Regan, Dian Curtis 1950-
REGAN, Dian Curtis 1950-
Born May 17, 1950, in Colorado Springs, CO; daughter of Donald (a retired agent for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad) and Katherine (a homemaker; maiden name, French) Curtis; married John Regan (an engineer), August 25, 1979. Education: University of Colorado, Boulder, B.S. (education; with honors), 1980. Politics: Independent. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Traveling, study of alternative healing, reading.
Hewlett Packard, Colorado Springs, CO, inspector, 1968-70; Colorado Interstate Gas Company, Colorado Springs, clerk, 1971-78; Adams County District 12, Denver, CO, elementary school teacher, 1980-82; full-time author and speaker, 1982—.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (regional advisor, 1984-92), Authors Guild, National Coalition against Censorship.
International Reading Association/Children's Book Council Children's Choice Award, 1987, for I've Got Your Number; American Library Association (ALA) Recommended Book for Reluctant Readers, 1990, for Game of Survival; Oklahoma Cherubim Award, 1990, for Game of Survival, 1991, for Jilly's Ghost, and 1992, for Liver Cookies; Member of the Year, Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators, 1993; inducted into Oklahoma Professional Writers' Hall of Fame, 1996; Distinguished Medal of Service in Children's Literature, Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers, 1997; Best Book of 1999 Featuring a Cat (tie), Cat Writers' Association, for The Friendship of Milly and Tug; notable trade book in social studies citation, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, and best book for young adults citation, Young Adult Library Services Association, both 2003, for Shattered.
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
I've Got Your Number, Avon (New York, NY), 1986.
The Perfect Age, Avon (New York, NY), 1987.
Game of Survival, Avon (New York, NY), 1989.
Jilly's Ghost, Avon (New York, NY), 1990.
The Initiation, Avon (New York, NY), 1993.
Princess Nevermore, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
Contributor to anthologies, including New Year, New Love, Avon (New York, NY), 1996, Dirty Laundry, Viking (New York, NY), 1998, Shattered: Stories of Children and War, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001, Soul Searching: Thirteen Stories about Faith and Belief, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002, First Crossing: Stories about Teen Immigrants, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004, and What a Song Can Do: 12 Riffs on the Power of Music, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
I've Got Your Number and The Perfect Age have appeared in German translation.
The Kissing Contest, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.
Liver Cookies, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1991.
My Zombie Valentine, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
The Vampire Who Came for Christmas, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Home for the Howl-idays, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
Monster of the Month Club, illustrated by Laura Cornell, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
Monsters in the Attic, illustrated by Laura Cornell, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.
Fangs-giving, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.
Monsters in Cyberspace, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
Monsters and My One True Love, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
Contributor to anthologies, including Period Pieces: Stories for Girls, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003, and Mysterious 13, Scholastic (New York, NY), in press.
"GHOST TWINS" SERIES
The Mystery at Kickingbird Lake, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
The Mystery of One Wish Pond, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
The Mystery on Walrus Mountain, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
The Missing Moose Mystery, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
The Mystery of the Disappearing Dogs, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
The Haunted Campground Mystery, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
The Mystery at Hanover School, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
The Mystery of the Haunted Castle, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
The "Ghost Twins" series has been translated into Finnish.
The Class with the Summer Birthdays, illustrated by Susan Guevara, Holt (New York, NY), 1991.
The Curse of the Trouble Dolls, illustrated by Michael Chestworth, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.
The Peppermint Race, illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
The Friendship of Milly and Tug, illustrated by Jennifer Danza, Holt (New York, NY), 1999.
The Class with the Summer Birthdays has been translated into French.
The Thirteen Hours of Halloween, illustrated by Lieve Baeten, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1993.
Daddies, illustrated by Mary Morgan, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
Mommies, illustrated by Mary Morgan, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
Dear Dr. Sillybear, illustrated by Randy Cecil, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
A Sparkly Christmas Eve (board book), illustrated by Dawn Apperley, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2002.
Eight Nights of Chanukah Lights (board book), illustrated by Dawn Apperley, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2002.
