Born June 1, 1936, in Morristown, NJ; daughter of Casimiro Radames and Helen Katherine (Greis) Scoppettone; partner of Linda Crawford (a writer) since 1972. Hobbies and other interests: Movies, reading, gambling (in moderation), the Internet, blogging.
Novelist and playwright.
Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre Award, 1972, for Stuck; Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation grant, 1974; American Library Association best young adult book citation, 1975, and New Jersey Institute of Technology New Jersey Authors Award, 1976, both for Trying Hard to Hear You; California Young Readers Medal (high school), California Reading Association, 1979, for The Late Great Me; (as Jack Early) Shamus Award, Private Eye Writers of America, and Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, both 1985, both for A Creative Kind of Killer; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, 1986, for Playing Murder; two Lambda Award nominations for the Lauren Laurano series.
Trying Hard to Hear You, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.
The Late Great Me, Putnam (New York, NY), 1976.
Happy Endings Are All Alike, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
Long Time between Kisses, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
Playing Murder, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
NOVELS; FOR ADULTS
Some Unknown Person, Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.
Such Nice People, Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.
Innocent Bystanders, New American Library (New York, NY), 1983.
Beautiful Rage, Five Star Mysteries (Waterville, ME), 2004.
This Dame for Hire, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2005.
"LAUREN LAURANO" MYSTERY SERIES
Everything You Have Is Mine, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1991.
I'll Be Leaving You Always, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1993.
My Sweet Untraceable You, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1994.
Let's Face the Music and Die, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1996.
Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1998.
NOVELS; UNDER PSEUDONYM JACK EARLY
A Creative Kind of Killer, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1984, published under name Sandra Scoppettone, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1995.
Razzamatazz, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1985, published under name Sandra Scoppettone, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1995.
Donato and Daughter, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988, published under name Sandra Scoppettone, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1995.
Suzuki Beane, illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh, Double-day (New York, NY), 1961.
Bang Bang You're Dead, illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.
Home Again, Home Again Jiggity Jig, produced at Cubiculo Theatre, New York, NY, 1969.
Something for Kitty Genovese (one-act), performed by Valerie Bettis Repertory Company, 1971.
Stuck, produced at Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre, Waterford, CT, 1972, produced at Open Space Theatre, New York, NY, 1976.
Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers (screenplay), Maron-New Line, 1972.
Love of Life (teleplay), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS-TV), 1972.
A Little Bit Like Murder (teleplay), American Broadcasting Companies (ABC-TV), 1973.
Scoppettone's manuscripts are housed in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.
The Late Great Me was adapted as a film by Daniel Wilson Productions, 1982; Donato and Daughter was adapted as a television movie, CBS-TV, 1993.
Noted for her upfront treatment of controversial subjects, Sandra Scoppettone is the author of several young-adult novels that deal with homosexuality, alcoholism, and rape. Though some critics contend that she has chosen to focus on attention-getting topics to sell books, Scoppettone begs to differ. As she asserted in Speaking for Ourselves, "The books I've written have been about important issues in my own life or in the lives of people I've known." From her popular novels for young adults, which include the 1976 work The Late Great Me and the 1985 publication Playing Murder, Scoppettone has gone on to write a series of adult mystery novels featuring lesbian detective Lauren Laurano, as well as several crime novels under the pseudonym Jack Early.
Growing up in South Orange, New Jersey, Scoppettone knew as early as the age of five that she wanted to be a writer. And right from the start, her parents encouraged this ambition. "They gave me the feeling that I could do this," she recalled in an interview for Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA). "They certainly encouraged it and said I could do whatever I wanted and were very supportive the whole time." An only child, Scoppettone remembers being both active and reserved, depending on the situation. "When I was with other kids I certainly was active," she observed. "When I would come in after playing I was all alone. My mother was there, and later my father, but there were no other children for me to play with, so I used my imagination a great deal to make up stuff."
