I grew up in New York City, but when I was little, we spent most of our vacations with my mother’s family in Texas and Louisiana. It was before most people had air conditioning, so I have a lot of memories of still, thick nights when it was too hot to sleep, listening to the cicadas fiddling away outside and making up stories in my head. I always liked to write, but it never occurred to me that I could do it as a profession. I loved reading and talking about books, so I studied literature in college and graduate school. When I began teaching school in Boston, during my office hours, if no students showed up, I wrote stories full of folklore and history and old ballads. Eventually, one of them turned into my first novel, and I was off and running. Now I’m living in New York City again, where I go to cafes to write, because they have good chai and I like to people-watch when I can’t think of the next sentence.
My first Candlewick book, The Freedom Maze, took me just about forever to write—eighteen years, in fact, although I wrote (and finished) several other things while I was working on it. The story began with a dream. I was looking out my window at a garden and a maze that weren’t there in waking life. Somehow I knew they existed in the past and were part of something important. Figuring out what that was took me a while, as did discovering Sophie and her family. It’s a good thing I like researching almost as much as I like making up characters, because researching plantation life in slavery times took me even longer, and involved everything from dusty archives to driving back roads in Louisiana looking for ruined slave quarters. Getting them all to come together took me longest of all, but I loved making Sophie’s story all it wanted to be.
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. I was born in Japan and my first word was “mizu” (Japanese for “water”) even though I’m not Japanese, not even a little.
2. The first summer I went to sleepaway camp, I won a prize (invented, I think, just for me) for reading every book in the camp library.
3. I celebrated my nineteenth birthday in a yurt in Outer Mongolia.