How long have you been writing?
I used to steal pens out of my dad's pocket and "draw" stories before I knew the words. I was fortunate to grow up in a family who read to me. Dad would load his little red MG Spitfire with books from the Air Base library. When he pulled into the driveway, I couldn't wait for him to pop the trunk. Dad read to me every night after dinner. I'd sit on his lap, watching him turn pages, his scratchy jaw bobbing above my head. By age three, I was reading on my own. My parents assumed that I had memorized all my favorites. As a test, they handed me a newspaper. After I read the headlines out loud, they hid the Miami Herald from me.
What are some of your favorite books from childhood?
The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel were the first books I remember reading, along with Leo Lionni's classic, Frederick (who gathered sun rays for cold winter days). Looking back, they seem wise and philosophical. I still have them on my shelf. The first novel I read was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory during my summer vacation in Vermont at age eight. When I finished, I turned off the light and hit the sheets. I woke up on the floor (the first and only time I've fallen out of bed). I bumped into Jane Eyre by accident. Somebody had tossed the book in the bushes at school, as if they couldn't take it anymore. I shoved it in my JanSport backpack and ended up reading...during every class...until I finished in a daze...dreaming of Mr. Rochester's eyebrows.
Why do you enjoy writing about teenagers?
I always dreamed of writing books. But I didn't know that I'd become a young adult author. I still feel like I'm forever teen. I believe that teenagers are the most interesting people on the planet.
What were you like as a teen?
I was the geeky tomboy who didn't fit in anywhere...not even with other geeks. In 8th grade, I wanted to take Honor's English because they acted out scenes from Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities (complete with plywood guillotine). But Mrs. Horton didn't think I could handle it. She told my parents that I seemed "disorganized" in class (I must've looked like a walking disaster...papers spilling everywhere, not to mention, my crablike handwriting). Eventually, the teacher caved in...and that year, I played the hooded executioner. Junior high was hell. And heaven was cutting class to walk to the library at my old elementary school. I'd breeze through the double doors, waving to the librarian (perched behind a "stop" and "go" sign at her desk), and sit on the ripped-up carpet (patched in places with masking tape), reading about Narnia for the ten thousandth time or flipping through picture books.
Do you have any weird habits?
Like the characters in my books, I am filled with obsessions. I refuse to crack a book's spine. As a kid, I used to seal them with Scotch tape. One time, my biology teacher caught me reading a Dragonlance paperback under my desk. He snatched it away, marched to the front of the classroom and opened the book so wide, the spine snapped like a living thing. When I buy a book, I always sniff the pages. Nothing like the fragrance of glue and paper, eau du ink! Believe it or not, I'm a bad speller. My grammar isn't perfect either. Or is it neither? When I listen to music, I see shapes and colors. Even numbers are good. But odd numbers are evil.
Can you help me get published?
The path to getting published is like the Yellow Brick Road...a long, strange journey filled with monsters and magic. It helps if you have a literary agent to fight the dragons for you. An agent is like a matchmaker. They help you find the right editor and publisher for your manuscript. Check out the Writer's Market (in hard copy or online) to find out how/where to send your stuff.
Will you critique my novel/short story/screenplay/book report for class?
Unfortunately, between teaching and writing my own stories, I don't have time. Find a critique group in your area through the SCBWI website or ask your local bookstore. Writers can't work in a vacuum! It's helpful to find another pair of eyes to catch your mistakes...as long as you trust them.
Any writing tips you can give me?
First...you should read. Read all the time. I'm not big on "how to" books about writing. But I'm a fan of Joseph Campbell's ideas about mythology, which helped George Lucas give shape to Star Wars. Try The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Or check out Christopher Vogler's updated take in his book, The Writer's Journey. Some technical advice: Learn the difference between showing and telling. Use active over passive voice (Avoid: was, were, are, is, am). Skip the -ly adverbs. Let strong, specific verbs do the work for you. Don't get fancy with dialogue tags. Simple words are more powerful than anything in your SAT vocab. When I flip through my old stories from high school, I cringe! My sentences were cluttered with unnecessary stuff...modifiers and adjectives. After working as a journalist, I learned to tone it down...most of the time. Taking classes in scriptwriting was also helpful.
Is Miami anything like it seems in TV or the movies?
Nope. It's a lot weirder.