How Do You Know It's Halloween? (board book), illustrated by Fumi Kosaka, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2002.
Chance, illustrated by Dee Huxley, Philomel (New York, NY), 2003.
How Do You Know It's Easter? (board book), illustrated by Fumi Kosaka, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2004.
Barnyard Slam, Holiday House (New York, NY), in press.
Juvenile market columnist, Byline magazine, 1983-89; contributor to periodicals, including Writer's Digest and Scholastic Scope. Titles by Regan have been published in electronic form by ipicturebooks.com.
"Monster of the Month Club" series was adapted in audiobook format; Dear Dr. Sillybear and The Peppermint Race were adapted in electronic format.
Work in Progress
Adjusting to Midnight, a novel; Foster Monsters, a picture book; The World According to Mallory; Dream-Giver.com, a young adult adventure; and Cam's Quest (working title), the sequel to Princess Nevermore.
Dian Curtis Regan is the author of fifty books for children, ranging from picture books to young adult novels. "I've published in all genres: picture books, chapter books, middle-grade, young adult, mystery, suspense, romance, humor, historical fiction, and fantasy," Regan once explained to SATA. "I was 'warned' not to do this, and advised to stick to one area and become good at it. But the idea of writing the same kind of book over and over didn't appeal to me. One niche I've carved for myself seems to be humor/fantasy, or 'scary funny' as one editor called it." Among Regan's "scary fun" titles are the "Ghost Twins," series, a four-volume "Monster of the Month Club" series, My Zombie Valentine, and Fangs-giving.
Regan was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1950, and among her favorite books as a child were Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and the "Bobbsey Twins" books. "When I was in elementary school, I loved hearing the teacher say, 'We're going to write a story.'" she recalled. "Everyone would groan except me. I'd already be writing. The reason, I suppose, was that I always surprised myself with the end result—something I still try to do. And when the teacher chose my story to read to the class, it reinforced my instinct that what I'd written was good, or, at least, different from what everyone else had written."
After high school, although Regan was still interested in writing, she confined her efforts to part-time freelancing while working another job. However, attending a writer's conference in the mid-1970s inspired her to begin seriously studying writing and literature. She enrolled in college and earned a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Colorado in 1980. After teaching for two years at elementary schools in Denver, Regan decided to divert her attention to writing full-time, figuring that if she did not find success after a year she would return to the teaching profession. Her first books, I've Got Your Number and The Perfect Age, were written that year, published several years later by Avon, and also found their way to publishers in Germany.
Many of Regan's books are geared toward an elementary school-aged readership, such as her "Monster of the Month" quartet. In Monster of the Month Club, readers are introduced to thirteen-year-old Rilla Harmony Earth, who is without the company of other children because her New Age-y single mom home-schools her while running a small country inn. One cold day in January a mysterious box arrives from the Monster of the Month Club, and inside is a small, seven-eyed creature named Icicle who is accompanied by specific instructions as to his care and feeding. The next month, Icicle is joined by Sweetie Pie, a fluffy, pink, far more loveable monster who, like its companion monster, becomes active only when the stars are in a particular alignment. Despite the companionship they provide Rilla, keeping the monsters fed, happy, and hidden is the ultimate challenge. Rilla's quandary grows in each of Regan's three subsequent novels as more monsters are added to the mix. In Monsters in the Attic, not only monsters but a budding romance occupy the teen's time, creating a story that Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson praised as a "quirky coming-of-age story that is often funny, sometimes sad, and always on target." In Monsters and My One True Love twelve monsters now inhabit Rilla's room, and amid the stress of meeting her long-absent father and preparing for a relative's wedding, she worries that a freak shift in the heavens—an eclipse AND a comet are scheduled for Christmas Eve—will spark all manner of mischief among her resident monsters. "Regan is particularly adept at mixing fantasy with realistic concerns," noted School Library Journal contributor Connie Tyrrell Burns in reviewing the concluding "Monster of the Month" volume. Burns went on to note in particular the interjection of "lots of tongue-in-cheek humor about Rilla's politically correct family."
