Book Nerd Interview
I’ve been making children’s books for a looooong time. I sent my first picture book to publishers when I was nine, but it wasn’t very good and they didn’t publish it. I didn’t try again until I was a grown-up and then it took five years of sending out stories, getting them rejected, revising them and sending them back over and over until I got my first book. Now I’ve published more than forty books and each new one is still hard in its own way. Each one takes a lot of revising because I never get things right the first time. That used to frustrate me. Now I expect it. And I don’t mind, because that gives me permission to make mistakes. It means I can take risks and try new things because I don’t have to be perfect - I can always make changes.
I had already published nearly a dozen books when I got the idea for Amelia’s Notebook. I was buying school supplies for my son when I saw one of the black-and-white composition books. It reminded me of the notebook I had when I was a kid, so I bought it (for myself, not my son) and I wrote and drew what I remembered from when I was nine. Amelia’s what came out. I didn’t plan on the book becoming a series, but the first one sold so well and Amelia had so much to say, I kept on going.
Now I’m playing with other notebook formats, like in the historical journals and Alien Eraser (where I get to play around with making comics, something I love). And I’m working on my first chapter book, a long story with no pictures. It’s also my first time writing a mystery, another challenge. I’m not sure I can do it, but it’ll be fun to try. Keep your eye on the new ideas page and you’ll see if I ever get the book finished or published.
If you want more official information, like where I was born or went to school, I’ll give you the basics here. I’m sure there are other websites with excruciating detail.
I was born in Pennsylvania, but my family moved to California when I was two, and I’ve been here ever since. I grew up in the southern part of the state and now live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I studied art at San Jose State but fought too much with my art teachers (I was very opinionated - I wanted to do my kind of art; they wanted me to do theirs). So I transferred to the University of California at Berkeley where I didn’t take a single English or Art class. Mostly I took history where I learned how to do research, tools that have helped me in making the historical journals and working on my Young Adult novel. Then I took classes at the California College of Arts and Crafts for a year since I didn’t want another degree and a year’s tuition was all I could afford. I just wanted some guidance on how to break into childrens books.
I waited tables while I sent out stories, waiting for some editor to fall in love with my work. There was no fall-back plan, no alternative career. I’d still be waiting tables if I weren’t lucky enough to have gotten that first book. And after that, the second one, and then the third and the fourth and the fifth. . .
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I sent my first books to publishers when I was 9, but it wasn't very good and, of course, it didn't get published. I didn't try again until I was a grown-up, but I kept on telling myself stories and drawing pictures to go with them. In fact, the first Amelia's Notebook was based on my journals. It took me five years of sending in stories, getting them rejected, revising them, getting them rejected again, revising them again. . . and again. . .and again until I got my first book accepted. I'm a very stubborn person!
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
We're all constantly framing stories -- about our day, our family, our pasts, our hopes and fears for the future. It's the way we make sense of what's happening. It's a deeply human thing to do, to shape our experience into a compelling story.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
That's tough because there are so many wonderful books, but the ones that shaped me most strongly as a child (and as a budding author) were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlotte's Web.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
I can't say I've gotten a lot of advice from other others that wasn't specific, that is from someone in my writing group about a particular issue in the pages I submitted that month. But I think the best description of writing I've heard came from an author friend. He called it a glorious struggle. Perfect!
In your new novel; Mira’s Diary: Home Sweet Rome, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
Mira time-travels back to 17th century Rome, trying to find her mother and make the change she wants to prevent something terrible from happening to Mira's family in the future. As in the first diary, Mira is swept up in currents of history, this time dealing with the Roman Inquisition and a rebellious painter, the incredibly talented Michelangelo da Caravaggio. One of the strongest characters in the book is the city of Rome herself in all her splendor -- layers of ancient Rome, the medieval city, and the pompous papal palaces of the Renaissance, plus fountains, cobblestones, and piazzas.
For those who are unfamiliar with Mira, how would you introduce her?
Mira is the girl I wanted to be -- adventurous, curious, loyal. She makes mistakes, but she's always willing to try, and she throws herself into new, unnerving situations with a keen sense of humor and appreciation.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I'm working on the third Mira's Diary right now. She's in London during WWI, meeting some fascinating people, but I'm at that terrifying point when I'm not sure if I have a book or simply a pile of pages. We'll see. . .
I'm also struggling with a graphic memoir. It's a deeply personal project and I'm not sure I'll be able to finish it, but I hope I can.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I'd love to introduce Amelia to Ramona the Pest, because I loved those books when I was a kid.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
Does this make me look fat? Well, I mean, those kinds of questions, the ones that you shouldn't answer honestly.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
All my summer jobs were the same as my regular jobs -- waiting tables. I was a waitress for ten years, through high school, college, and while I waited for my first book to be accepted. The most memorable place I worked was the Moonie cafe. That wasn't its real name, but everyone else who worked there was in that Korean cult led by the Reverend Moon. I was the only non-moonie. They must have been desperate to hire me.
Tell me about your first kiss
It happened in my parents' garage and it was so gross, I ran into the house to wash my mouth out in the bathroom. Not a romantic memory at all!
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
Those both can be hard and easy. It depends on the other person.
When was the last time you cried?
I can't remember which song it was, but it was something on the radio. Funny how music and the stories songs tell can do that, no?
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I'd say anytime after the 60s would be good. Before then was too conservative and restrictive.
What is your greatest adventure?
Writing books feels like an adventure, but if you mean something more physical, I've trekked the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, climbed volcanoes in Indonesia, and mountains in Patagonia. I love those kinds of explorations, pushing yourself to see what you can do in incredibly powerful landscapes.
Where can readers stalk you?
Facebook, twitter, my website -- check them all out!
A new postcard from her time-traveling mother points Mira to the 16th century Rome. But before she can rescue her mom, she must follow the clues left around the city to find Giordano Bruno, a famous thinker and mathematician, who discovered something so shocking that important Italian officials don't want it revealed. All the while avoiding the Watchers--time-traveling police who want Mira back in her own time.
It's another whirlwind adventure for Mira, and this time she is determined to bring her mother out of the past.
Praise for Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris
"An engrossing, diary-style blend of history, mystery, and time travel."--Publishers Weekly
"With an engaging story, accessible history, and a spunky heroine, Mira's Diary is an absorbing, fast-pace adventure."--School Library Journal
"Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris is a passionate celebration of honor and integrity...fast paced and compelling."--Karen Cushman, Newberry Medal Winner and New York Times bestselling author