
Because of my drama background, I apply creative dramatics to my storytelling to bring the literature alive. I want to make sure that students can’t wait to open a book, that history will excite them, that they will look at their lives in a humorous way since many of my books are humorous. Reading, writing and humor is good medicine for pain AND it’s fun!