Why I Write Children’s Books
When I was ten and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied confidently, “Writer-detective-vet-artist.” Secretly, I really wanted to be a ballet dancer. But I lived in the country, where dance lessons might as well have been held on the moon, and I was stiffer than “forty boards,” as my mother joked.
While other kids played kickball and baseball, I slopped hogs and swatted gnats in our hot, buggy garden. I hiked in our woods and could name every bird by its song and every tree by its bark, yet I was feverishly jealous of my town cousins, who didn’t have to slop hogs and who had sidewalks to ride their bikes on.
Out of desperation, I wrote my first book at age seven. I had read all the books on the second-grade shelves in our tiny school library. One day on the bus ride home, I took out a sheet of paper and wrote the immortal sentence, “It was dark.” My career as a writer was launched.
I scribbled in my spare time and even when I was supposed to be doing school work. In my stories, I was the hero because I wanted to have adventures and solve mysteries, which were in short supply in Centreville, Virginia.
I gobbled mystery books like potato chips. One of my fondest memories was the time I bought a new Trixie Belden mystery (59 cents!), then went to McDonalds, a rare treat (hamburger 15 cents, French fries 10 cents, Coke 10 cents!). Back then you had to eat in the car. I watched the young man (no female workers in those days) put five splats of mustard and catsup on my hamburger with a nifty device, then settled down to read in the back seat.
Like Trixie Belden, I craved to be in a club with a close band of friends. I began a zillion clubs, electing myself president, with one or two members who were forever defecting because they said I was bossy. (I was not!) The mysteries I made up for my cousins were ridiculously transparent. It was tough running a detective agency in the sticks! As time passed, I realized I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so I couldn’t be a vet. Detectives kept late hours on stake-outs and I needed my beauty sleep. Art was okay, but I liked writing best.
When I was a teenager, I thought about becoming a writer of children’s books but believed all children’s writers were dead. I was still frequenting the children’s room in our public library, drawing dirty looks from kids who thought I should be in my own section of the library. My high school English teacher assured me that not only were children’s books written by living people, but I could do it, too.
And so I did, because I loved children’s stories and because my relatives told my mother I wouldn’t amount to anything. This prediction sprang from the fact I couldn’t tie my shoes or roller skate until I was 12 (let them try roller skating in a field) and because I carried around a grubby stuffed elephant long past the age where I was okay to play with baby toys.
Today the stuffed elephant sits in my office. Ellsworth is a character in my series, Time Spies, and stars in her own blog. Not bad for a grubby stuffed animal. Like Ellsworth, I’ve lost some of my stuffing and my fur (hair) is thinner. But we showed ’em. I’ve written more than 100 books and I can tie my shoes!
Every day I get up early, feed my husband and cat Winchester (not the same things), then hit the computer. Sometimes literally. Like going to school, writing is hard but also fun. Every day is different! In my spare time, I take photographs of abandoned houses and old trucks.
Many of my books are set in Virginia, where my family has lived for generations. As a kid I loved the country (except for the gnats) and I loved to hear my relatives talk about their childhoods in the haunting Blue Ridge Mountains, the lush Shenandoah Valley, and the historic Piedmont.
Today I make my home in Fredericksburg. It’s a privilege to walk the same streets where Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Robert E. Lee thought their mighty thoughts. My thoughts aren’t nearly as lofty, but I hope my stories are lively.
I’ll be a writer forever because it’s fun, it pays the bills, and I can’t do anything else. (George Washington couldn’t roller skate either!)