Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Writing Life

My writing life began in grade school when I wrote stories and poems, and even started a novel when I was in fifth grade.  I called it “The Secret of the Old Pit” (can you see the influence of Nancy Drew?).  It was about two girls who climb down into a pit. Don’t ask me how they do it––I have no idea.  Once in the pit, however, they hear a voice saying, “Get out of here and never come back.”  They scramble out, but like true heroines, they resolve to find out who threatened them and why.

Unfortunately, I never finished the book, so you’ll have to come up with your own ending.  But it was the first of many stories, and as an a adult, I continued to write stories for and about children.  Why?  Maybe because I never forgot what it felt like to be a child or teenager, the fears as well as the fun. 

I cringe when people say to high school kids, “These are the best years of your life.”  Really?  Were they captain of the football team or cheering squad?  Or have they just forgotten the insecurities, the worry about being popular (or not), the uncertainties, the wondering about the future, and the highs, yes, but also the lows of first love?  Sure, high school had many good times––but not always.  I wanted to write stories where kids who feel scared, powerless, different, or uncertain are able to overcome whatever holds them back.

I began writing short stories, historical at first, about young people who did things they didn’t think they could.   At that time,we lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, surrounded by colonial and Revolutionary War history.  The town library sat on the Green where the first shot was fired, and the Minuteman statue greeted me every time I went to find a book, which was often.  I eventually teamed up with a dear friend, Marcie Anderson, and we put together a collection of short stories called Young Patriots: Inspiring Stories of the American Revolution.  Writing those stories was a joy for both of us.

My latest book, Pairs on Ice, is a contemporary middle grade novel, inspired by my years as a skating mom when my daughter skated.  The main character, Jamie Bartlett, 12, is at a crossroads in her life.  She switches from skating singles to skating pairs with Matt O’Connor, but there’s one problem––and it’s a big one.  They clash the minute they meet.  Not only that, but Jamie’s divorced father, whom she lives with, remarries, giving her a stepmother and six-year-old stepbrother.  Talk about wondering where you fit in!

More on Jamie and Matt later.  For now, if you’re a writer, when did you start writing?  And why do you write what you do?

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”          --Toni Morrison

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Joy of Reading

As a lifelong reader and almost-lifelong writer, I’d like this blog to be a place to share my thoughts on books and writing––and a place where you can share your thoughts, too.  Together, we can discover new books and help each other as writers.

Some of my earliest memories involve reading––snuggling up to my grandmother while she read the Sunday comics, and lying in bed while my father sat in the hall and read books like Treasure Island and Robin Hood to my brother and me. 

Then there was my mom, who always had a book ready when I had nothing to do.  One of those books was Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  This classic, written in the early 20th century, tells the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan who comes to live on a Prince Edward Island farm with a middle-aged sister and brother, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. 

I remember the first chapter being hard to read for nine-year-old-me.  But I plowed on, and fell in love with Anne when she appeared and rode home with Matthew along a flower-lined road she renamed the “White Way of Delight.”  Later, I delighted in reading about the scrapes she got into––breaking her writing slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head when he made fun of her red hair, dyeing her hair green instead of black, and getting her best friend Diana drunk at tea by mistakenly serving currant wine instead of the non-alcoholic raspberry cordial. 

Here's me visiting Green Gables, the farm
that Montgomery visited as child and the
inspiration for Anne's home.
Reading about Anne also took me to another time and place, so different from my home in a New York City suburb.  All books do that.  It’s like the Amazon ad for audible books, where people put in their earbuds and are transported to a faraway planet or a Civil War battle.

My favorite books still have strong female characters living lives different from mine.  Some of my favorite authors are Elizabeth Berg, Anna Quindlen, Marie Bostwick, Cheryl Strayed, Lisa See, and Sue Monk Kidd.  A few of my favorite children’s authors are Lois Lowry, Eve Bunting, Ann Rinaldi, Kate Messner, Patricia MacLachlan, and two writers I've met at workshops, Shannon Hitchcock and Joyce Hostetter.

Today, I buy Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books for my grandsons and Annie Barrows' Ivy and Bean series for my granddaughter––and love them both.  But Anne of Green Gables remains my favorite childhood book.  

What was yours?