What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a preschooler, I wanted to be a pirate, and then when I started school, I wanted to be a librarian. But in the fourth grade, I got my copy of Alice in Wonderland / Alice Through the Looking-Glass and decided once and for all that I wanted to be an illustrator of stories for children.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t even think about writing. My husband wrote the story for the first book. But then he didn’t want to do it anymore, so I had to start writing my own stories. After all, you can’t make pictures for stories unless you have stories to make pictures for.
What’s your first childhood memory?
I have a lot of preschool memories, all from when we lived in a little town just south of Columbus, Ohio. I kind of remember sitting in a high chair. And when I was a little older, I remember seeing Jack Frost looking in through the kitchen window. That was pretty surprising.
What’s your most embarrassing childhood memory?
I don’t remember any. I’m probably just suppressing them all.
What’s your favorite childhood memory?
I think I liked best the times when my sister and I would curl up next to our mother while she read aloud to us.
As a young person, who did you look up to most?
No question: my mother.
What was your worst subject in school?
Arithmetic. I think you call it math now.
What was your best subject in school?
Art. And after that, English.
What was your first job?
It was when I was a teenager. I worked in what we called the College Shop in a big downtown Cleveland (Ohio) department store called Higbee’s. But after that, I mostly worked in the pricing department of a washing machine factory.
How did you celebrate publishing your first book?
I don’t think I did anything special. By that time, I was beginning to get over my absolute astonishment at having found my editor in the first place. That was the most wonderful moment of all.
Where do you write your books?
I think about them for a long time before I actually start putting words on paper, and then I think about them all over the place. Then, when I’m ready, I work at my computer in my workroom. But before, I always wrote them out longhand, sitting on my sofa in the living room. I wrote on a big tablet, and then I typed everything, paragraph by paragraph, on my typewriter, making changes as I went along.
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
I mostly write about all the unanswered questions I still have from when I was in elementary school.
Which of your characters is most like you?
The main characters in all of my long stories are like me, but I think Winnie Foster, in Tuck Everlasting, is most like me.
When you finish a book, who reads it first?
Always my editor, Michael de Capua. His opinion is the most important one.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Neither one, really. I’m mostly a middle-of-the-day person.
What’s your idea of the best meal ever?
One that someone else cooked. And it has to have something chocolate for dessert.
Which do you like better: cats or dogs?
Cats to look at and to watch, but dogs to own.
What do you value most in your friends?
Good talk and plenty of laughing.
Where do you go for peace and quiet?
Now that my children are grown and gone into lives of their own, I have plenty of peace and quiet just sitting around the house.
What makes you laugh out loud?
Words. My father was very funny with words, and I grew up laughing at the things he said.
What’s your favorite song?
Too many to mention, but most of them are from the ‘30s and ‘40s, when songs were to sing, not to shout and wiggle to.
Who is your favorite fictional character?
No question: Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass.
What are you most afraid of?
I have a fear that is very common when we are little, and I seem to have hung on to it: the fear of being abandoned.
What time of year do you like best?
May is my favorite month.
What is your favorite TV show?
I don’t watch many shows anymore – just CNN News and old movies.
If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you want for company?
My husband, Sam.
If you could travel in time, where would you go?
Back to Middletown, Ohio, to Lincoln School on Central Avenue, to live through fifth grade again. And again and again.
What’s the best advice you have ever received about writing?
No one single thing. Too many good things to list.
What do you want readers to remember about your books?
The questions without answers.
What would you do if you ever stopped writing?
Spend all my time doing word puzzles and games, and practicing the good old songs on my piano.
What do you like best about yourself?
That I can draw, and play the good old songs on my piano.
What is your worst habit?
Always expecting things to be perfect.
What is your best habit?
Trying to make things as perfect as I can.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Right now, it’s a picture for a new book that hasn’t even been published yet. It’s a picture of a man in a washtub, floating on the ocean in a rainstorm. I’m really proud of that picture.
Where in the world do you feel most at home?
That’s a hard question. My family moved away from Middletown, Ohio (see the question/answer about time travel), when I was in the middle of sixth grade, and we never went back. Even after all these years, though, Middletown is the place I think of when I think about “home.” I’ve lived in a lot of different places, though, and liked them all, so I don’t feel sorry for myself. It’s just that the word “home” has its
own kind of special meaning.
What do you wish you could do better?
Everything. Cook, write, play the piano, everything.
What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
Maybe that I believe that writing books is a long way from being important. The most important thing anyone can do is be a teacher. As for those of us who write books, I often think we should all stop for fifty years. There are so many wonderful books to read, and not enough time to get around to all of them. But we writers just keep cranking them out. All we can hope for is that readers will find at least a little time for them, anyway.