One thing that set Scoppettone apart from other children was the overprotectiveness of her parents, especially that of her father. "I wasn't allowed to do a lot of physical stuff that other kids were allowed
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to do, like riding bikes or going down our hill all the way on a sled … it made me feel a little different." To compensate for these feelings, Scoppettone would escape into her imagination and write stories when she was alone. One of her favorite activities took place at her grandparent's house when she was about five or six and the only grandchild. "It was a fairly big family, and I would get under the table and listen to everything and spy," related Scoppettone. "I loved to listen and loved to hear adults tell stories and talk. I made up my own stories a lot. I remember playing with marbles, not playing regular marble games, but making a marble a person, giving them a name and moving them around."
Other aspects of her childhood, including grammar school, were also enjoyable for Scoppettone. When she reached seventh grade, however, her feelings about school suddenly changed. "I seemed to have a personality change," she remarked to AAYA. "I was a very good little girl up till then, and then I became sort of a bad little girl." Leaving school early at the end of seventh grade when she was diagnosed as having chorea, a disease that required a great deal of rest, Scoppettone returned the next year with a totally different attitude. "I was no longer quiet, I was no longer a goodie two shoes. I had a complete personality change."
Moves into Writing Career
After finishing high school, Scoppettone had no interest in attending college; she wanted to move to New York City and write. Her parents supported her in her endeavors, and she took on various jobs within the city. "I really began to support myself with my writing around the age of thirty," observed Scoppettone. Children's author and illustrator Louise Fitzhugh collaborated with Scoppettone on her first published work, the picture book Suzuki Beane. The pair also collaborated on Scoppettone's next work, Bang Bang You're Dead. In the meantime, she also wrote for other media, including television, film, and stage. "Writing for television, film, or theater is a cooperative thing, and I don't like it much because you usually don't have the final word like you do with books," Scoppettone pointed out. And because of the lack of control a writer has in these media, she does not plan to write for them again. "I've had productions and it's very exciting to hear your words on one hand. On the other hand, it's horrifying when you know they've skipped three pages of an act and they don't know it. It's a very out of control situation. Something I like about writing books is that you have control."
It was Scoppettone's ability to handle and control a touchy situation that inspired the subject matter for her first young-adult novel. "I was living on the North Fork of Long Island where there was a thing called 'Youth on Stage,'" she remembered. "They needed someone to direct the summer musical and I had directed adult things, so I volunteered. There were two high school boys who were obviously having an affair, and the kids were being awful to them. I stepped in and didn't let all the awful things that happen in the book happen, but that was the basis for Trying Hard to Hear You."
Focus Moves to Controversial Subjects
Published in 1974, Trying Hard to Hear You tells a similar tale. Set in the summer of 1973 on the North Fork of Long Island, the story is told by sixteen-year-old Camilla Crawford. A summer production of the musical Anything Goes is under way, and Camilla and her group of friends are all participating in one way or another. During the course of rehearsals, Camilla falls for one of the actors, Phil Chrystie. The two go out on a couple of dates, but Camilla is confused when Phil asks more than a few questions about her best friend and next-door neighbor, Jeff Grathwohl. Things come to a head when Jeff and Phil are caught kissing during a Fourth of July party. The group then proceeds to ostracize the two boys and violence ensues. Breaking under the pressure, Phil decides to "prove" his sexuality with a girl; the two get drunk and are killed in a car crash.
"The confrontation between the gentle sincerity of the lovers and the tittering shock of the 'straights' is … the most emotionally genuine and moving thing in the book," maintained Annie Gottlieb in the New York Times Book Review. A Booklist reviewer asserted that "plot threads are credibly interwoven" and "adult as well as teenage characters are well developed and interrelated" in Trying Hard to Hear You to create "a teenage story of unusual depth for mature readers."
