I was born in East Liverpool. Ohio (later the setting of my novel for young people, The Lotus Cup), where by the age of nine I was hard at work making up fairy-tale plays and designing sets and costumes for performances with my friends in neighborhood garages and playrooms. That and a walk-on as "A Child" in a Children's Theater production of The Pied Piper of Hamelin were only the beginning. From plays for audiences of parents and neighbors and brothers and sisters, I went to writing stories, playing character parts in school plays, turning out articles and comic sketches in junior and senior high for the school paper, working as an apprentice and later as an actress at a professional summer theatre, and studying creative writing and acting in theatre productions in college.
And then—who knows why?—I switched from theater arts to art education and ended up as an art teacher in Los Angeles. Produced and sold my own line of silk-screened greeting cards. Worked as a counselor, program director, and finally business manager of a summer camp in the San Bernardino Mountains. Did a walk-on in Walt Disney's original The Parent Trap. Decided I was not meant to be an art teacher, and set out to discover Life No. 3. Or so I thought. After finishing an English major at UCLA, I attended summer school at the University of London, and went on to Stanford University as a graduate student in English to work for my Ph.D.
I never once suspected where I really was headed, and had been ever since fifth grade…
My family had moved to Kittanning, Pennsylvania at the beginning of my fifth-grade year, and it was in the school library that year that I happened upon a book with the tempting title of The Enchanted Castle. It was amazing. Intoxicating. Exhilarating. All that. I dreamed the story over and over, especially the bit about the moving statues. Unfortunately, shortly afterward we moved again, to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. My new school’s library had no enchanted castle, and in my excitement with the book I had never noticed the author's name. How was I to find other books by the same writer? For some silly reason—perhaps I was too shy—it never occurred to me to ask our librarian's help. I thought I had lost the book forever.
Nineteen years later, as I was browsing my way through Foyle's Book Shop In London’s Charing Cross Road, there it was: The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit. Short of cash and in a state of excitement that astonished me, I ran all the way to the British Museum Reading Room, found a desk, put in a request for the book and, when it came, read it straight through. It was like being ten again. Wonderful. Eerie. I was too elated to wonder at my excitement, but once at home in Kensington I found some money and dashed up Kensington Church Street to buy a copy. I have it still.
I was also at that time spending one evening a week working with a company of Girl Guides (the British equivalent of Girl Scouts), and almost every week I ended up telling them Californian Indian tales around an indoor campfire improvised with candles on a pie plate. After a few weeks my repertoire of stories ran out, and I needed more.
That set me to searching through the University of California monographs and journals in the British Museum Library. The new stories I found were a success, and the Guides suggested that I should make a book from them. For children. It had never, in all my writing, occurred to me to write for children, but I took their advice, approached a British publisher with DOWN FROM THE LONELY MOUNTAIN, a collection of the Indian tales from California and—to my surprise—it was immediately accepted. The British publisher found me an American publisher and that best of editors--Margaret McElderry--who was to see me through thirty-eight books. I was seriously hooked. And here I am.
For some time now I have been working at making my earlier books available as e-books, and updating the websites I've designed--but now I'm impatient again. I can feel the shadowy shape of a story-- a Time tale-- looming up behind me, and I long to have time to take to pen and paper, and turn to follow where it leads...