My two favorite things were to read and to ride my horse around our Idaho ranch.
What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
I remember loving ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. At the time I read it, I had already determined that I was going to be a writer, and I hoped that I could someday write like L. M. Montgomery. I also loved Mark Twain's TOM SAWYER and the way it was written. Later, when I was 13, I read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, by Betty Smith. I totally identified with the character of Francie, even though she lived in the tenements of Brooklyn and I lived on an Idaho ranch. I began to see the power of writing when I read that book.
What audience did you have in mind for your career as a writer -- adult or children:
I first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about seven or eight. At that time I wanted to write for children my own age. When I lived in New York City, I took a writing class in which I produced stories for adults and started selling them to markets like the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Ladies' Home Journal. After we moved to Pasadena, I took another class in which several people were writing for young people. I sold several stories to Seventeen Magazine, and at that time decided my interests were in writing for teens and pre-teens.
When you went to college, were you already pursuing a writing career?
Yes. I started out in journalism, but decided I didn't want to do that kind of writing. So I majored in English and took every writing class available. I also served on the staff of the literary magazine and got involved in writing wherever I could.
Was your first book accepted immediately, or did you experience a number of rejections?
I used to call myself the "most rejected author in Southern California." I had a bursting file of rejection letters. Finally I decided that was self-defeating and burned them all when I did sell my first book.
Where do you get your ideas?
From everywhere. From my own life, from the lives of my friends, from newspapers, TV, radio. The trick is to recognize a good idea when it sweeps by. Some of my ideas just appear in my mind, and I never know where they came from. But I'm grateful they come and I immediately begin building on the good ones. I keep a notebook of ideas. Sometimes it's just a word or a name I want to use. Sometimes it's a situation. I've never had the experience of having a full-blown plot show up in my head, but I can hope!
What gave you the idea for LAKE OF SECRETS?
I got the idea back in 1991 when there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about Lake Isabella up near Kernville. This was a time of drought, and the man-made lake had receded so much that the foundations of the old town that was covered up when the area was flooded were visible after being covered by water for over 40 years. I was so intrigued by the idea that I went to Kernville to see where the old town had been and to walk along the old streets. I knew there was a story there somewhere. And there was!
Do you like to include humor in your stories? Or adventure? Or mystery?
All of the above. My early stories sold because of the humor in them. I always put some kind of humor in every book, in the form of a character or a situation, if only for comic relief. I have a couple of adventure books, and my most recent books have all been in the mystery/suspense field.
What do you most want the students to get out of your school visits?
An excitement about words and what they can do. Also a basic understanding of the structure of a story.