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My Writer's Journal

On becoming a writer: Part VI

I was in a dismal state in the spring after my move to Albuquerque. I had no ideas, my writing was going nowhere, until someone recommended that I get out and walk. I did--about 2 miles a day. (That was 27 years ago; I now walk 3 miles almost every morning: that's about 750 miles a year X 27 years = more than 20,000 miles.) I began to feel more optimistic. Then an editor suggested that I make a trip to South Africa, which was then in turmoil and beginning to resist apartheit. I did my research, made a few informal contacts, flew to South Africa, rented a car, and began. It was a life-changing experience. VOICES OF SOUTH AFRICA: GROWING UP IN A TROUBLED LAND was published in 1986, about the same time I took off for Northern Ireland. Another VOICES book, and then a trip to Japan, where language and culture were challenges.

It would be awhile before i got back to writing fiction, but when I did, it was with a strong tilt to historical novels. My husband and I had left Albuquerque for a new home in Texas, and a new chapter began. Read More 
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On becoming a writer: Part V

My first novel for young readers was C. C. POINDEXTER, about a misfit. I felt I had a lot of experience in that department. Then I wrote EULALIA'S ISLAND based on that summer on St. Lucia, where my 13-year-old son John befriended a local kid named Eulalia. When I found the diaries my dad kept when he was in college and in love with a girl named Peg (I had his photo albums too, so I knew what she looked like), I wrote from the point of view of a young girl in the 1920s who had found her brother's diary: THE SUMMER I LEARNED ABOUT LIFE.

Meanwhile, I kept my hand in the non-fiction area, because I had found that I really liked doing research. In the late 1970's I drove across the country to a writers' colony in Taos, New Mexico. I had visited California, but I had never been in the Southwest, and the experience was life-changing. After a few months, I decided to relocate.

I bought a tiny house in Santa Fe, loaded up a U-Haul, and drove across the country to my new home. Everyone thought I was crazy, and probably I was. Nevertheless, I settled in. When I met the girl next door who showed up in the middle of the city on her horse, I started my next novel, THE LUCK OF TEXAS McCOY. (Research for that project involved learning to actually ride a horse.) I was still associated with the Institute of Children's Literature, working my way through a batch of student assignments that arrived every week . Money was always tight; one summer I got a job producing a weekly half-hour TV show called "ArtScene" that paid me the princely sum of $100 a week and left me exhausted with no time to write.

Burned out with Santa Fe after five years of struggle, I moved to Albuquerque, hoping to get freelance work or a part-time job. At one point I considered film school in Los Angeles with the goal of becoming a screen writer. But then life took another sharp curve. (To be continued) Read More 
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On becoming a writer: Part IV

Time--that was always the issue, and I never had enough. Nevertheless, I managed to keep writing books for kids--one of my favorites in the early days was THE BREAD BOOK, but there were also how-to books about embroidery, carpentry, knitting and macrame, Christmas crafts, jewelry-making, even Bible stories. I was recruited by the Institute of Children's Literature to teach correspondence courses, and I wrote a monthly column on children's books and occasional articles for McCALL'S, a women's magazine popular in the '60s and '70s.

My kids were growing up, and my how-to books eventually gave way to more complex non-fiction projects. That's when I discovered that I enjoyed doing research and that I was good at it. I also discovered that I loved to travel: a summer in the Caribbean resulted in a book about coconuts; I roamed around the Eastern US, interviewing craftsmen; later I traveled to a remote Yup'ik village in Alaska and wrote about the people I met there, then back to Pennsylvania to spend time among the Amish.

Working on non-fiction taught me a lot, but still I dreamed of writing novels.... Read More 
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