When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
As a girl I loved to read. I think I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in fourth grade. But I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about that. When my daughter was born and we began reading picture books, I realized that picture books were short enough for a busy working mom to try. And so I’ve been writing ever since. I have also worked full time during my writing career and am now vice president for college advancement for the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
What is the story behind the first book you got published – how many tries to find a publisher, etc.?
My first picture book was Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, published in 1993. It took about two years to find a publisher. After the first year and a half of sending it out, I decided to send it “simultaneous submission” to a number of publishers at once. Three weeks later I got a phone call from Anne Schwartz, an editor who I have had the good fortune to work with ever since.
How do you choose your topics for your books?
I like to tell students during author visits that reading is the most important thing that writers do. So, I read a lot! I also listen to NPR and get ideas from stories from documentaries, the news, the Internet, and from traveling. Not all topics lend themselves to children’s books, so I am always telling my students that I still get rejections too.
That’s easy! Apples, of course. Everyone who has read APPLES TO OREGON knows that folks who eat apples are strong, “mighty strong!”
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have to admit that I am one of those folks who read Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte every year! I even dragged my daughter on a “literary pilgrimage” to Great Britain once, and of course we went to Bath and Haworth, where the Brontes lived.
Who has inspired you as a writer?
I am inspired most of all by the ordinary people in history – people like Ella Sheppard Moore, the pianist for the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, who probably never imagined that her story would still inspire people a hundred years later. Or Matthew Henson, the subject of my new book, KEEP ON!, who was America’s African American explorer and encountered entrenched discrimination throughout his life.
Plans you can share for upcoming books?
I have some exciting books in 2009. Home on the Range and Keep On! are out this spring, and this summer brings a book illustrated by Carson Ellis called STAGECOACH SAL, about the first California girl to drive a Wells Fargo stagecoach. Coming up in the Fall is MICHELLE, a picture book about Michelle Obama illustrated by AG Ford.
What has been one of your favorite books to write?
ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK, which was recently named an ALA Notable, was so much fun to write. My editor, Anne Schwartz, did a fantastic job of helping me envision this story as a collaboration between author and illustrator.
Where is your favorite spot to write?
Well, although I do have an office in my home, I have to admit my favorite spot to write is sitting on my bed with my laptop and a portable ironing board – which is where I am at this very moment.
Can you tell us a bit about your family….
My husband, Andy, and I have two grown children, Rebekah and Dimitri, who also live in the Portland, Oregon area. And we have always had a lot of pets. Right now we have a canary, a cat, and two dogs. But when we lived in Walla Walla, Washington a few years ago, our son, Dimitri, also kept pigeons, geese, chinchillas, quail, chickens and (until it ate all my plants and I made him give it away) a sheep.