Clickety, Click, Click!
I’m tapping away at the computer in my Massachusetts home. Outside the window, my flower gardens border meadows and woods. A family of wild turkeys may strut by, or perhaps a deer or a lone fox. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my mind on my work!
The Story Behind My Stories
I use historical settings in most of my books, so I spend lots of time at the library. It takes months of research before I begin a story. At last, I create a character. Then I write an outline, deciding what will happen in each chapter. I always know the ending before I write a single word. I make lots of changes to my books before I’m satisfied. Sometimes I add characters, or a surprising new twist.
Walking in My Characters’ Footsteps
Learning about a past time involves more than sitting in a library. I pack my bags and travel! I walk in my characters’ footsteps so I can make their world come alive for you. When I was writing Out of Many Waters, I toured the Mayflower II in Plymouth, Massachusetts, so I could feel what it was like to be hidden in a cramped sailing ship 400 years ago. When I wrote One Foot Ashore, I traveled to Amsterdam and visited Rembrandt’s house. I could picture him standing at his easel in front of the open window. I studied paintings of Amsterdam as it looked in 1654. When I spotted a picture of a rat-catcher, I knew he would appear in my book.
Before I wrote the Rebecca stories, I walked all through the Lower East Side of New York to see what her neighborhood might have been like. I even saw her school!
I’ve hiked the desert in the American Southwest, attended powwows throughout the country, and climbed remote Maya pyramids in Mexico. Those experiences helped me write about Native American cultures.
Critters and Characters
Many events in my personal life help me with my writing ideas. I grew up in a rural part of Connecticut, so nature is usually part of my books. You’ll find scenes featuring plants, animals, birds, and even changing weather, especially in The Leveller.
My sons, Matthew and Ken, kept a menagerie of pets over the years. We had parrots, parakeets, chirping finches, biting hermit crabs, nibbling hamsters, swishy fish, morphing tadpoles, hopping frogs, and even a hissing Madagascar cockroach. But to my surprise, my favorite pet was a brown and white rat named Piper.
I decided to write about rats in One Foot Ashore so readers would see that these creatures are clean, smart and affectionate. Still, I wouldn’t have featured a rat if I hadn’t learned that they were common on sailing ships, and people feared them. When you meet “Domingo,” remember that he is based on the real-life Piper!
When I’m not writing, I love to garden, bike, or hike the trails nearby. In the hush of a winter snowfall, I love to ski or snowshoe through the woods. And I am always ready to take off to visit unusual places. I’ve seen villages in Russia, toured underground tombs in Egypt, sailed the islands of Iceland, seen the gorges of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, and met more snakes in Latin American jungles than I’d care to count. I’m an avid photographer, and many of my pictures appear with my stories and non-fiction books. Photos of powwows and historical sites in Arizona fill two of my books—The Tohono O’odham and Powwow: A Good Day to Dance. Those pictures have also been on exhibit.
And then there’s baseball. I LOVE the Red Sox. Go Sox!
The Home Stretch!
I share my stories with a few people as I write. When my sons were younger, they eagerly read the newest pages every evening. They told me what they liked, and what they didn’t like. My husband, Malcolm, is an optometrist, but he’s also my best editor. Sometimes when I’m stumped, his comments spark an idea for the perfect solution.When a book is finally in print and the publisher mails me the first copies, it’s time to celebrate. At last other people can read what I have worked on for so long!
If you’d like to ask me a question, or tell me what you thought about one of my books, send me an email. I’ll write back!