When I was seven, I wrote my first “book”—The Silly Pumpkin—with accompanying illustrations. Poor Silly Pumpkin: whenever crisis struck, he cried. A lot, like I’m talking monsoon rain amounts. The sensitive soul that penned that tale now dumps her characters into all kinds of disaster to test their mettle. I make my people choose more than a good cry. Maybe I’m not so sensitive? Or maybe I’m thinking of awesome teens who are social justice warriors?
My mom was handing me books before I could read and so I saw how artists shaped their world through story before I could pen my own. I wrote a play in fourth grade about a girl who ran away from home. The orphan was a bold rogue. I think Ramona the Pest and Beezus may have had something to do with this character.
From then on, if I wasn’t scribbling a new story, I was gobbling up series like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, with doses of Judy Blume and Ellen Conford mixed in. I loved old-school girls and modern girls-ones who brought the brains, wit, and a good dose of weird. I read The Robe and The Hobbit when I was 10, and even if I didn’t get a bunch of the words, I was hooked. I loved sniffing that musty whiff from a good library book. Oh how I remember To Kill a Mockingbird, with bad-ass Scout and beautiful prose, blowing me away. Reading those words again and again shaped my writing style. And then, wow, Romeo and Juliet? I stared over and over again at the Bard’s iambic pentameter, craving understanding. When I cracked the code, how delicious was that?
This was before SparkNotes and online explanations. Words and phrases were puzzles. They made my mind work overtime and no one could steal my interpretation early. How blessed were those moments alone in my room building worlds in my mind!
Growing up in Northern California and North Carolina with parents who had a penchant for world travel, I found I couldn’t stay complacent in one social milieu or with the same expectations of people and places. Moving across state lines and time zones opened my heart to stories from other cultures and centuries. Attending an international school in Belgium taught me the world was a big place, and when I lived in France and traveled Europe, I came home wishing I were un petit peu française. In the last few decades, I’ve roamed places like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Ghana, Bali, and Delhi.
Thanks to great teachers, I made the decision to become one myself. Catholic school taught me the word vocation, and I never doubted that this was a spiritual call. After five years at Stanford and a BA and an MA, I started teaching high school in Silicon Valley. I met students who could expect a Porsche for their 16th birthday and immigrants with harrowing survival stories. I continued my teaching career in North Carolina with another diverse pool of students who taught me much. One of my most memorable experiences was directing a group of gifted actors in A Raisin in the Sun. Today I design online lessons for students and train teachers.
The whole time, I wrote fiction, chipping away at what I’ll call The Novel and various short stories. Most of my energy stayed with teaching and writing books for teachers: The Compassionate Classroom: Lessons That Nurture Wisdom and Empathy (co-authored with Jane Dalton); Teaching Romeo and Juliet: A Differentiated Approach (co-authored with Delia DeCourcy and Robin Follet), and Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach.
Then in 2003, another call: I was accepted to the North Carolina Writers’ Network Elizabeth Daniels Squire Residency, taught by the legendary Doris Betts. Author of nine novels and three story collections, she treated my work with tremendous respect. Thanks to her wise and incisive feedback, I decided to make a real commitment to my lifelong dream of author.
Today you can read my first set of literary short stories, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future and my debut YA novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought.
My wonderful second agent, Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency, subbed out my second novel in the Girls Outside series—tentatively titled @NervesofSteel, about an aspiring teen journalist who exposes sexual assault at her school. With her I began working on another teen journalist novel titled No Small Thing, while starting a third novel about a gifted, weird, wise dude—Caleb Untested.
When Amy left the business in the summer of 2018, I felt a bit lost, but I girded up those loins or ovaries—or whatever chicks do—and searched for a new agent. (Amy’s an awesome developmental editor now of Feral Girl Books—do check her out!)
This industry is ever-changing and its volatility keeps one flexible, shall we say? So whoever is reading this, with or without agent, on sub or about to go on sub, know that you must stay the course if you really love to write.
By January 2019, I’d found Tara Gelsomino of One Track Literary, and boy, do I give thanks for such an amazing editor and agent. Together we put No Small Thing, a tale of an intrepid podcaster and student journalist fighting to expose academic fraud in her school’s athletic program, through some paces. Tara did amazing work putting it in front of editors; I learned so much interviewing incredible sources such as basketball coaches and an award-winning journalist, Dan Kane. Alas, it wasn’t the right time for the book, so after a round of subbing that, we shelved it. Still, I’m excited to share it with the world because I believe it’s a story worth knowing.
In January 2020, I joined the incredible writer’s community that is the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Blessed to work with such greats as An Na, Martha Brockenbrough, Martine Leavitt, David Gill, and A.S. King, and take workshops with Anna-Marie McLemore, Martine Leavitt, Kathi Appelt, and Alan Cumyn, my head is reeling from all I’m learning. I have the best colleagues, too!
Then I wrote WHEN PIGS FLY, about a teen songwriter trying to get a country superstar to help save her small Southern town from toxic hog farm pollution, only to find grassroots organizing might be the real star of the show. It won the Norma Fox Mazer award at VCFA, and Tara and I are currently subbing it out to editors.
I have also expanded my college essay consulting business, Success Story, and what a joy it is to coach young storytellers making their next foray into the world. Teaching Macbeth: A Differentiated Approach and Teaching Hamlet: A Differentiated Approach are currently in the works, due out with NCTE in 2022 and 20223. I continue to add more lessons to my Teachers Pay Teachers store as well.
I’m married to Americana singer-songwriter Greg Hawks. He won my heart with a guitar and an abiding, artistic faith. The Hawks Nest also includes an orange tabby named Sonny who runs the place. My stepson, Henry, pursued sound design and other artistic enterprises at DePaul University in Chicago. He now resides in L.A. where he works in a sound studio. He’s mixed sound for two award-winning films, Hilum and The Headhunter’s Daughter, which have won prizes at the Clermont-Ferrand Film festival and Sundance. Our home hums with the soundtrack of acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and the chatter of computer keys. And purring. Lots of purring.