Scoppettone's next young-adult novel, The Late Great Me, also has somewhat personal origins. "The Late Great Me deals with alcoholism," she told AAYA. "I had done my research because I'm a recovered alcoholic. When I wrote it I was sober, but I have had years of being an active alcoholic. This was not my story, however—I didn't write about myself. Things such as hangovers and blackouts are the same, but this is not my story. I do think I was a teenage alcoholic, though, in the sense that I think I was an alcoholic the first time I picked up a drink. I didn't get sober until I was in my thirties."
Geri Peters, the young alcoholic in The Late Great Me, considers herself one of the "freaks" in her high school. Geri is thrilled at the beginning of her junior year when Dave Townsend, a handsome new student, picks her to befriend. Her mother, who constantly relives and talks about her "popular" teenage years, desperately wants Geri to fit in and is ecstatic that her daughter has a new friend. The two start dating, and Dave introduces Geri to drinking the first time they go out. As time goes by, Geri's drinking escalates until she has bottles stashed in her school locker and in her closet at home. Nothing can make Geri realize she has a problem, not even the death of Dave's mother, another alcoholic. It is finally one of her teachers, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous herself, who spots the signs, and Geri grudgingly accepts her help.
Scoppettone "has a swift, engaging style but the story is centered on a problem rather than on empathetic
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characters," asserted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Karen McGinley, however, concluded in Best Sellers that "The Late Great Me is a book which will make us all more aware of a problem that is growing around us. It will help us to grow in our own awareness and understanding."
Treatment of Teen Homosexuality
Scoppettone deals with another "controversial" issue in Happy Endings Are All Alike, a book which has been banned in several areas. The novel, published in 1978, focuses on the lesbian relationship between two teenage girls in a small American town. Jaret and Peggy are spending a loving sum-mer together when Peggy decides to test her sexual orientation by dating a young man. In the meantime, a jealous youth who has been spying on the two girls savagely beats and rapes Jaret, threatening to reveal her lesbianism if she tells anyone. With the support of her family, Jaret bravely brings charges against the boy. Although many critics found the rape scene unnecessarily brutal, Lenore Gordon wrote in the Interracial Books for Children Bulletin that Scoppettone's "intent is not to shock, but to leave the reader with no illusions about the violence inherent in the act." Geraldine DeLuca, writing in the Lion and the Unicorn, saw Happy Endings Are All Alike as successfully exposing the prejudice against homosexuals and maintained that "it is a book that challenges many of our conventional assumptions about life, particularly the belief that certain patterns lead to happiness and that they are the same for all of us. And it encourages the individual to stand for what he or she needs and believes."
Long Time between Kisses goes to the heart of being a teen in its examination of one young woman's search for personal identity. Billie James, who resides in a loft in New York City's SoHo district, refers to the people in her life as The Mother, The Father, The Organic Woman, and The Bonus Boy. Her divorced parents lead rather unusual lives: her mother is an artist turned carpenter, and her father, who lives with a younger woman, is a failed musician who spends most of his time doing drugs. During the summer of her sixteenth year, Billie, who thinks she has an unremarkable personality, chops off all her brown hair and dyes her new crewcut bright purple. Dumping her boyfriend, she finds herself falling for twenty-one-year-old Mitch, who has recently discovered he has multiple sclerosis. In the meantime, she and her best friend, Elissa, start taking care of an old man, Captain Natoli, who has been forgotten by his family and is barely surviving. After realizing that Mitch has left behind his family and fiancée because of his disease, Billie does the right thing and tracks them down. In the end, she discovers that she does have quite a remarkable talent: a tremendous capacity to care for other people.
Reviewing Long Time between Kisses, Joseph A. Szuhay wrote in Best Sellers that the novel "is a serious yet humorous presentation of life not too infrequently faced by our youth." And Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Jorja Davis concluded: "Wit and humor, and finely drawn characters … work together to flesh out this bittersweet identity crisis and first love."
