Growing up in Charlton, Massachusetts, I was the oldest of five children; four girls and one boy. I have many fond memories of playing board games, Sunday dinners, going to the beach, teasing each other, and especially playing in the woods behind our house. We used to make forts, race pine cones and leaves in the brook, and look for frogs.
Both my parents are from large families too. My mother grew up as one of thirteen children and my father’s one of five. This gives me lots and lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. Our family get-togethers are incredibly fun with lots of hugs, kisses and laughter.
Looking back, it seems like I was always writing, but never really thought about being an author. I kept diaries and wrote poems. I’d walk to the Charlton Library once a week for books. I recently found a book I’d written in grammer school, complete with illustrations and a book jacket. The story is pretty good, but the illustrations . . . . well, lets just say I should stick with writing.
I’d read every chance I got. In the branches of a maple tree, in the car or under my covers with a flashlight . . . it didn’t matter where I was. I always had a book in my hand. I grew up with the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I also remember enjoying The Witch From Blackbird Pond and Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. I still have many of these books today.
I attended Charlton schools through 6th grade, and graduated from Shepherd Hill High School in 1981. (You’ll have to work the math to figure how old I am!) I received an Associates Degree in Travel and Tourism from Becker Junior College in Leicester.
Now, my husband David and I live in beautiful Poland Spring, Maine where we’ve owned and operated Poland Spring Campground for 25 years. We have two children, 27 year old Alexandra who now lives near Boston, and Benjamin who is 18.
And we have one incredibly happy, affectionate yellow lab named Cookie. She’s my snowshoeing and power-walking companion.
Living in and operating a campground has been an incredible experience. We’re able to meet interesting people from all over the world. I can go to work in my t-shirt and shorts with a cup of coffee in my hand, much like Mrs. Wilder does in Cooper’s adventures.
The best part for me, is being able to get back to nature, and enjoy it as I did in my childhood. All year long, you can find me on our hiking trails tracking foxes or on the lake observing loons and eagles and any other wildlife that crosses my path. In fact, the year the eagles had rare triplets, I began photography as a hobby and a way of researching the wildlife around me. Much of that research has become scenes in the Cooper and Packrat series.
If you’d like to learn more about our campground, visit our web site at www.polandspringcamp.com . The work days are long when the campground is open; 8am to 10pm is the norm during our busiest time. But the season is very short. We have a mascot, Maxwell Moose who just happens to love The Three Grumpies and of course, Cooper and Packrat.
Maxwell is a writer too! You can read about his adventures on his blog.
Opposite the camping season, I’m an Ed Tech at Whittier Middle School in Poland, Maine. I love working with seventh and eighth graders! They are some of the most interesting people I know. You can read more about my teaching under the ‘For Teachers’ tab above.
Everyone in my family loves to read, and books are found in every room of the house. We take lots of family day trips. David and I insist on setting aside every Monday in July and August to take the kids and escape the campground for some quality family time. Spending time with my children and husband is very important to me.
Besides reading and writing, hiking, kayaking, and geo-caching, I like digging in the dirt too, and have several flower gardens here in the campground.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Whenever I mention being a writer for children, people are always very interested in the writing process and how a “book is born”.
Here are a few questions that are asked of me most often. If you’re curious about something, and you don’t find it here, feel free to contact me and ask away!
Was The Three Grumpies the first book you’d written?
No, I’d written at least 10 other stories first. But, they were very, very different in style in that they were mostly fictional, semi-serious stories about animals and the environment. The Three Grumpies was my first humorous picture book, and my first published piece.
How long have you been writing?
I began “thinking” about it when I started reading books to my newborn daughter in 1989. But “thinking” and “doing” are two different things! I didn’t actually research “how to write a book” until we moved to Maine and my daughter began kindergarten. I realized then it would be a lot harder than I thought.
I took a couple of correspondence courses through the Institute of Children’s Literature which helped me immensely. You see, writing is only one part of the process. How to market your story, or in other words ‘sell it’, is another. You don’t just march into Scholastic and say, “you have to read this!” (although all writers dream of it!) Writers must seek out a publisher who is looking for the same type and style of story. Then they mail it to the proper person within that company. After 3 to 8 months (a very loooooong 3 to 8 months), the writer will receive an answer on whether or not the editor wants to make it a book.
From the time I started writing my stories until the time I received that magical phone call from Bloomsbury, 6 years had gone by!
Did you get to choose your illustrator for The Three Grumpies or for Cooper and Packrat?
No . . . my editor, Victoria Wells-Arms at Bloomsbury, had already chosen Ross Collins as the illustrator when she called to tell me she wanted to purchase The Three Grumpies . I hopped on the internet right away and after looking at Mr. Collin’s books, I just knew he’d be perfect. I absolutely love his work. He’s a genius!
Ms. Arms sent copies of the illustrations through out the whole process, though. From the very first black and white sketches to the latest color proofs. Every time I got a package from Bloomsbury in the mail, it’s like Christmas!
