Writing is a funny thing…
Some people love it;
Some people hate it;
Most people would like it better if they just tried it more!
I have enjoyed writing since I was very young. I was fortunate that some of my teachers said nice things about what I wrote, so that made me like it even more! I began writing poetry and stories when I was in elementary school. Later, I had a good friend who also liked to write. We would share our stories and challenge each other to write more.
I began to keep a journal when I was in middle school. I filled it up with all the things that made me happy, sad, and angry. One important thing I learned about writing: it’s a great way to express feelings, and it’s a lot cheaper than psychological therapy! I also discovered that some of the things that really made me upset and angry one day didn’t matter at all a week later. I think that helped me put daily events in better perspective.
As a college student I wrote articles and music reviews for my college newspaper, as well as the papers I needed to write for school. I also continued to write stories. As I think about it now, most of these were probably pretty bad stories, but I learned more as I kept writing. I still continued to read a lot, and I think that also helped me learn more about writing.
When my children were small, I loved to read to them, and I began to write stories for them. I dreamed of having my writing published, but all I got was rejection letters from book publishers and magazines. I decided to learn more about being a Writer by taking a course from the Institute of Children’s Literature. I learned that there was a difference between wanting to write and Being a Writer. The difference was knowing that I needed to write for a reader instead of just writing for myself. (There is nothing wrong with writing something just for yourself, but if you want to be paid for your writing, you must be able to write something someone else wants to read. You also have to find out how to get your writing to that reader!) The ICL course helped me learn how to find the right magazine or publisher for my work and how to prepare a manuscript.
Another important thing I learned from my ICL course is that I like writing nonfiction. I had always thought I wanted to write stories and picture-books. I was really surprised to discover that writing articles was more fun for me. I am a very curious person (some people would use the word “nosey”!). I like to find out about the interesting things people do, and it is even better when I have a good reason for asking! Soon after finishing my ICL course I sold two articles to Listen magazine about teenagers who were involved in exciting activities through Girl Scouting.
I have written several history books, and I really like it. History was not my favorite subject in school, mostly because I did not like memorizing facts and dates. Now that I am older, I understand that history is the stories of people who lived in different time periods and the struggles they faced. For my first book, The Dust Bowl and the Depression in American History, I talked to many people who lived through that time. They told me their own stories about what it was like to live through dust storms. Sometimes their stories were very sad and sometimes they were funny, but they were all real stories about real people. For my third book, I was able to interview men and women who served in Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991. Beyond the dates and locations of events, they were able to tell me how it felt to huddle in a bunker wondering if they would be hit by chemical bombs, and if they would get home alive. My next book was about Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who went to Hungary during the Holocaust to save Jewish people from the Nazis. I was privileged to interview some people who were there at that terrible and dangerous time. They told me about Wallenberg and his daring work there, and also about the many other people who worked bravely to save others. Their story was exciting, dramatic, and also very sad because of the many people who lost their lives, including Wallenberg himself.
I have also written books about several famous American authors: Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe John Steinbeck, and William Faulker. All are favorite authors of mine, and it was fun to learn more about them as I worked on the books.
After eight nonfiction books, I began to be interested in writing fiction. I began writing A Voice for Kanzas in 2004, but many of the ideals in it had been floating around in my brain for nearly 20 years before that. I was fortunate to win a writing mentorship through Missouri SCBWI in 2005. Through that program I had help from Kristin Wolden Nitz, in the early stages of writing the book. A few years later, I enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts Program at Hamline University, where my four wonderful advisors, Jane Resh Thomas, Liza Ketcham, Claire Rudolf Murphy, and Gary Schmidt gave me great feedback and advice on the story.
Now, I’m working on a follow-up book to VFK. My working title is Promises Die Hard, and many of the characters from VFK will appear in the new book.
I hope you enjoy both reading and writing!