FAQs Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the skinniest part of the state of Maryland, six miles from Pennsylvania and six miles from West Virginia. But once I left for college I never lived there again. I have lived in two other places in Maryland: Baltimore and Silver Spring (on the District of Columbia line). Iíve also lived in West Virginia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, the Florida Keys (The "Keys" feel like a state separate from Florida), and now North Carolina.
Where was your favorite place to live?
Wherever I was at the time. It's stimulating to meet new people and learn about new places. I have an insatiable curiosity. But the most beautiful place I lived was the Florida Keys. Wait, it's lovely everywhere in North Carolina. I love my magical log cabin in the NC woods. Hmm... That's a tough question.
You have the initial J. on your book covers. What does it stand for?
Jean. But I've only heard it used when I was in trouble at home.
Do you use real children, maybe your own, to model your characters?
Using my own would be difficult, since the only children I have are the ones I create on the page. But Iíve loved hundreds of students from ages five to twenty-five during my teaching career. And I wouldnít be surprised if my characters share traits with my former students. I know Kenzie is very much like a delightful neighbor I once had.
Did you grow up in a big family?
No. I have one brother seven years my senior. But we lived in my mother's parents' home, and having Grandma and Grandpa upstairs was a family bonus. I never knew my other grandparents. My father was raised in an orphanage. My mother was an only child. I did know and love my fatherís brothers and sisters, but Dad considered all the children in the orphanage to be his family, not just his natural siblings. We attended many family reunions at the orphanage. I keep in touch with cousins. And, Iím very proud of my brotherís children and grandchildren. Just wish they all lived closer.
Do you have pets?
I adopted the sweetest mixed breed dog when he was two years old. Itchy is part bichon frise and part cock-a-poo. Heís fourteen now. I canít imagine not having a dog. Iíve had at least one as long as I can remember. At one time I had seven. Iíve lived with and loved many animal friends, including cats, seven horses and lots of cows. Oh, and a pair of parakeets. My first pet, however, was a rabbit named Snowball that enjoyed short hops on a leash.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Most authors answer this question something like this, ďI started telling stories before I could write and havenít stopped yet.Ē I donít think thatís true for me. I remember that I enjoyed writing assignments in school. Even book reports. Honest! But Iím not sure when I knew I wanted to write novels. I read them like crazy though. Devoured them in all forms. In high school I was a feature writer on the Southwind staff and hoped to one day hold the same position on a city paper. Like many teens, I churned out poems and still enjoy writing them. Somewhere in my studies of reading education and childrenís literature the seed of fiction writing was planted, and I began to study and practice the craft.
How do you develop a story?
Not an easy answer. My major projects so far have been the result of a passion for animals and the natural environment. Iíll read about a general ecological issue or a specific situation or see a news report on TV. Then Iíll begin to wonder if and what kids could do about it. Lastly, Iíll ask if thereís a way to toss in an intriguing mystery element. If I come up with a promising story idea after this line of thought, I run with it.
Have you always been interested in the outdoors?
Always. My father was a serious Boy Scout leader and won many awards. The last words he spoke before he passed at age eighty-nine were, ďWhereís my Silver Beaver?Ē I had to explain to a confused nurse that the Silver Beaver is a distinguished service award given to adult scout leaders who have made an impact on youth. I assured Dad it was safe with me. My family traveled the country camping. During my twelfth summer, I was blessed to have a fabulous experience. Just my mother and I traveled and camped throughout the west. It was the best mother-daughter time imaginable and three months later she died. Until I was twelve, we canoed, hiked, picnicked, swam, and fished together as a family. Those are my best memories.
Do you begin with the story or with characters?
So far itís always been the story.
How do characters come to you?
When I have a problem in mind, I ask what traits a character must have to solve the problem. Fearlessness? Stealth? Acting ability? Creativity? Math aptitude? Athletic prowess? Could the character more easily accomplish the desired goal if he/she is mistakenly underestimated or bold and out there? What skill set and what mental attributes are needed? You get the picture.
Then I might ask what, if any, friend or friends the protagonist would need to provide attributes he/she lacks. And should the friend question or challenge the protagonist? If so, how? Of course, there has to be a bad guy/gal or two. So I ask what obstacles fit the story's environment? And, of course, the antagonist must have the skills to set up those roadblocks.
I also people watch. Grab traits, both physical and mental, from people I see or know. I think all authors do that either consciously or subconsciously.
How do you decide the setting for your story?
Since my first two novels feature endangered species, the setting had to come first. The environment had to be accurate. You canít place a sea turtle in a mountain environment! Unless youíre writing fantasyÖ And thatís not a skill set I have. Other stories Iím working on could be set anywhere, but I stick to environments Iím familiar with in order to provide authentic details.
How do you get to know your characters?
Actually, I interview them--kind of like what's going on here. I ask about their past, fears, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, plans, favorite music, hobbies, best friends, etc. I ask them what they would say about certain events or to certain people. How theyíd like to spend their birthday. What theyíd do if they won the lottery, etc. I get to know them well that way and can pretty much predict how theyíll react on the page under most circumstances. The characters become very real to me.
In fact, when I'm in the Florida Keys, I catch myself wanting to walk up to one of the wildlife officers there to ask how Mike Kaczynskiís doing or I find myself watching the news to catch the latest KTC (Keys Teens Care) project. Then I smack my forehead. Whoa. Those are fictional characters. Aren't they?
How do you spend your time when youíre not writing?
Iíll assume you mean when Iím not putting words on a page, engaged in research, mentally planning a story, marketing, social networking, and the gazillion other activities involved with being an author. I read, garden, travel, and cruise art and craft galleries, antique shops, flea markets, and junk shops. I also love to cook while listening to music, but I need to back off in the kitchen. Between cooking for those I love and sitting long hours at the keyboard, Iím close to growing out of my jeans. I rarely have "free" time. Don't even remember what that means. Which reminds me, I need to get back to work!
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