|Imagine growing up across the street from the Pacific Ocean. Our family was lucky enough to do that and it was bliss. Summers spent on the beach, riding rafts and bodysurfing. Winters spent climbing trees, getting lost in the fog, and feeding sea gulls. Anytime of the year was good for walking in the sand along the water looking for treasures, tiptoeing through tidepools, and biking on the boardwalk.
My childhood was ideal, in spite of having three brothers.
It never occurred to me to be a writer. I was too busy exploring the neighborhood, going to school and, yes, playing with Barbie (my Barbie always had a job, usually as a kennel owner with lots of dogs to look after). I did keep a secret notebook full of song lyrics, dreams of what I would be when I grew up, and places I wanted to go. I hid it in a metal box in my closet, as far from my nosy brothers as possible.
By fourth grade, there were days when all I wanted to do was read in my room, but my mother would say, "It's a beautiful day. You should be outside." Well, in San Diego, EVERY day is beautiful, so where is a kid supposed to read? Outside.
I read Black Beauty under a pine tree in our front yard. I read Christy while sitting on a fencepost in our backyard. And I devoured Harriet the Spy in the park. It is still one of my favorite books, but look what happened to Harriet when her secret notebook was discovered! (And she didn't even have brothers.)
In school, no one told me that I should be a writer. But I liked to read all sorts of books-mysteries, adventure, biographies, family dramas, humor-and I wrote in my journal off and on. Mainly, I wanted to get the best grades I could to go to the college of my choice.
As a senior in high school, while applying to Stanford University, I had to answer their entrance application which asked: "What kind of book would you write and why?"
After graduating from Stanford with a degree in International Relations, I headed east to Washington, D.C. I decided that I wanted to sell a story by the time I was 24 years old (I don't know why that age).
At night after work, I took editing classes, read books about writing and writers' lives, and studied the magazine market. Two months before my 24th birthday, I sold my first story to Ranger Rick magazine. I was ecstatic! To make sure it wasn't a fluke, I wrote another one and they bought that, too.
So I set a new goal. I wanted to have a book published by the time I was 34 years old. It didn't matter that I couldn't be sure it would happen. It just helped having this target hanging out in front of me to shoot for. After taking a few writing classes and working as a copywriter in advertising, my first book came out.just before my 34th birthday! It felt great and proved to me once and for all that setting goals works.
Fourteen books later, including The Amazing Paper Cuttings of Hans Christian Andersen, which was an ALA Notable and Parent's Choice award-winner, I am still setting goals. I want to be published as a fiction writer as well as a nonfiction writer. The Great Tulip Trade and The Great Molasses Flood are just the beginning, I hope, of more historical fiction and fiction works. My first book for adults, QUIRKY, YES--HOPELESS, NO, is about children with Asperger's Syndrome but written for parents, grandparents and teachers. Maybe more adult books will be in my future. That's the fun thing about writing--one never knows where it will lead, even when you do set goals. What's important is to keep on writing.
As for my brothers, they were great training for a future writer. They made me tougher with their teasing, so I handle rejection well. They made me more determined with their "you can't do that-you're a girl" taunts, so I'm less likely to give up. And just being around them gave me a small glimpse of how boys think.
Having survived years of my brothers sneaking up from behind and trying to strangle me as I did my homework, it's only a matter of time before I get my revenge. Because in the end, the pen is mightier than the brothers!
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