I write every single day (barring illness or disaster) to make up for all those years I never wrote. Some lucky people discover they want to be a writer when they are young. They keep journals and write secret stories that they never share with anyone. Now they refer to those journals for story ideas and to remember what they felt like when they were young. I never shared stories with anyone, because I never wrote them.
Why didn’t you think you could be a writer when you were young?
First of all my handwriting was terrible. When I was growing up, computers didn’t exist, so handwriting was important. No matter how hard I tried, I never got the knack of slanting my letters in the proper direction.
Secondly whenever I handed in stories to my teachers, I hoped for an A. Most of the time, I was lucky to get a B. If I couldn’t write wonderful stories as a child, how could I possible write stories as an adult? Therefore I put writing out of my mind, but kept on reading.
What were your favorite books as a child?
My favorite books were biographies. I especially loved reading about women who did great things. Perhaps my love of TWENTY YEARS AT HULL HOUSE by Jane Addams led me to become a social worker which in turn led me to work in a hospital where I met my husband. I also loved THE SECRET GARDEN, FERDINAND THE BULL, and THE NANCY DREW MYSTERIES.
How did you finally get into writing?
When your family has four children, there is lots, AND LOTS, AND LOTS! of noise in the house. One daughter would be asking me for a sandwich, a son to turn on the bathtub water and another son to help him with his spelling words, and the baby crying to have her diaper changed. Someone always needed my attention.The only quiet time came just before my children took a nap or went to bed at night. Then we would sit together on a sofa, chair, or a bed, snuggling so close our skins would touch, and we would read. I loved those warm quiet times focused on a book so much I decided I’d like to try writing books for other children and adults to share together. Of the 11 books I’ve published, seven end either in bed or at bedtime, taking me back, and I hope readers, to those special times story times I shared with my children.
When was your first book published?
Achieving the goal of being a writer was infinitely more difficult than I’d imagined. I wrote stories and sent them out, but they kept being returned with nothing but a form rejection. The day 12 rejections arrived, I realized DUH! maybe I needed some help. Thank heavens for UCLA Extension. The next catalog had a notice for a class taught by Sonia Levitin. Every Tuesday night for 10 weeks, I made the long drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic to the campus. But I was hooked. More classes followed with Sonia, plus others with Myra Cohn Livingston and Sue Alexander. My first sale, OWL AT NIGHT, was a story I worked on in Sue’s class. That sale came in 1986, five years and 180 rejections of 18 different stories, after I had started writing. So grateful for the help I got from UCLA Extension, I now teach there, hoping to give back a tiny bit of what that school gave to me.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas come to me first of all from things I love. EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A Patchwork Alphabet and THE SEASONS SEWN: A Year in Patchwork grew out of my sewing of patchwork and my interest in the way people lived in long ago times. ALL BY HERSELF, a collection of poetry was inspired by my childhood interest in biographies. The ideas for SHADOWS ARE ABOUT and HELLO TOES! HELLO FEET! came to me on morning walks. On another walk, I saw a car with a license plate that said MANANA and MANANA IGUANA was born. EVERYTHING TO SPEND THE NIGHT was inspired by my children who loved to sleep over at friend’s houses and just like the main character, often forgot to pack something important. LITTLE MONKEY SAYS GOOD NIGHT came from one of my children who loved to say good night to everyone and everything in the house before he went to sleep. It wasn’t until I decided to change him into a monkey and put him in a circus though that the story took off. The world is so full of ideas, I have to shut them out while I’m busy working on a project. Otherwise I get too distracted and leave that project to start a new story.