I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, in a multicultural household. I’m half Indian and half German, so I sometimes felt a bit different from other kids. But, this also meant I got to live in three cultures at once – German, Indian and American. I got to hear stories from all three: Indian folktales, the European fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm, and the piles of American and English books I was always reading.
All these influences inspired my childhood self to want to do two things: live in a magic forest and be neighbors with a wood-witch, and fly away with everyone I loved in a magic balloon.
All through elementary, middle and high school, I wrote hundreds (and maybe thousands) of stories. Since I loved drawing as much as I loved writing, I illustrated those stories too. I had some wonderful teachers (thanks Mrs. Fitzgerald!) who encouraged me to read my stories out loud to the class. The one I remember most was about my classmates and I leaving the modern world to go live in a magic time-travel cave behind Niagara Falls. My classmates loved seeing themselves as characters in my story, which made me realize how much fun it is to make people feel welcome in a world I’d made up!
Over the years, I’ve lived in lots of interesting places – D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, France. Now I live in Austin, Texas, where I write chapter books, middle grade, and young adult novels. I also write and illustrate picture books.
I hold a Master’s Degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When I’m not writing or drawing, I’m a creative writing professor at St. Edward’s University and an English professor at Austin Community College, where I get to help my wonderful students discover the magic of storytelling.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How do I become a writer?
You become a writer by reading a lot, writing a lot, and most important of all – by remembering that you have a very special and unique point of view, even when you don’t feel like you do. If you want to write but don’t know where to begin, there are lots of ways you can practice. For example, you could start by describing the things and people around you. And then, when you’re comfortable with that, start making up characters of your own. Give them interests and secrets! Give them a problem, and try to think of how they’ll solve that problem. And when you’re writing, don’t worry about it if your stories aren’t perfect at first – no one’s are! Just keep writing and practicing. In other words, don’t get discouraged if you don’t love what you write right away. Authors spend a long time getting their stories just right!
Also, if you feel like doing an experiment, try to follow at least one of your stories all the way through to the end. I know it’s a lot harder to finish a book than to start one – but you can do it! I believe in you. ☺
Where do ideas come from?
Most writers aren’t exactly sure where their ideas come from. My best guess is that this process involves two things:
First, we writers are always observing people, and wondering why they do the things they do. This curiosity leads us to inventing characters of our own, and to trying to figure out why they do the things they do.
Second, everyone has a bunch of interests. Sometimes those interests have nothing to do with each other. For example, a person might really like soccer, frogs, lighthouses, and medieval history. All of those separate interests are like ingredients in a big, bubbling soup that lives in the back of authors’ minds. When the soup gets stirred up, the interests get mixed together. And then suddenly – voila! You have a story about a soccer-player frog who lives in a medieval lighthouse!
Does that make any sense? If it doesn’t, don’t worry. That’s what being a writer is sometimes about: trying to describe the indescribable. ☺
What would you be if you weren’t an author or illustrator?
Probably either a research psychologist, someone who runs an elephant sanctuary, a women’s studies professor, or a trapeze artist.
Who are your favorite children’s book authors?
There are way too many to name! But I’ll try to list some of my favorites: Megan Whalen Turner, Jackie Woodson, Madeleine L’Engle, Renee Watson, Phil Pullman, Susan Cooper, Courtney Summers, Brian Selznick, Angie Thomas, Kate Milford, Han Nolan, Anne Ursu, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Chris van Allsburg, George MacDonald, Michael Ende, Shaun Tan, Kimberley Brubaker Bradley, Katherine Paterson
Photo: Sam Bond Photography
Proudest moment: Hmmm…one of them would be when I won my school spelling bee in fifth grade, despite having pneumonia and a fever of 103 (which I didn’t realize at the time.)
Favorite animal: Seahorses!
Favorite season: Definitely fall.
Favorite movie: Clue.
Favorite place: It’s a toss-up between Schwangau, Germany, and Sedona, Arizona. Both look like fairytale kingdoms to me.
Strangest place I’ve ever been: Gibraltar. There are very cute, grumpy rock apes – called Barbary macaques – hanging out all over the place. There’s also a pedestrian walkway that crosses the runway of the airport!