Where did you grow up?
Palo Alto, CA, Santa Barbara, CA, Costa Rica, Key West, FL, Azores Islands, Canary Islands, Florianapolis, Brazil, San Fernando, Argentina. Home was a fifty foot wooden sailboat called Gaucho.
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
Volcano by Lauren (age 7)
I blow up when I am mad
I blow up when I am bad
I blow up when I am sad
but I grow up when I am glad.
I felt extraordinarily proud when I wrote it. Now…um…the rhyme sounds a bit forced, and the structure a tad repetitive. Some say that my writing has improved since then.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
Me, lying on a soft couch, a cup of tea and a bowl of chocolate chips at my side, a cat on my lap, and a book in my hand—that’s my definition of bliss. A foot-massage would be nice, too, but I can survive without it. Books have always been a treat for me, especially ones that take me to new places, and make me laugh and cry. Oh, and I like to be entertained.
I wanted to connect with readers the way my favorite authors have connected with me.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
Yes, but more indirectly than directly.
My first (still unpublished) novel, Vanessa the Contessa, was inspired by my experience of abruptly changing from a happy home-schooled 6th grader to a 7th grade loser at a regular middle school. I write better, though, when my characters and situations are entirely made up.
I tend to use little details from my life rather than entire vignettes or real people. Here are a few examples from My Invented Life:
My husband is very passionate about aesthetics. One day he suggested we print up a bunch of bumper stickers with the word “Eye-sore” and slap them on ugly things around town in the middle of the night. That gave me the idea of Roz using bumper stickers as revenge.
A high school classmate ate a banana slug on a dare. I believe a hundred dollars changed hands that day.
A friend of mine did the protein snack bar prank. I still remember the look on my son’s face.
I never dared to try out for a play, but I attended rehearsals sometimes because I found the drama scene so fascinating.
I worked as a “waitress/kitchen helper” for conferences at the Stanford University cafeteria one summer. Feeding the dishwasher was my least favorite part of the job.
What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
We had a very tiny library aboard the Gaucho, so I read the same books over and over. Harriet the Spy, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, Heidi, James and the Giant Peach, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase stand out in my mind.
When middle school trauma hit, Judy Blume was there for me. My favorite required reading book in high school was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Around that time, I fell in love with Jane Austen and John Steinbeck.
Jack London’s passionate description of the internal life of a writer in Martin Eden made me want to be one. Martin Eden killed himself in the end, but that didn’t dissuade me.
My current tastes are eclectic: Rita Mae Brown, John Le Carre, Alice Walker, Khaled Hosseini, Margaret Atwood, Dostoevsky, Susan Monk Kidd, David Sedaris, Louise Erdrich, and J.R. Tolkien. I read around.
Most recently read middle-grade and young adult authors:
Gene Luen Yang
What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
I live in a tiny ski town up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
I ski, hike, backpack, and can fruit.
I love to eat, and most of my friends are good cooks! Just by accident, btw, I assure you.
I practice aikido with my two sons. This is my most challenging hobby because I have trouble telling my right side from my left.
I love to dance and listen to music.
I often travel to far flung places.
I collect very, very small things (my whole collection fills less than half a cup), nesting dolls, and interesting stories from trips abroad.
Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
Jane Austen – Her stories are engrossing, and not at all preachy, and yet she makes a strong statement about the class system, the role of women, gender stereotypes, and more. I want to achieve that with my books.
John Green – He elevates nerds to their rightful place in the world. His books are funny, moving, and upbeat.
What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Write a lot, write for yourself, and write about the things you’re passionate about.