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It’s always hard to know what to say when people ask me to tell them a little bit about myself. Of course there’s the regular stuff to talk about, like where I was born and where I live now. Then there are the harder, more interesting things to get into, like how I write my books and what the best thing is about being an author. Oh, and of course there’s the question everyone seems to want answered—do I have any pets?
So starting with the easy stuff – I was born in Ann Arbor Michigan in 1955, back when there was no color TV, milk came in glass bottles delivered by a milkman, Barbie dolls came in only two varieties – blonde and brunette, and girls had to wear dresses to school every day, even in the cold, harsh Michigan winters when the temperature often dipped below zero.
My dad was an English professor at the University of Michigan. He loved words, and books, and telling funny stories. My mother stayed home with my brother and sister and me until we’d all three gone off to college, at which point she went back to work. I attended Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where I studied music composition then I moved to New York City, went to graduate school, got married and settled down to raise a family.
My sons, Gabe and Nat, were both born in New York City and went to public elementary, middle, and high schools there. Even though we lived in one of the busiest cities in the world, they still did all the same kinds of things other kids do – played sports, hung out with friends, and ate pizza. The only difference is that they played sports in Central Park, hung out with friends on Broadway, and the pizza in New York is sold by the slice.
As for how I write my books and what the best thing is about being an author – I think I’ll answer the second question first. The best thing about being an author is that I get to spend all day doing what I like best – writing. From the time I was a little girl, the two things I enjoyed most were playing music and writing. I studied music composition in college and was a singer songwriter before I became an author. I don’t write much music anymore, I’m too busy writing books!
Sometimes when I’m working on a book I completely lose track of time and when I finally stop writing I look out the window and am amazed to find that it’s dark outside. Other times, when I feel blocked and the ideas aren’t coming, I do my housecleaning instead, or bake cookies, or okay, I admit it, veg out in front of the TV for a while until I feel like writing again.
I’m one of those writers who believes in the idea that it’s best to write what you know. I love animals, and I know a fair amount about them, so a lot of my picture books are about animals and the environment. I love kids – the way they talk to each other and the things they think are funny, so my novels are about kids.
Describing how I write is not an easy thing to do. I’m not ever sure where the ideas come from. Sometimes they seem to pop into my head out of thin air, and other times I see something, or hear something, or read something that triggers a story idea. Once I have an idea, the story doesn’t always come out right away. Sometimes it has to sit in my head for a long time, being turned over and over again until I understand it well enough to start putting it down on paper.I work at the computer, but I edit with a pencil. I print out whatever I’ve written one day, and start the next day by reading it over and making corrections.
Every book I write goes through many drafts. With each draft I get comments from my editor and then I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until we both feel the book is as strong as it can possibly be. I don’t love rewriting, but it’s just one of those things you have to do if you want to be a good writer. I work with several different editors because my books are published at several different publishing houses. I am very lucky because they are all wonderful to work with!
Besides writing I like to bake, hang out with my friends and family, talk to my 97 year old mother on the phone, go to the movies, watch little league games (even though my boys are too old to play in them anymore), and visit classrooms around the country talking to kids about my books. It’s nice being able to write both picture books and novels because it means that I’m always shifting around, doing different things. One day I might be working on a rhyming book about a clothesline the day after that a serious book about a girl who goes on a long journey in search of herself. Variety. That’s what keeps life interesting.
My favorite place to be is home. I live in a little green and yellow house in a town called, Nyack, New York. I am married to a wonderful man named Jim Fyfe. He’s a television segment producer. I have a step-daughter named Hailey who lives in Chicago and a beautiful daughter-in-law named Kim.
Okay, okay, you’ve been very patient. I know what it is you really want to know so I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Yes, I have a pet. Mia is a Labrador Retriever/Pitbull mix. I am so crazy about this dog it’s, well, crazy. She has many nicknames including: Mama, Meems, Mimi Van Peebles, Judge Judy, Maccah and Brindle Girl.