Scoppettone's young-adult novel Playing Murder is similar to many of her adult novels: it concerns a murder and the solving of a crime. Anna Parker has just moved to Blue Haven Island, Maine, with her mother and father, her twin brother, Bill, and her younger sister. The move was necessary after Bill was caught stealing money from his football team's uniform fund; his parents want to avoid embarrassment and start a new life. Upon arriving in Maine, the entire Parker family starts to work at the restaurant they have bought. The family that previously owned the establishment includes handsome young Kirk Cunningham and his sister and brother, who all continue to work at the restaurant. Despite the fact that she still has a boyfriend, Tony, in her old hometown, Anna falls for Kirk and begins to see him even though he has a girlfriend himself. The action reaches a turning point one night when the group is playing an after dark game called "Murder," and Kirk, who is playing the "victim," is actually killed. In an attempt to clear her brother, who has been arrested for the crime, Anna learns that Kirk was not what he appeared to be and eventually discovers the true murderer.
Finding some "questionable bits in the whodunit," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Playing Murder "is nevertheless fine escape reading." Susan Levine, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, found Anna's narrative to be a bit repetitive at times, but added that "the book is interesting" and that "its suspense holds it together well." And a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor pointed out that "the plotting and the plethora of suspects are somewhat contrived," but concluded that Playing Murder "has the sort of danger and suspense that appeal to thriller fans, and it paints a devastating picture of the murder victim."
Gains Reputation for Adult Crime Fiction
Since the mid-1980s, Scoppettone has found increasing critical and popular success through her detective novels. In addition to those that she has written under the pseudonym Jack Early—including A Creative Kind of Killer, Razzamatazz, and Donato and Daughter—Scoppettone's books featuring lesbian sleuth Lauren Laurano have gained a large readership. As she stated in an interview published on her Web site, the private eye novel is her "favorite form because you can comment about the culture and society in a way you can't in other forms." Scoppetone added that she finds a particular satisfaction in writing about crime. "I do like coming up with the solution because I never know who did it when I start a book. The thrill of the hunt doesn't really happen in writing the book … that would happen more to a real cop or PI. I don't interpret the psyches of my characters. They do that themselves. I'm an innocent bystander."
The 1991 novel Everything You Have Is Mine introduces Laurano and is "the first book I've ever written directly about myself," Scoppettone noted in her AAYA interview. "Meet Lauren Laurano," wrote Michael Lassell in the Advocate. "She's short, Italian, and 42 (although she looks younger). She's a witty, articulate feminist, a lesbian chocoholic who gets queasy at the sight of blood. She's a wise-cracking sweetheart of a pistol-packing private eye and the protagonist of one of the summer's hottest novels." Everything You Have Is Mine details Laurano's attempts to solve a rape case that quickly turns into a murder investigation. Laurano resides in Greenwich Village with her long-time lover, Kip, a psychologist who has a large family that is accepting of the couple's relationship. To find first the rapist and then the murderer, Laurano must untangle the victim's family ties from amid lies that have been told over the years. A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that "a lively pace, convincing characterization, colorful scene setting and sensitive observations about complications among families ordinary and unusual far outweigh the overwrought elements of the plot; readers will want to follow Lauren on her next case." Jean M. White, writing in the Washington Post Book World, noted that Scoppettone "is a sharply observant writer and captures the flavor of the Greenwich Village scene with its quirky characters and sassy-smart talk."
In I'll Be Leaving You Always Laurano must deal with the slaying of a close friend while also solving the friend's murder. As the detective unravels the case, however, she learns that her friend had a secret life involving criminal activity. A critic in Publishers Weekly called I'll Be Leaving You Always a "substantial and satisfying novel." My Sweet Untraceable You prompted Booklist reviewer Marie Kuda to call Scoppettone "a highly entertaining writer with her fingers on current political and commercial pulses." In the work, Laurano is hired by a recovering drug addict named Boston Blackie to investigate the death of his mother; Blackie is convinced that she was murdered by his father decades earlier. Let's Face the Music and Die also features Laurano, who this time is investigating a murder in which her friend Elissa is the prime suspect. However, the murder is not the only source of tension in the book, which explores Laurano's troubled relationship with her girl-friend, Kip, and her interest in another woman. In addition, the detective is being stalked by a rapist who has just been released from prison. "Fans will most appreciate the chance to know game and complex Lauren better," observed a contributor in Publishers Weekly.
In Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey the final work in the "Lauren Laurano" series, the detective and Kip head to Long Island for a vacation, intending to renew their troubled relationship. However, the usually relaxing town of Seaview has been struck by a crime wave, and it is up to Laurano to investigate the murder of local Bill Moffat, as well as other murders that soon come to light. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that Lauren is, "as always, excellent company."
Scoppettone explained to AAYA that she hopes the books featuring Laurano will help women "feel prouder and have more self-esteem as lesbians. I think it's already happening. Everything You Have Is Mine is the first mainstream lesbian private eye book and it took a courageous publisher to print it. I got my first daily New York Times review for that book—I don't know if you know what that means. After writing for all these years, to finally be reviewed in the daily Times was really exciting. I had gotten other reviews in the Sunday Times, but that's not quite as prestigious. It was this book, and it was reviewed very well without making a big number about the lesbianism either. It is what it is and that's the way the reviewer took it and it was really great."
Introduces New Sleuth
In 2005, Scoppettone published This Dame for Hire, the first work in a new series featuring private detective Faye Quick. Set in New York City during World War II, the novel follows Faye as her detective agency boss is drafted into the Army and she must unexpectedly take over his sleuthing duties. She is soon tracking the killer of Claudette West, a wealthy young woman found dead in a snow-covered street. Claudette's boyfriend is a seedy character who may have killed her after she refused to give him any more money. But Faye is not so sure. There were plenty of other greedy men in Claudette's life as well. And Claudette was leading a double life. Linnea Dodson, writing for Reviewing the Evidence, found that "the story is fast-paced and mostly gritty realism." Other critics especially praised the novel's lead character. "Faye Quick makes a tough and touching heroine," according to the critic for Publishers Weekly. Rex E. Klett, writing in the Library Journal, called Faye "a fascinating new heroine to be watched." "This has been my greatest challenge in the PI form," Scoppettone said of This Dame for Hire on her Web site. The novel "called for research, which is fun," Scoppettone continued. "But Faye speaks in a particular way and I couldn't use words that might come to me naturally. It was amazing how I had to catch myself sometimes. And giving the book a feeling of the time period was essential. I didn't want research to show and I don't think it does."
If you enjoy the works of Sandra Scoppettone
If you enjoy the works of Sandra Scoppettone, you may also want to check out the following books:
Laurie R. King, To Play the Fool, 1995.
Ellen Hart, Wicked Games, 1998.
Val McDermid, Booked for Murder, 2000.
Although she has written for a young adult audience, Scoppettone now chooses to write exclusively for adults. "I do prefer writing for adults now only because I feel I've said everything I have to say to young adults," she told AAYA. "However, if something should come to mind that I feel would be best in that form I would do it."
The young adult novels that Scoppettone has written have had a significant impact on readers. "I've known people who have gotten sober after reading The Late Great Me," the author stated, "it ticked off something in their head. Certainly the gay and lesbian books have affected people's lives. I wish that I'd had such books when I was a kid. What I really hoped was that the books would let them know it was okay. It was amazing, because when I was doing readings for Everything You Have Is Mine a number of people came up to me and said, 'I was a fan of yours when I was a little girl and your books changed my life.' It's very thrilling. So I guess I hope these books change people's lives in a positive way."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 8, Beacham (Osprey, FL), 1994.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 26, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Gallo, Donald R., editor, Speaking for Ourselves, National Council of Teachers of English (Urbana, IL), 1990.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Ward, Martha E., and others, Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.
Advocate, July 2, 1991, Michael Lassell, "Murder, She Writes," p. 93; October 13, 1998, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, p. 96.
