I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t love books.
In fact, my mom has told me over and over again that I taught myself how to read when I was three. While I always found that a little hard to believe (mothers tend to exaggerate on occasion, especially when it comes to their kids’ accomplishments), she swears it's true.
Looking back, I think what appealed to me most about books was how a story could instantly transport me to another world and set me out on an adventure, whether it was floating around the universe with Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, or floating down a river with Huck Finn and Jim. I also loved how portable books were—I could open up a paperback on the bus to school, or in a park, or in my room, or in the car on the way to my grandparent’s house—so no matter where I was, I had the ability to completely disappear. Honestly, reading made me feel like I had this incredible super power, and it still does to this day.
But when did I stop being just an avid reader and become a writer? Well, some people might get asked that question and point to the day they got their literary agent, or signed their first publishing contract. Not me. The day I became a writer was when I penned a children’s book (illustrated by my brother Paul) called JUMP-ROPE RALPH. I think we were about 5 and 6 years old when we collaborated on this, stuck at home during a snowstorm. I also think my dad forced us to do something quiet together because oftentimes Paul and I had these giggle fits that could last for hours. Anyway, it was the first time I ever sat down to write a story, and I’ll never forget how amazing it felt to use my imagination and create characters with problems that would have to be solved by the end. (In this case, a boy rabbit named Ralph wants to compete in a jump-rope contest that girls are only allowed to enter – the ultimate narrative conflict!)
From then on, I wrote stories in notebooks, moving on from three-subject to five-subject sized when I was in eighth grade. I’d mostly write in the summers and give the stories to my friends to read, hoping they’d like the pre-teen love triangles I cooked up. Sometimes my friends would read the books while they were in progress and give me advice on where they thought the story should go. I also loved to write poetry, too, which I kept a lot more private, kind of like a diary.
When I went to high school, I joined any activity group involving writing, including the newspaper, which I co-edited for three years, starting as a sophomore. I tried getting into creative writing programs when I applied to college, but wasn’t accepted—a heartbreaking experience that had me doubting whether or not I had the talent to even be a good writer. I wound up in a traditional English program instead, and for a while, I forgot about pursuing my writing in any serious way. It’s just a hobby, I told myself, so in college I did some poetry slams and thought that would be the extent of it.
But then I went on to graduate school, where I was considering a career in academia, and something shifted back into place. While I was toiling away on term papers that had names like “Demystifying the Mneumonics in Milton’s Paradise Lost,” (um….what?) I got a job working as an editorial assistant at a publishing house in New York City. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but it was life changing—I saw that there was another way I could be a part of the world of books. If I couldn’t get my own work published (or if it wasn’t worthy of being published to begin with), then I could help someone else make his or her dream of becoming an author come true, and do everything I could to give them the right editorial guidance. I’ll never forget the first time I called a writer to say I wanted to acquire his novel—he thought it was a prank!
So that’s what I’ve been doing over the past decade—helping authors to create their very best books. Needless to say, working in publishing inspired me to start writing again, and I went through all the things fledgling writers go through. I worked on a novel for five-plus years, got an agent, received a bunch of rejection letters, and was eventually dropped by the agent. But then as luck would have it, an editor became interested in a new tween series that I was writing about friendship and before I knew it, I was finally on the other side of that “I want to acquire your book!” call. The IN OR OUT series was born in 2007, and not too long after that came ROMEO & JULIET & VAMPIRES, a mash-up novel that I wrote in hopes that reluctant readers of Shakespeare would feel more engaged by the Bard of Avon. (I actually had a lot of trouble understanding our dear Will back in the day.)
I’d have to say, though, that one of the best things to come out of my life as a book editor was meeting my writing partner, Cheryl Klam. I fell in love with her books from the moment I read the first pages, and when I met her, I knew we would make an incredible team. You can read more about our new novel ELUSION here and on the FAQ page.