don't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. I also
don't remember when I didn't know how to read. My mom says I taught
myself to read at age three, from TV commercials (back in the days
when TV commercials had writing on the screen.) The only time my
parents read to me was when I was too sick to read for myself (and
I would have to be VERY sick for that to happen!)
first desk was the clothes hamper in the bathroom. It was just the
right height to write on, if you sat on the toilet. Unfortunately,
our house only had one bathroom, so I only wrote when no one else
wanted in. It was on my clothes hamper desk that I wrote my first
published story, "My Doll Ann". I was seven years old
and it was published on the kids' page of our local newspaper. A
girl in my second grade said "My mother said you didn't write
that story. It was too good for a second grader." That was
one of the nicest things anyone ever said about my writing. (She
was wrong...I wrote it all by myself...in the bathroom.)
first I thought I would be a writer and illustrate my own books.
The trouble was, I couldn't draw boys. I couldn't draw animals either.
I figured this might hurt my career as a writer/illustrator, so
I concentrated on just writing. I wrote all through elementary school,
short stories and the first chapters of a bunch of books (somehow,
there never was a second chapter!)
ninth grade, I became the school correspondent for our local paper.
That meant that I had to turn in a column on school happenings every
single Monday. I learned really fast that the one thing everyone
likes is their name in the paper. So I learned to pay attention
to the little fun things that happened around school. My column
turned out to be a combination school events/gossip column. I had
so much fun writing it, that I was the school correspondent all
the way through high school.
high school I focused on writing short stories, because I could
finish them fast. I hardly ever rewrote anything, except to fix
the spelling. This was in the days before computers, so fixing something
misspelled on a typewriter was a big, messy deal.
I won a bunch of national and local short story contests. Then
I stopped writing for awhile. Being a school librarian took a lot
of time and energy, and I didn't have any left over to write seriously.
But I kept on reading and writing in my journal. I knew I'd get
back to the stories some day.
some day came when my husband was transferred to Bangkok, Thailand.
For the first time, I didn't have a job, and I DID have a lot of
free time. That was when I enrolled in the Vermont College MFA in
Writing for Children program, and got focused!
About a year later, I sold my first book, MY BEST FRIEND (which
will be published by Viking, sometime in 2005.)
I enrolled in the Vermont program, however, because there was one
book I really wanted to write, and I didn't know how to do it. That
book, about my childhood in Mississippi during the Civil Rights
era, became YANKEE GIRL.
I started to write the book as a memoir, or an autobiography. That's
when I realized that people's lives don't fall into neat little
chapters with high points and low points. I wrote about fifty pages
and thought "Gee, this is boring. But there's a good story
in here somewhere." So I took my story, and turned into the
fictional story of Alice Ann Moxley. Alice and I have a lot in common...FBI
agent fathers, frizzy hair, and a best friend in the boy-next-door.
Lots of the things that happened to Alice, happened to me. We did
get nasty anonymous phone calls from people telling us to move back
to Chicago. People from the Ku Klux Klan did park in front of our
house in a pink Cadillac, watching our every move. I did accidentally
stumble into a "colored" waiting room at my doctor's office.
But the story of Alice and Valerie is made up. That's what I like
about fiction. I can take real stuff that happened, and put it together
in a way where things come out better. At least I think so!
WHAT AM I DOING RIGHT NOW? Right now I am working on three books
at the same time, all based on family stories. One takes place in
the early 1900's, one in the 1920's and one during WWII. Yes, I
do like writing about other times in history. If I could wish for
one supernatural power, it would be to time travel!