No one expected me to write books some day. Not in a million years. Neither did my teachers.
I grew up in Oakland , California, on a zoom-perfect hill for bikes and skateboards–except for the stop sign at the bottom.
In sixth grade, my teacher decided I should go down the hall to the Kindergarten once a week and read to the class. This might have been because I was a good reader. Most likely it’s because I was already done with the assignment and he wanted me out of there. Or possibly because, in my family, you had to be loud to be heard.
In seventh grade, I got to be a book club helper, the first person to open the box of NEW BOOKS and deliver them to classmates. The smell of new books is almost better than chocolate. But writing books never crossed my mind.
Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.
Exhibit A: An excerpt from one of my junior high English journals:
It’s the same thing today and I don’t know what to write. The end!
Exhibit B: In high school, our 10th grade English teacher showed us a photo of snowy Mt. Kilimanjaro as a prompt for an assignment on alliteration. I wrote something deep and meaningful like, Bleak bits of blustery snow which sticks in my brain to this day, only because my friends laughed so hard when I read it aloud.
Exhibit C: Senior year, when my friends took Creative Writing, I opted for Drama. This led to roles such as the High Priestess in the back-to-school welcome assembly [My cue: Oh High Priestess, oh High Priestess! My line: Oh, Hi yourself!], a nit wit in The Nit Wits, and Alice in a dance production of Alice in Wonderland, mainly because I had the hair…
Wait–so you never thought you would be a writer?
Correct. Writing was painful to me. Unless you count writing notes to my friends; making up puns and jokes; copying the lyrics to my favorite songs so I could sing along.
Math was my favorite subject. I got A’s in Math. You could check your answers in the back of the book. And if you got the problem wrong, there was a formula to fix it. Not so with writing.
But guess what? I started college as a math major, French minor, and graduated four years later with a degree in English and Art.
So after that, you started writing books?
Nope. Besides teaching high school and middle school (You can’t scare me!), I was a lifeguard, a maid at Yosemite National Park, book store manager, I lasted one day on the assembly line at the Dole Pineapple Factory on Oahu, Hawaii, and I was an actor / director. I’m sure you’ve seen me in commercials and movies where I waited for my big break with roles like:
MOURNER: Look for me at Charlie Parker’s funeral in the Clint Eastwood film, Bird, starring Forest Whitaker. (Think Where’s Waldo? I’m the blond in the crowd of beautiful brown faces.)
GIRL AT TRAIN STATION (a pivotal role): I sold the injured bad guy, played by Costas Mandylar, a one-way ticket out of town in the film Crosscut .
Fun fact: Did you know I’ve started writing screenplays?
Where do you live?
I live in California with my husband and yes, that’s our very long driveway full of rough drafts in the YouTube video, ROUGH (Ruff) DRAFTS, starring Max, one of our beloved Golden Retrievers. Max loved words as much as I do. Charlie would rather have eaten the book.
How many books have you written?
The answer to this question is here. You do the math. ; ) My first published piece was in Plays Magazine: “The Christmas Wrap Rap.” (And you thought my rapping career began with The Writer’s Rap!)
As a high school theater teacher, I wrote scripts for our assemblies because I couldn’t find any good skits for 35+ kids…. One day I picked up a cheesy YA novel one of my drama students had left on stage and thought, I can do that.
As it turns out, children’s books are a lot like theater. My background in theater allows me to create strong characters and I can hear the dialog in my head. The idea for my first picture book, Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox popped into my head while I was writing the YA.
The “Don’t tell Mom!” part of my second picture book, Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep, is autobiographical. Ask my sister.
Talk About a Great Invention was written as part of a reading series. And yes, my name is spelled incorrectly on the cover…
Why do you write?
I love words. I can’t believe I get to share my crazy ideas with readers like you.
Do all your books rhyme?
No. I never specifically try to write a book in rhyme. Maybe the rhymes come from writing down all those lyrics. Or from my gig as part of a Children’s theater troupe, where we performed a lot of rhymed material—from Seuss and Prelutsky to Silverstein and Shakespeare. In my middle grade novel, currently being shopped around, poems help Iris make sense of her life, but her poems don’t rhyme. In DEAR EARTH…From Your Friends in Room 5, parts of the book rhyme, and then Bernard –Well, you’ll have to read it and find out.
How do you write a book?
I get this question a lot at school visits. But you know what? There is NO one way to write. (I say this as an English teacher AND author.) However, the way to get started is to write–one word at a time. Turn off the “editor” in your head. Forget about trying to be perfect. Don’t worry about the mistakes until you get your ideas out. Think of writing as a Language ART. This makes YOU an artist.
Not knowing is OK.
Artists make tons of sketches before they start to paint. Potters start with a lump of clay (like your rough draft) and then use their tools to turn it into a vase. Sometimes they smash it down and start over. Authors do that too.
I hope this helps you write your Author Report.
Also–you should probably get started. Believe me, I know you’d rather be outside riding your bike or playing tetherball. (I was you.) You’ve got this!