The same is true of Cooper and Packrat. After I sold the manuscript to Melissa Kim at Islandport Press, she then passed the manuscript on to an illustrator to see if they would like to work on the project. Carl DiRocco accepted and the rest is history!
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always liked writing, but I can’t say I knew I wanted to “be” a writer. There were signs though. On and off throughout my life I’ve kept diaries. I liked writing poetry too, but it was mainly for my own personal satisfaction. While all the other kids were moaning and groaning about the latest report assigned by the teacher, I’d secretly be doing a dance.
One of my favorite childhood Christmas presents was a little metal desk and chair. It had a pull-out tray for a small typewriter and it had two drawers. I loved writing and playing “teacher” at that desk! Today, my desk is still my favorite spot in the house, but it’s just a little bit bigger now. And messier.
So did I “know” I wanted to be a writer while growing up? Alas, no. The signs were all there, and I wish I’d figured it out sooner. But better late than never!
Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer?
There wasn’t one specific thing. Just a love of books and writing. As a young girl I kept a diary, spent hours reading in the branches of a big, old maple tree in my front yard and had parents who never said no when I asked for book club books through school. Although, they would tell me 10 in one order was too many!
I still keep a journal, but I’d rather curl up on the couch to read a book these days. And my husband will totally agree when I tell you, I still try to buy 10 books at a time.
If I look back now, I can see my favorite novels as a teen have played a part in my creation of Cooper and Packrat though. I loved Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, and Little House on the Prairie. The first two are mystery series and Little House on the Prairie, is a nature type series, but also inspired by the real-life experiences of its author.
What inspired you to write The Three Grumpies?
My son Ben! (I love to tell this story) My then three-year-old had been having a really rotten day. He’d yelled at me, disobeyed, and bounced off the furniture for hours. We were both pretty frustrated come bedtime. So, I tried to tease him a little, hoping he’d go to bed with happy thoughts.
As I tickled him on the neck, I said, “You poor thing! You had those grumpies all day, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” Ben said sadly. “Do you think they’ll come back again tomorrow?
There’s nothing like the imagination of a three-year-old. I wish I could bottle it up for those days when I need a new and unusual idea.
And what inspired Cooper and Packrat?
My campground! And many of the wildlife experiences I’ve had while kayaking and hiking the shoreline of Lower Range Pond, in Poland, Maine.
What’s your most favorite thing you’ve ever written?
I’ve written lots of stories, some serious and some silly. I’m not sure I could pick just one. It’d be like picking a favorite child! Each manuscript, whether published and shouted from the rooftop, or unpublished in the back of my filing cabinet, has a little piece of me woven into it; a memory . . . an experience . . . or a family story.
Is there any particular ritual involved in your writing process?
No real ritual, but I love writing at my desk with a cup of steaming coffee nearby. Mostly I write on my computer, but sometimes it helps if I switch to notebook and pencil when I’m stuck or brainstorming.
If you hadn’t been an author, what would you have been?
At this point, I’m not a full time author. My husband and I own and operate a 132 site campground in Poland Spring, Maine. This is how the bills get paid! It’s open from May 1st to Columbus Day for campers to come and stay. (You can see more about it at www.polandspringcamp.com) We are very, very busy then, working 6 days, 60 to 70 hours a week.
In the winter months I take care of the campground paperwork and phone calls. I’m also a middle school special education teaching assistant. I get to hang out with cool middle schoolers all day!
So when do I write?
Whenever I can!
I love writing, but owning a campground is a lot of fun too. Even when we’re busiest, I’m home with my children. And I enjoy working side by side with my husband. My family has had an opportunity to meet people from all over the country and my son has friends who return year after year. And now with the internet and texting and cell phones, he can keep in touch with his camping friends during the winter months too. As long as all his homework is done first!
As for being an Ed Tech in a middle school, where else could I do so much hands-on research? All the students know I write and are very supportive. Some of them camp with me in the summer too!
How long does it take you to write a book?
The Three Grumpies took 5 months to write. It was the easiest so far. I’ve been working on some others longer than that.
My latest middle grade took a lot longer. It started as a picture book back in 2003. After sending it out several times, a friend asked, “Why don’t you try it as a longer story . . . perhaps a chapter book?” So I did. And I’ll be forever grateful for that advice! After three years, and three rewrites, Cooper and Packrat was born!
The key to writing, and writing well, is re-writing. I share my stories with my daughter Alex. She’s a great help when I start brainstorming. I also belong to a group of authors who read each other’s work and give advice. They are all invaluable to me. It never fails . . . I’ll write a story and think, “Ha! This is perfect. They won’t find anything wrong with it this time!”
You know what? They always do!
Where do you get your ideas from?
Whenever something or someone unusual catches my eye, I wonder, “How can I use this in a story?” Then I jot it down and put it in my Idea Box for another day. I keep a journal, not so much to write about my feelings but to chronicle the things my family and I do. Especially, the unusual and amazing things my kids do. And the camp kids. And my students.
I also love talking with people of all ages. I hear some pretty amazing stories over our campfire during camping season! And I have 16 nieces and nephews . . . if I can’t find an idea among that bunch, no one can!!!