Best Sellers, May, 1976, Karen McGinley, review of The Late Great Me, p. 40; June, 1982, Joseph A. Szuhay, review of Long Time between Kisses, p. 123.
Booklist, November 15, 1974, review of Trying Hard to Hear You, p. 340; May 15, 1994, p. 1668; June 1, 1996, p. 1643; June 1, 1998, Whitney Scott, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, p. 1735.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1975, p. 99; January, 1979, p. 86; May, 1985, review of Playing Murder.
Horn Book, August, 1982, pp. 417-418.
Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 10, number 6, 1979, Lenore Gordon, review of Happy Endings Are All Alike, p. 16.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1974, p. 1110; March 1, 1980, review of Such Nice People, p. 319.
Lambda Book Report, January, 1992, review of Trying Hard to Hear You, p. 44; November, 1992, review of Everything You Have Is Mine, p. 42; March-April, 1993, Katherine DeBold, review of I'll Be Leaving You Always, p. 31; September, 1994, review of My Sweet Untraceable You, p. 44; August, 1998, Meredith Wood, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, pp. 18-19.
Library Journal, September 15, 1974, pp. 2297-2298; April 15, 1980, Michele M. Leber, review of Such Nice People, p. 1005; April 1, 1984, p. 736; May 1, 1985, p. 81; July, 1998, p. 140; July 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of This Dame for Hire, p. 57.
Lion and the Unicorn, winter, 1979-80, Geraldine De-Luca, "Taking True Risks: Controversial Issues in New Young Adult Novels," pp. 125-148.
New York Times Book Review, January 12, 1975, Annie Gottlieb, review of Trying Hard to Hear You, p. 8; February 22, 1976, p. 38; September 25, 1977, review of Some Unknown Person, p. 22; April 25, 1982, Annie Gottlied, "Young but Not Innocent," p. 44; October 13, 1985, Newgate Callendar, "Crime," p. 29; April 14, 1991, p. 25; February 21, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of I'll Be Leaving You Always, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, August 19, 1974, p. 83; November 10, 1975, review of The Late Great Me, p. 47; June 20, 1977, p. 66; July 24, 1978, p. 100; February 22, 1980, review of Such Nice People, p. 92; December 3, 1982, p. 50; February 17, 1984, p. 73; March 22, 1985, review Razzamatazz, p. 54; August 16, 1985, review of Playing Murder, p. 71; January 15, 1988, review of Donato and Daughter, p. 79; February 22, 1991, review of Everything You Have Is Mine, p. 213; May 16, 1994, p. 53; May 6, 1996, review of Let's Face the Music and Die, p. 72; May 18, 1998, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, p. 73; May 23, 2005, review of This Dame for Hire, p. 55.
School Library Journal, January, 1976, p. 58; February, 1979, Linda R. Silver, review of Happy Endings Are All Alike, p. 65; May, 1980, p. 92.
Village Voice, December 16, 1974, pp. 51-52.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1982, Jorja Davis, review of Long Time between Kisses, p. 37; June, 1985, Susan Levine, review of Playing Murder, p. 135.
Washington Post Book World, May 20, 1984, Jean M. White, review of A Creative Kind of Killer, pp. 8-9; April 21, 1991, Jean M. White, review of Everything You Have Is Mine, p. 10.
Wilson Library Bulletin, December, 1978, p. 341.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1997, Kathy Phillips, review of Let's Face the Music and Die, pp. 39-40; July, 1998, Kathy Phillips, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, pp 32-33.
Ellen Hart, http://www.ellenhart.com/ (May 1, 2005), interview with Scoppettone.
Reviewing the Evidence, http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/ (May, 2005), Linnea Dodson, review of This Dame for Hire.
Sandra Scoppettone: Crime Writer, http://sandra scoppettone.com/ (May 1, 2005).
Scoppettone, Sandra, in an interview for Authors and Artists for Young Adults, January 14, 1993.