- Where did you grow up?
I grew up mainly in Colorado, West Virginia and Delaware. Because of my father’s job, we moved frequently. By the time I was in fourth grade I had attended five schools in four states! We lived in Littleton, Colorado from the time I was eight until I was sixteen, so that’s really where I “grew up.” We moved back to Wilmington, Delaware when I was sixteen and I attended the same school I had attended for the first half of kindergarten. After high school I went to college in Massachusetts. During my freshman year, my parents moved to West Virginia (where I had gone to first and second grades). Confusing, isn’t it? You can see why I have a hard time answering the question, “where are you from?”
- Did you always want to be a writer?
No. First, I wanted to be an actress. Actually, what I wanted to be was Hayley Mills. I watched all her movies and I thought she must have the perfect life. That was until I realized actors had to be comfortable being the center of attention. I wasn’t. Once I learned to read, my interest turned to storytelling. By the time I was in fifth grade, I wanted, more than anything, to create stories like the ones I read in the books I checked out of the library and ordered from the Scholastic Book Club. That desire grew over time as I continued to fall deeper in love with literature and poetry.
I suppose it was the political climate of the sixties that sparked my interest in becoming a lawyer. My uncle was U.S. Attorney in South Carolina during the Kennedy administration and, listening to him talk about his work, ignited a passion for law. I wanted to do both; be a lawyer and a writer. This is more common than you might think. Many lawyers secretly (or not so secretly), want to write. I practiced law for fourteen years until I had to stop to take care of family members who were critically ill. Writing saved me during those years. Writing had always been my secret passion. Over time, it became my vocation.
- What do you do in your spare time?
Read books. Take long walks. Go to plays. Read books. Ride my bike. Attend a weekly French Conversation Table. Read books. Try out new recipes. Play music (badly, I’m afraid). Read books. Volunteer at the Colonial Williamsburg Art Museums. Paddle a canoe. Read books. Shovel snow (Really. I love doing this. The neighbors think I’m crazy. But we only have one or two serious snows a year and I love snow.) Afterwards, I love to come inside, get cozy and ________ ________. [Hint: rhymes with “Feed rooks.”]
- Where do you get your ideas?
Ah, there’s the mystery. Ideas comes partly from experience. But, that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. My stories always start with a character. When I’m lucky, that character’s voice will come into my head. He or she starts talking about something that is troubling them and I am off and running. Unfortunately, the voice never sticks around long enough to tell the whole story. They merely introduce themselves and then leave me to figure out what happens next. Figuring out the story takes patience and concentration and determination. It is part self-hypnosis, part imagination and part plain old hard work. It means being willing to take wrong turns and meander down blind alleys and then toss things out and start again. The most satisfying days are when a character comes fully alive in my mind. It doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, that is a most satisfying writing day.
- Where do you write?
I am most comfortable writing at home. It can be in our family room or the kitchen or my bedroom or the room over the garage. As long as it is quiet, I love working in my house. I feel safe and I am not distracted by unfamiliar voices or things.
- When do you write?
Before my husband retired, I was strictly a morning writer. Our routine has shifted now. I still prefer writing in the morning, but I will often go back to work very late at night when the house and the neighborhood are silent. I think it’s because there are no distractions and I become lost in the world I’m creating.
- What are some of your favorite books?
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
- Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
- Skellig by David Almond
- Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay
- A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
- Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
- The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan
- Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall
- A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker
- Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy
- Me … Jane by Patrick McDonnell
- Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James
- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
- Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman
- Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian
- Mammalabilia by Douglas Florian
- What were you like as a kid?
I read all the time. I loved ghost stories and mysteries. I was always looking for real-life mysteries to solve around our neighborhood, but I never found one. If my friends and I weren’t in school or doing homework, we were outside—riding bikes, ice skating, skiing, jumping on a trampoline, skate-boarding or swimming in a pool. I took piano lessons for five years, but I was never any good at it. Still, I always loved music. I sang in choirs and performed in school plays.
- Is writing hard for you?
YES! But, when it works, it’s the best feeling.
- How many drafts do you write?
Too many to count.
- Where do you live?
I live in Williamsburg, Virginia, four miles from Colonial Williamsburg. I love being so close to history. I am constantly learning new things about our country’s beginnings.