Are you writing a book report? Welcome!
Thank you for choosing me for your author or book report. This page is a good place to start, with answers to many questions that students ask. If you don’t find the answer here, you can click my contact link and write me an email with a quick question or two.
I hope you get a good grade on your report!
Some fast facts to get you started:
Birthplace: Kansas City, Missouri
Education: I attended twelve schools in Washington and Idaho by the time I was sixteen, and went on to earn degrees in sociology, library science, and accounting at universities in Washington and British Columbia.
Work: I was a children’s librarian, certified public accountant, and assistant library director before I began to write.
Family: Growing up, I had two younger sisters, both brilliant and musical. I have been married for over fifty years and have two amazing children and three grandsons.
Where I live: Everett, Washington and San Juan Island (the one off the Washington Coast).
Pets: I have a cat named Pippi Longstocking because of her black hind legs that look like stockings. She supervises my work and makes sure I get her meals promptly at 6 a.m. noon, and 6 p.m.
If you need more information, here are answers to questions I get asked most often:
What were you like as a kid?
I liked to play dress-up and act out adventures. With a long, full skirt of my mother’s, I could be a gypsy or a pioneer, and my obliging sisters could usually be persuaded to play along. Hooray for all the authors of children’s books who inspired me to turn a flowered couch into a covered wagon, a pirate ship, or a house in the big woods!
In this picture, I’m in full cowgirl regalia, ready to ride with Dale Evans and Roy Rogers on their next adventure.
Since my dad was a civil engineer, we moved almost every year to keep up with whatever construction project he was working on. Because we moved so much, my sisters and books were my best friends.
In fourth grade, I looked forward to Thursdays when my teacher let me spend most of the day in the school library. I read to kindergarten and first grade classes as they came in, checked books in and out, repaired books, and processed new magazines. I Iooked forward to rotating the date due stanp to the next due date, the smell of library paste, dipping the metal nib of a wooden-handled pen into the India ink as I lettered date due cards, and most of all, having younger kids call me “library girl” on the playground. Any similarities between Terpsichore Johnson in Sweet Home Alaska and me is are purely intentional. I didn’t surprise anyone when, twelve years later, I became an official librarian.
Who was your favorite teacher?
My favorite, and the one who influenced me the most, was my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Koch. She was old enough to remember the Great Depression and her childhood in the late 1800’s, so she often shared her own memories, which were much more interesting than the textbooks. It was her stories about ordinary people during extraordinary times that inspired me to write historical fiction.
(Mrs. Koch is on the upper right, next to her student teacher; I’m third from the left in a dark jumper)
What were your favorite and least favorite subjects in school?
My favorite subject was English and least favorite was PE. I broke my glasses in volleyball, got a fifteen-inch long rope burn when I shinnied up a rope but didn’t have enough strength to control the way I got down, and ground pebbles into my knee skidding onto first base. I would have flunked PE if the teacher hadn’t given equal weight to written tests and attendance.
What were your favorite books as a kid?
Here are at least some of them: In Back of the North Wind, The Secret Garden, the Betsy-Tacy series, My Father’s Dragon, King of the Wind, anything by Hans Christian Anderson, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Anne of Green Gables, The Saturdays, Ballet Shoes, and, of course, Farmer Boy and Little House on the Prairie.
Where and how do you write?
In Everett, Washington, I use the desk my dad used as he worked on bids for construction jobs. Here, I start with pen or pencil and a dime store composition book. My desk is surrounded by a jumble of pictures of my family and stuffed picture book creatures, like Curious George, Madeline, and Max and the Wild Things. Then I turn to my stand-up computer station, with blank walls and no distractions as I transform those handwritten doodles to a messy draft. My cat, Pippi Longstocking, keeps me company and tells me when it’s time for lunch.
We also live part-time on San Juan Island, where I write in a converted woodshed. It’s just 7’ X 8’, and there’s nothing in it but a flat door balanced between sawhorses for a desk, a chair, and two windows looking out on the water, old-growth fir trees, birds, and an occasional deer.
What do you like most and least about writing?
I like research, and moments when I discover connections between events and characters and start piecing together another time and place.
I least like the moment when I look at a banker’s box full of research notes and have to decide who’s going to tell the story and what that character and his or her friends will do.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Six to thirteen years, from beginning research to finding the perfect editor and revising. Not all of that time is actual writing though. I get side-tracked on the research or non-writing projects, like weaving a blanket or watching birds at the feeders. I’m thinking during that non-writing time, though, and come back to the writing with new ideas.
Are you like any of your characters?
I’m a little like Terpsichore. We both have two younger sisters, are frighteningly klutzy, love books and libraries, imagined ourselves as Laura Ingalls, and like to collect recipes.
When did you decide to be a writer?
I wanted to be a writer since I knew what one was, but I didn’t work up the courage to start seriously writing until I retired. I wish I’d started sooner!
What’s your advice for someone who wants to be a writer?
Read a lot, write a lot, make contact with other writers, learn to love (or at least accept) multiple revisions, and don’t give up.