Below are some of the questions I get asked most often by students working on book reports. Be sure to also check out the following pages for additional information.
Biography: Includes information about where I was born, all the places I’ve lived, what my favorite books were when I was a kid, etc…
What inspired you to write Falling In
I think probably one of the most common kid fantasies around is the one about stumbling onto a hidden world. Everyone loves the beginning of The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis for that very reason. A few years ago I decided I wanted to write a book about a girl who discovers a school beneath her school (I thought this up while dropping my son Jack off at his school on a rainy day, the exact right sort of day for imagining such a thing). Thus, Isabelle Bean was born.
It took me a long time to figure out the story. I’m not much of a fantasy reader (though I love The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander), so it took me a long to figure out the rules. For instance, when you fall into a whole new world, what’s happening in the world you left? Does anybody know you’re gone? Does time stop when you’re away?
I loved writing Falling In because it was so different from other books I’ve written. Because it wasn’t a first-person narrative, I could play around more with the narration and the language—I didn’t have to “stay in character.” Will I write another book like Falling In? I don’t know yet. Stay tuned!
What inspired you to write The Kind of Friends We Used to Be
The Kind of Friends We Used to Be is the continuation of The Secret language of Girls, with Kate and Marylin now in seventh grade, sort of friends and sort of not. I wanted to know what was happening with the two of them, so I sat down and started writing, to find out. Now I’m getting letters and e-mails from readers asking me if I’ll write more about Kate and Marylin, and the answer is most definitely yes. I have to know what happens next!
What inspired you to write Shooting the Moon
This was actually my husband’s idea. I was looking around for something to write about, and he suggested I write about a girl who was an Army Brat—that is, a kid whose mom or dad served in the U.S. Army. He figured that since I’d been an Army Brat myself, I’d know a thing or two about the subject. At first I didn’t think this was the greatest idea in the world, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.
It was fun to write about the way I’d grown up—like answer the phone “Col. O’Roark’s quarters, Missy speaking” (Missy was my childhood nickname) and some of the places I’d lived, like Fort Hood, Texas. Although what happens to Jamie and her family didn’t happen to mine (my older brother was much too young to serve in Vietnam—he wasn’t even a teenager at the time), I took a lot of my Army Brat experience and made it Jamie’s.
What inspired you to write Dovey Coe
I wanted to write a book set in the mountains of North Carolina, way back in the day, because I love everything about the mountains–the music, the folklore, and the arts and crafts. I started with a vague idea of writing a story about a girl and her brother, and then one day this voice came into my head and said, “My name is Dovey Coe, and I reckon it don’t matter if you like me or not.” The rest is history.
What inspired you to write Where I’d Like to Be
I got the idea for writing about a girl in foster care after volunteering in a group foster home very much like the one Maddie lives in. I was interested in writing about friendships that are made under difficult circumstances. At first I thought Maddie and Murphy would be good friends, but as I wrote the book that started to change. I realized that Murphy was a person with a lot of secrets. It’s hard to be good friends with somebody when you don’t know the whole truth about who they are.
What inspired you to write The Secret Language of Girls
When I was nine, my family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. The first person I met was a girl named Suzie, who I immediately wanted to be best friends with. As it happened, another girl moved to our neighborhood about the same time I did, and she also wanted to be best friends with Suzie. I guess Suzie liked the attention, because for the next two and a half years, she would be best friends with Virginia for awhile and they’d give me the silent treatment, and then she’d turn around and be best friends with me, and we’d give Virginia the silent treatment. Finally, sometime around sixth grade, Virginia and I realized that we had much more in common with each other than either of us had with Suzie, and we became friends with each other and a whole group of neat kids who were smart and liked books.
What inspired you to write Chicken Boy
I started writing Chicken Boy when I lived in the suburbs of Raleigh, NC. North Raleigh is one of those places that just won’t stop growing, but driving around you’ll see little pockets of leftover rural communities tucked in between the subdivisions. I was interested in what it would like to be a country kid who goes to the school with kids who have no idea that people who say “yes ma’am” and “y’all” still exist. So the character of Tobin McCauley was born, and his story grew out of that triggering idea.
