Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A: The first time I had the twitch that I should be a writer was during a high school creative writing class. Our assignment was to write a short mystery. How I delved into it, enticed by the possibilities of weaving together my own world and being the designer of all the action and outcome! It was a thrill, nothing like any "work" I had done before. However, the inherent risk of pursuing writing as a career did not settle well with me at that time in my life. In other words, I was too scared of being broke.
So, I completed my undergraduate studies in psychology and went on to be an elementary school teacher. All the while, I fed my love for stories by reading books and enjoying movies that stirred up my sense of wonder and intrigue. From time to time, I would catch myself fantasizing about being a writer when I would read personal stories of writers or see a character in a movie living a writer's life. But it still seemed too far out of reach and unrealistic.
Then, when I was in my mid-thirties, there was a story building inside of me that I couldn't push out of my head. It was an irresistible urge to get those words on paper. That's when I wrote my first manuscript. I have no intention to publish it due to its personal nature, but that story will always be dear to my heart. What was amazing to me about that experience was how easily it came to me, and what an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment I gained from it.
I've been writing ever since. For a few years, I studied screenplay writing and wrote four different screenplays (see the written work section of my webpage). Then, while teaching, I decided to change gears and make a contribution to middle grade readers, Molly Bell and the Wishing Well. And I'm sure that my storytelling days will continue on from here as well!
Q: What are your favorite middle grade books?
A: One of my personal favorites from my own youth is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The fantastic world that comes to life in this story enchanted me and challenged me to stretch my own imagination. I love how the author beautifully intertwines profound lessons for his readers within the pages.
Another book that I always enjoyed sharing with my students is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This story brilliantly illuminates themes of forgiveness, humility, and perseverance, all the while gripping the reader with curiosity.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien is fantastic with its mystery and lessons of courage and sacrifice.
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White is also a sentimental favorite for me, because of its theme of overcoming adversity through discipline and faith.
For older middle-grade readers, my highest recommendations would include: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. All three of these stories will stay with you long after you finish reading the last page.
Q: What advice do you have for readers who are interested in becoming writers?
A: The first thing I would suggest is to read as many books as you can and watch a lot of movies. Yes, movies count! Somebody had to write that movie as a screenplay before it was a movie. But, that doesn't mean you should forget about the books. As you read and watch, take mental notes about what appeals to you. What are the parts of the story that reach in and take hold of you? Do you like the way the characters speak to each other? How does the problem of the story get resolved? Notice how the characters change over the course of the story, and how they have to fight their way through, making you root for them when it seems like everything is against them. It is also a valuable experience to understand why you don't like certain books or movies. Why did you find it boring or undesirable? Knowing what you don't want as a writer is just as important as knowing what you do want.
The other piece of advice I would give is to start storytelling in your mind and strengthening your imagination. You can practice this in everyday life. For example, if there is a story in the news or something happened at school that seems terribly unjust or upsetting to you, consider what you would change if you could. How would you rewrite the ending? What could someone have said or done differently to change the course of events?
And lastly, of course, you have to write! This can be done in a journal, a notebook, or a computer if you have one. The more you do it, the easier and more natural it will become. Don't limit yourself by trying to be perfect. Like any other endeavor, you will improve with practice. But you have to make yourself write consistently. This is a discipline that is challenging even for adults to stick with. Even if it's only a sentence or two each day in the beginning, you are on the right path!