Becoming a writer

happyDSC_5984It took me a long time to realize that I wanted to be a writer. When I was five, I wanted to be an artist. Then, when I was nine, my project on mice won the science fair, so I decided I wanted to be a scientist. When I was in high school I got the lead in a school play and I thought I wanted to be a Broadway star. But looking back, I see that something was hinting to me to become a writer.

Although I liked reading, I wasn’t very good at it. My mind would drift and sometimes the stories in my own head would get louder than the words I was reading on the page. In school, I was happiest when I was writing my own story. My sixth grade teacher even wrote in my yearbook that she loved my stories and I was the best writer in the class. I loved writing letters and I always had pen-pals in other parts of the country that I’d found through some sort of pen-pal connection in a girls’ magazine.

My biggest influence was my sister, Mary. She is ten years older and she had always kept

Me, at age five.

Me, at age five.

a diary. I idolized her – I still do! – and when I was ten, she took me to the dime store to buy my first diary. I filled a lot of pages with my thoughts and dreams that year and I drew a lot of pictures. By the time I was in high school, my diary writing, which I now called journaling, was the most important part of my day. I remember my mom telling me I needed to stop writing and do my homework.

By the time I was in college, I was a writing addict. I couldn’t even sleep until I’d written about whatever was on my mind. I went on to fill about ten journals while attending the University of Arizona where I earned a degree in Elementary Education and Social Sciences. And then, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the West Indies where I taught organic agriculture for two years, my journals were an outlet for all my frustrations as well as all the wonderful experiences of living overseas for the first time.

I took a journal with me when I worked as an outdoor instructor for Project U.S.E., an Outward Bound type program for adjudicated youth. But I found it difficult to write when I was surrounded by teenagers and sleeping under a tarp. But still, I managed to fill half the pages that year.

When I re-read the journals of my year as an ESL teacher in Barcelona, or my months as a volunteer on Kibbutz Be’eri near the Gaza strip in Israel, my words can bring back the people, the smells, and the emotions of those times.

After traveling much of the world, I married Mike who’s a great listener. I became a social worker for the juvenile court system and most of my writing time was spent on case management.

Eventually, I no longer felt the need to write in a journal, so I started writing a memoir for my family while we lived in Costa Rica for two years. I wrote it with a blue pen in a composition book with Tweety Bird on the cover. My little girls loved hearing about themselves even though the stories were embellished. At some point, I began to wonder if I could actually write something worth publishing.

Our kitchen table in Costa Rica where I sat while writing my first book.

Our kitchen table in Costa Rica where I sat while writing my first book.

When we came back to the States, I had a completed story about an American girl who moves with her family to the jungle in Costa Rica. I rewrote and revised it a few times, then I sent it off to many different literary agents. At last, not one, but two asked if they could represent me. I couldn’t believe it! I chose to go with one of the agents but, alas, we couldn’t find a home for the story and the agent and I parted ways. I wrote a second book and found a super fabulous agent, Wendy Schmalz. The book came close, but, sadly it didn’t sell either. But Wendy was not going to give up on me. The Secret of Ferrell Savage was my third book with Wendy and she sold it to Atheneum, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.