What inspired you to write Phineas L. MacGuire … Erupts!
My son Jack really likes to read, but since he’s only seven, he’s too young to read most of the books I’ve written. So I decided to write one I thought he and his friends would like, and since he’s pretty interested in scientific matters, I decided to write a book about a kid who’s a serious scientist. It was fun for me and Jack to try out the experiments that Mac (aka Phineas L. MacGuire) does in the book. Look for more Phineas L. MacGuire books to come!
What inspired you to write Phineas L. MacGuire … Blasts Off!
and Phineas L. MacGuire Gets Slimed
More adventures with Mac! It’s been a lot of fun for me to work on this series, because I’ve learned so much—about volcanoes, slime mold and outer space, just to name a few things. When I sit down to write, I never know what’s going to happen, and Mac, Ben and Aretha always manage to surprise me.
How did you become a writer?
I started writing poetry when I was in first or second grade, and that’s all I really wrote for years and years. It wasn’t until I was almost thirty that I started writing stories. I’d been re-reading some of my favorite children’s books (like Harriet the Spy, and The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder) and decided that I wanted to write books for young people, too. I wrote a sort of practice novel (which is still at the bottom of a drawer somewhere) and a few months later wrote the first draft of Dovey Coe. It would be several years before I wrote a second draft. In the meantime, I worked at a variety of jobs, including motel housekeeper, legal secretary, and arts administrator.
When one of my friends, a writer, met a children’s book editor, she asked if I could send this editor some of my work to look at. The editor said yes. I sent her chapters from Dovey Coe and The Secret Language of Girls (which was the fourth book I wrote — there was another book, too, the book I wrote after Dovey Coe (but way before Dovey Coe got published — it’s confusing, I know) that wasn’t ultimately good enough to be published). She wrote me to say she was actually leaving book publishing to become a writer herself, but I should send the entire manuscript Dovey Coe to her colleague, Caitlyn Dlouhy, who at that time was also an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Caitlyn read Dovey Coe and rejected it. She wrote me a nice letter saying she liked Dovey, the character, a lot, but that the rest of the book needed work. She gave me some good advice for revising, and told me that if I did revise the book I should send the revision to her. Which I did, a year later. By then, Caitlyn was an editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers, a division of Simon & Schuster. She liked the revision and agreed to publish it. She still made me do a bunch more revisions, though! (She always does.)
I’ve been writing books (and Caitlyn’s been editing my books) ever since.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
No, although I always wrote (mostly poetry when I was younger). My career choices included cartoonist, painter (I can’t paint, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to be an artist), and radio disc jockey. In fact, I went to college thinking I would go into radio (I love music, but don’t have much musical talent), but fell under the influence of poetry and ended up majoring in English. It wasn’t until I was almost thirty that I decided I wanted to write children’s books.
Where do you get your ideas?
I’m inspired by all sorts of things — what I read in the paper, things that happened to me growing up, and just the stuff I wonder about when I’m driving around.
What advice do you have for young writers?
Read, read, read, write, write, write. Writing is like anything, you have to practice to get good at it. So if you’re serious about writing, make time to write every day. If you don’t know what to write about, write about your life. Keep a journal. Do character sketches of people you go to school with.
I don’t know many writers, even famous writers, who just sit down and write brilliant books without breaking a sweat. Most writers I know, including myself, write lousy or only so-so first drafts, make improvements, get feedback, and revise, revise, revise. All this to say: don’t expect to be perfect. Let yourself make mistakes. Do a lousy job — and then go back and do a better one.
Can you visit my school?
It depends. Sometimes it’s hard for me to travel a lot, because I’ve got a lot of family commitments. But if you’d like me to visit, you can have your teacher or librarian send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where and when do you write?
I have two writing spots: my desk and my bed. Wherever I am, I write on a computer (laptop when I’m working on my bed), and mostly I write at night (my children are still pretty young and make it hard to write during the day). When I’m working on a book, I like to sit down at the same time every night so my imagination knows when to get going.