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…
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.
Besides teaching high school and middle school (You can’t scare me!), my resume’ includes lifeguard, a maid at Yosemite National Park, book store manager, and actor in a Children’s theater troupe Theater-to-Go. I lasted one day on the assembly line at the Dole Pineapple Factory on Oahu, Hawaii. 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 .
I live in California with my husband and our Golden Retriever, Charlie. (We suspect she is part Red Bull.) Charlie’s waiting for her big movie break like her predecessor Max, star of the ROUGH (Ruff) DRAFTS video. Max loved words as much as I do. Charlie just eats the whole book.
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, and we weren’t supposed to do much Christmas stuff at the winter assembly…. 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…
I love words. I never specifically try to write a book in rhyme. Maybe the rhymes stem from writing down all those lyrics. Or as part of Theater-To-Go, when I performed a lot of rhymed material—from Seuss and Prelutsky to Silverstein and Shakespeare. My YA novel, currently being shopped around, definitely does not rhyme. Neither does the middle grade novel I’m revising.
The Author Report you need to write probably doesn’t rhyme either. But you should probably get started. At school visits, kids always ask, “How do you write a book?” My answer is the same as writing your report: You write–one word at a time. Don’t worry about the mistakes until you get the story out. That’s what Sloppy Copies are for. Go for it.
I know you’d rather be outside riding your bike or playing tetherball. I was you.