What are your favorite children's books and why?
Two picture books that quickly come to mind are Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman, and Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. These books are humorous, full of heart, and fun to read aloud. Kids identify with the emotions of the characters, the predicaments, and the wonderful illustrations in each. And so do I. I empathize with the peddler in Caps For Sale. Instead of caps -- I am peddling stories!
And I identify with both the grownup zoo keepers and the mischievous animals in Good Night, Gorilla. The colorful animals that the gorilla lets loose are the wild ideas I try to catch in my stories. But they are hard to tame, capture, and transform into words. And just like the gorilla and the little mouse in Good Night, Gorilla, those wild ideas sometimes have their own sense of where they belong, and are not easily boxed in their cages.
As a kid, my favorite books were Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, and Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. I loved the adventurous, resourceful, independent female characters.
I have many middle grade favorites now including Walk Two Moons and The Wanderer by Sharon Creech; Holes by Louis Sachar; From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg; Notes From a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko; and Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse.
In YA literature I like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen, Getting Near to Baby by Aubrey Couloumbis, and America by E.R. Frank.
Who are your favorite children's authors and why?
I admire all the authors above, and authors who can write about deep themes balanced with humour. I am always pulled in by a main character with a unique personality and voice. I want to really care about the character and his or her predicament. I love quirky characters, too. These are the stories I remember years later, and I want to read again and again.
Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer?
My mom and dad are strong influences. My mom took us to the public library when we were kids. My dad encouraged me to "know my priorities" and "do what I have to do." Those words have helped me persevere. I enjoyed literature and creative writing courses in high school and college, but I didn't feel I knew what I wanted to write about. Teaching preschool and having kids of my own provided the opportunity to read a million picture books. That's when I thought I'd like to write, and that I had worthwhile stories to tell.
What inspired you to write your latest book?
MERMAID MARY MARGARET was inspired by my connection to my grandmother and the stories she used to tell me about her childhood on the island of Rhodes in Greece. She always wanted to go back to visit "the old country" as she called it, but she never had a chance. While I never went to Rhodes with my grandmother, I decided to take my character, Mary Margaret, on a cruise to the Greek islands with her grandmother. Mary Margaret is spunky, funny, smart, and endearing, and she feels like a very real person to me. I'd like to take her on more adventures because she is a lot of fun to be around.
BUZZ BUMBLE TO THE RESCUE was inspired by the kids and families in my preschool, and the fat, fuzzy bumble bees in our preschool garden.
What's the best thing you've ever written?
Anything that comes from my heart.
Is there any particular ritual involved in your writing process (favorite pen, lucky charm, south-facing window)?
Not really. Since my life is so busy, I try to write whenever possible -- morning, afternoon, evening, late at night -- whenever or wherever I can. In the morning I brew Japanese green tea to help me wake up and focus. I use a little green tea pot, which was a gift from my friend, Charlesie; and a big beautifully glazed cup, which was made by Carol, another friend who does pottery. Both the teapot and the cup are aesthetically pleasing, so no matter how cluttered my desk, my mind, and my life are, these two gifts from my friends seem to encourage me to focus, and help me to write, especially when they are filled with my favorite green tea!
What is your favorite color?
All different shades of green.
What is your favorite food and worst?
Cookies and chocolate are good. Coffee ice cream. I like lots of vegetables, curry dishes, Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese foods, too. Worst? Hmm, I am not really fond of lamb, green peppers, or okra.
Do you have a pet?
Yes, a bunny named Mr. Monet. He had a luxurious garden-- but he ate it up!!
What subject did you enjoy most at school... and least?
I was interested in all subjects as long as my teachers or professors were passionate about what they were teaching. Then their interest rubbed off on me. My least favorites in elementary and high school were handwriting and typing. Of course now, I wish I had actually paid attention and learned how to type properly!
What is your favorite film?
The Cuckoo, directed by Alexander Rogozhkin. It's in Russian, Finnish and Sami with English subtitles. What a fantastic film! I also liked Pieces of April, Amelie, and Holes. Older movies I still love are The Gods Must be Crazy, The Gods Must be Crazy II, and Ponette.
What music do you like?
All kinds -- oldies, jazz, classical, country, reggae, chanting monks, you name it -- even Raffi is okay, but when I am writing, it has to be something I can't sing along with or I get too distracted.
If you hadn't been an author, what would you have been?
Let's see, an English teacher in Japan? A preschool teacher and director? A mother, college instructor, butterfly gardener, and cook? Wait, that's what I've been doing all these years. Now I get to be a children's book author, too! I'm lucky to have had so many occupations I enjoy.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Yikes, that depends. I've been working on one picture book for over ten years. It's less than 200 words long. Yes, I know, that only averages about twenty words a year, but I'm revising it until I get it just right. And when it is done, believe me, it's going to be good! Luckily I have other picture books and middle grade novels that are not taking so long. Other books take me about a year or so, although I just finished a YA novel in six months. That was very intense and creatively challenging, but I'm pleased with the results.
How long have you been writing books?
About twelve years.
Where do you get your ideas from?
All over the place. Kids inspire me. Occasionally a news story has some small element or human interest that starts me wondering. Sometimes I just play with the meaning or sound of particular words or phrases. A single word might get stuck in my head and I might begin from there. Or a "what if" kind of question puzzles me and I have to write to find the answer to my own question.