When I was born: 1960’s, the era of JFK, flower power, and Woodstock
Where I was born: Atlanta, Georgia
Where I grew up: Georgia, Alabama, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, England, and California
Where I went to school: Yale University (B.A., M.A., and M. Phil. in History)
Where I now live: The woods of rural Connecticut, walking distance from three farms, a library, a post office, and two country stores
What I’d like to be if I weren’t a writer: There’s nothing I’d rather be than a writer, but if I had to choose, I think I’d like being a story editor for movie scripts. I love movies and I enjoy fixing plot and character problems. But that’s pretty close to writing. If it had to be something totally different, maybe an FBI agent, the director of an art museum, or a Supreme Court Justice.
Worst job I ever had: Telemarketing for NBC. I had to make phone calls to survey people on their response to new sitcoms. It was both boring and stressful, because people hung up on me. As a result, I am always nice to telemarketers, even when they call during dinner.
Embarrassing revelation: I watch reality t.v. shows with my family, and even worse, I actually like them. Not all of them—I do have some standards— but I’m fond of Survivor, Are You the One?, and any show where contestants have to create something new (a dress, a product or business, a cake) with limited time and resources.
Hidden talents: I can draw most animals and I can tell the color of an M&M by its taste. When my husband and I moved from Connecticut to California, we had to drive a rental truck 3,000 miles cross-country and I entertained myself for the entire state of New Mexico by doing this. I wasn’t foolproof at it, but I had an excellent record on greens and browns.
Writing ritual: Chocolate chips and hot tea. The chocolate is energizing, the tea is soothing. The tea has to have milk and sugar in it, which my sister and I call “Britty tea” because it’s what we drank after school when we lived in England.
Fictional character I most identify with: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
I was born in Georgia and lived in the South until I was three, so a southern accent still makes me feel immediately at home. We moved every few years when I was growing up, but we went back to Macon each summer to visit my relatives and to New Haven, Indiana to visit my mother’s family, who are farmers. I have wonderful memories of big family gatherings. In all, there were 22 cousins on one side, 15 on the other, and we played endless games of tag and hide-and-seek (in the Indiana cornfields), staged impromptu plays, and spent steamy summer afternoons dealing out cards for canasta, pounce, spit, euchre, hearts, or spades.
The rest of my childhood was dominated by dogs and books. The dogs: a neighbor’s German Shepherd, Champ; our dalmatian/pointer mix, Spotty; our Brittany spaniel/terrier mix, Georgie Girl; and our dearly beloved wire-haired fox terrier, Bibby. The books: Blueberries for Sal, The Secret Garden, The Borrowers, and all the books on the Q&A page. I love to read. When I was six or seven, I started writing my own stories, mostly overwrought tales about heroic dogs rescuing people. My parents, teachers, and school librarians were kind enough to shower me with encouragement, saying they knew my books would be on their shelves one day. I feel amazed, and so lucky, that they turned out to be right.
I was twelve when my family moved to Brighton, England, a place wonderfully rich in history and literature. I first read Shakespeare’s plays in school there. For homework one night, I had to memorize the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy from Macbeth, and I fell in love with the sound of the language. Many years later, I would return to Shakespeare for the plot of my first novel.
We moved from England to northern California, and after high school, I went to college at Yale and returned later for the Ph.D. program in American history. I briefly taught there, but eventually left graduate school to raise my three children. I started writing children’s books when my youngest was a year old. Hiding Hoover, Wet Dog!, and What the No-Good Baby is Good For were written during that time.
Eventually, I wanted to try a novel. Shakespeare’s Secret was my first attempt, and it brought together many threads of my life: my fascination with history, my love of Shakespeare, and my sudden immersion in small-town politics when I hesitantly ran for public office in 2003 and was elected. That experience, along with my two older children’s induction into the social politics of middle school, gave me a special interest in the struggles of Hero and her historical counterparts. The issues of popularity, reputation, and personal integrity seem as relevant now as they were in the world of sixteenth-century England. For me, discovering those connections and bringing them to life in a book is one of the best things about being a writer.