Oh, my, indeed I do. I have one older brother, one younger brother, and two older sisters. We are not all related by blood but that doesn’t change at all the commitment we have to each other. I’m very, very lucky to have such a compliment of wonderful siblings.
Here are three of my four siblings along with my dad.
It’s more a sense of awe and wonder than “pride”. When a book goes to print, something that has lived solely inside my imagination suddenly takes shape in a very real and tangible way. It thrills me. Of course the finished book is never as beautiful as the shining house on the hill I imagined constructing when I first conceived the story, but the monumental task of putting one word after another, of building a novel from the foundation up and fitting it out with all the fixtures that make it habitable for a reader, never ceases to humble me and fill me with gratitude.
I suppose that all depends on how you define “famous”. I do know people whose names are familiar to you and count them among my dearest friends.
Here is one small group of writers and artists with Vermont connections assembling for a summer meal.
Between research, interviews, writing and revising I dedicated about two and a half years of my life to creating LETTERS FROM RIFKA. The hardest part was finding Rifka’s “voice”. After I’d spoken extensively with my great aunt and read thousands of pages of information detailing the economic, political, religious, and social conditions of the early part of the twentieth century, I could not make the story come alive. It was lost, somehow, in all the facts I’d been steeping in. Not until I decided to write the book as an epistolary novel…as “letters”…was I able to cut through all the dry data and give youth and vigor to the narrative voice.
If we study and learn from the way birds flock, or fish school, we glean so much about connection and instinct, direction and evolution, individual and group behavior. Life is filled with repeating patterns. Our brains are naturally drawn to them. If we study and learn from the way mankind has flocked and schooled in the past, we better our chances of survival into the distant future. That’s what draws me to historical fiction.
In elementary school I was the shy girl with buck teeth, skinny legs, and a freckled nose. I rarely spoke in class but I loved being there, loved learning. I suppose my schoolwork revealed more about me to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Ball, than I revealed in my behavior day to day. Near the end of May 1963 Mr. Ball asked me to write the graduation speech for our class. I recoiled at the thought of standing in front of an auditorium full of people but he told me, “Just write it and we’ll see what happens after that.” I threw myself into the task, writing and rewriting feverishly. Finally I gave Mr. Ball what I’d produced. He miraculously gave me in return the confidence to read it from the stage. My mother wept, sitting in the audience. She said afterward, “I had no idea you could think like that, write like that.” Mr. Ball looked like the cat who’d swallowed the canary. He wore such a warm, wonderful, proud, mischievous smile that day. I am so grateful to him for the way he nurtured me in his classroom. Years later, after I’d won the Newbery Award, I found an opportunity to seek him out and thank him. When we reunited, once again I saw that glorious smile of his. He was the best.
And that sixth grade experience is the one that most likely influenced me to become a writer. Thank you so much for asking.
I fainted! Really! I lost consciousness for about ten seconds. When I regained my senses and truly began to comprehend what Ellen Fader was telling me, I began to weep.
After hanging up the phone with Ellen I felt as if a parade was marching through my heart
with bands and floats and jugglers and stilt walkers and beautifully groomed horses and clowns
and every child who had ever read one of my books.
It was pretty glorious.
Thank you for asking! This year I have been writing a poem each day. The project, inspired by Julie Reimer, a dear librarian friend from Minnesota, has led me to some fascinating and surprising places in my work. So far, one book, a picture book with the working title of THUMB, has come out of this year-long project. We’re nearly at the end of our year now and I’m not certain whether I’ll continue into the coming year, though it has been such a revelation for me I suspect I might indeed continue. I also intend to look at the 365 poems I’ve produced and see whether I might like to publish the best of them. What do you think?
Ideas come from so many places. Sometimes, when I’m reading the work of other writers, I feel a finger of inspiration tickle my brain. I’ve transformed magazine and newspaper articles into novels and picture books. Concerts, lectures, documentaries, television and radio interviews can also become story catalysts. Occasionally a fan letter will open up a possible avenue to a story, or an overheard conversation in the doctor’s office, or someone sitting across the aisle from me in the theater. I trawl my own life, both my childhood and my adult years, for story ideas, too. Not every experience leads directly to a book, but every experience holds that potential within it.
Every experience has an impact on my writing. From hours and hours of play with my childhood friends (see COME ON, RAIN! and LESTER’S DOG), to my fascination with Captain James Cook following a talk I attended at my local library (see STOWAWAY), from a documentary on the Spanish Influenza pandemic and my hospice volunteer work and walks in the snowy woods (see A TIME OF ANGELS), to an extended road trip through the heartland of the U.S. with my dear friend Liza Ketchum (see OUT OF THE DUST), I never know which experience I’ll draw on as I’m sitting at my desk. I simply search for a way to bring the story alive to my reader by going very still inside and sifting through a lifetime of experiences until I light on just the right memory to mold and weave into the story I’m telling.