Frequently Asked Questions
1) Where did you grow up?
I was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. Not on the beach, of course – but across from the Daytona International Speedway. I spent my “formative years” in Silver Lake, Ohio. That’s not the same Silver Lake Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about, but it’s a beautiful place that was once an amusement park. I moved, in my teens, to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I went to college at the University of Tulsa, which is where I met my husband, J.J. Our first child was born in Tulsa. We moved to Houston when she was in Kindergarten. Our son was born here, and here we’ve stayed for the past twenty years.
2) What kinds of books did you read when you were growing up?
What kinds of books didn’t I read? My mom once joked that she used to read me chapters of her Psychology textbooks when I was just a baby. She had to study, but also wanted to hold me close, talk to me, and share with me the joy of reading. Just a few months old, I really didn’t care what the book was, but I’m sure I loved the sound of the words. My mom was majoring in Psychology and Early Childhood Education, so thanks to her classes on Children’s Literature, I had well-stocked bookshelves as a kid. I had my rebellious streak, too – if the book had a silver or gold award sticker on the cover, I avoided it like Brussels sprouts. Obviously, it was one of those books that was supposed to be “good for you,” just like veggies. It took me a while to realize that “good for you” could also be quite tasty.
3) Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Always? I’m not sure. I found some little “books” I wrote when I was in grade school, so it’s possible. I don’t think I ever thought “I want to be a writer!” though, until around 5th grade. My parents had always encouraged me in writing, art, music – but in 5th grade, my English teacher took an interest in my writing and led me to think I might be good at it. Red ink has never bothered me the way it does some writers, because I knew this teacher was taking extra time out of her day to read every thought and story I scribbled down for her – the comments she penned in red up the margins helped me to become a better writer, but they also meant that she was really reading, not just saying, “Oh, that’s nice,” just to make me feel better about myself.
4) How long does it take to write a book?
As long as it takes. A New Leaf for Lyle, which is only 42 pages, has been in the works for three years. Of course, the illustrator, Carrie Salazar, got the hardest job on this particular book – I think surely it must be easier to write the story than to bring the characters to life through illustrations! We spent weeks poring over both – and asked for lots of feedback – before we called it “done.” Even after it was done, we went over the printed proofs numerous times, even adjusting things by a few pixels here and there to get them just right.
5) Do you write every day?
6) What would you tell a kid who wants to be a writer?
Treasure your imagination. Smile sweetly at anyone who tells you to “stop daydreaming” or “get real” or “stop thinking up such nonsense” – but don’t stop daydreaming or imagining, ever. You have to have one foot in reality at all times, but that’s no reason to kill off the imaginary friends or fantastic places that exist only in your head.
Tell your stories often – babysitting can be great practice, because little kids like to hear stories. Write them down while they’re still fresh in your mind. At first, the spelling and grammar aren’t so important; you want to capture the characters and their tales quickly, and not judge them “good” or “bad” or “silly” or “stupid.” Because they are never those things. They come from inside your wonderful brain, and brains are complex, curious things. Indulge your brain – ask lots of questions. Feed your brain with books and experiences.
At the same time, remember to pay attention in Language Arts (which we used to just call “English”) and develop the vital skills of reading and writing. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are the tools of a writer. They may seem like a chore when they’re new to you and difficult, but once you grasp them as easily as speaking to your mother, your writing will become clear and powerful and touch other people’s brains and imaginations.
And write. But every day? I’ll tell you what my daughter’s violin teacher told her about practicing music – write only on the days you eat.