"Many of my books are sparked by a single premise, phrase, or title," Regan once explained to SATA, citing Liver Cookies, My Zombie Valentine, and Home for the Howl-idays as examples. In composing her 1993 novel for middle-grade readers, as the author explained on her Web site, she started with a title, then dreamed up an "impossible situation" and asked "What happens next?": "What if Joey Ocean is sitting in his sixth grade math class when a new girl arrives? Not only does she have a strange name (Xia Dedd) but there's something weird about the way she walks and the way she never speaks, yet she can read Joey's mind. Are the rumors true? Is she really a zombie?" That idea was sparked from the title My Zombie Valentine.
Other ideas came from Regan's publisher, such as the concept behind her eight-volume "Ghost Twins" series. In the first installment, The Mystery at Kickingbird Lake, twins Robbie and Rebeka Zuffel become ghostly sleuths after drowning in a boating accident in the summer of 1942, along with their equally ghostly St. Bernard, Thatch. Haunting the lakeside house where they grew up, the twins eventually find themselves sharing space with the Shooks, a family on vacation who are the first to rent the Zuffel house in half a century. While playing pranks on the Shook children, the twins ultimately become involved in a mystery in a series that a Publishers Weekly contributor praised for "humorous details, spry dialogue and characters that are, well, spirited." The saga of the ghostly twins continues in the novels The Missing Moose Mystery and The Mystery of the Haunted Castle, among others.
In Princess Nevermore, Princess Quinn of Mandria wants to escape from her humdrum life as a king's daughter and believes she will find more excitement by traveling up through the magical wishing pool and reaching the place known by the Mandrians as "outer Earth"—the Earth as readers know it. A wizard's apprentice whom Quinn befriends accidentally grants her wish, and the regal teen suddenly finds herself in a strange new world. Befriended by an old man and his grandchildren, Quinn learns about this new world—and falls in love—yet she must choose whether to stay on outer Earth or return to her own world. Reviewing the novel for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Susan Dove Lempke praised the princess's "puzzlement with the foreign Earth customs," and added that Quinn's "contemplation of the freedoms of Earth versus the traditions of Mandria provide most of the novel's interest." Calling the book both "suspenseful and poignant," a Publishers Weekly contributor added that Regan "has some sly fun," weaving a fairy-tale aura around twentieth-century life by "using courtly language to describe modern goings-on."
Regan is also the author of several picture books, including Chance, a tall tale about a strong-willed baby of the same name. Chance, who narrates the story with a cowboy's drawl, becomes fed up with being treated like a baby by his Ma and Pa soon after he is born and toddles off into the world. For nearly a year, he lives with different animals, including a bear, monkeys, and sea lions, staying in touch with his human family through letters. Finally, as his first birthday approaches, he becomes homesick. Once his Ma promises to stop feeding him "gooky mush" and to bake him a cake with peppermint sprinkles, he agrees to come back. Regan's "clever language reads aloud well," Donna Cardon wrote in School Library Journal, and a Publishers Weekly contributor thought that the "offbeat tale" was "a delight to chance upon."
"Letting my imagination run wild in the course of everyday living probably accounts for my being a writer of children's books," Regan once explained, acknowledging her imaginative plots and the fantasy elements she interjects into her fiction. "Being caught daydreaming is embarrassing when one is an adult, but it makes for good story ideas." When asked if she has plans to "'grow up' and write for adults," she responds: "I think I've already found the best audience. If writing for children means I'll never grow up, then so be it."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, March 15, 1992, Karen Hutt, review of The Curse of the Trouble Dolls, p. 1379; November 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of The Peppermint Race, p. 110; January 1, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Monster of the Month Club, p. 822; October 15, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Monsters in the Attic, p. 404; June 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Daddies and Mommies, p. 1736; June 1, 1997, Lauren Peterson, review of Monsters in Cyberspace, p. 1706; April 15, 1998, John Peters, review of Monsters and My One True Love, p. 152.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Monster of the Month Club, p. 175; November, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Princess Nevermore, p. 103; July, 1997, Susan S. Verner, review of Monsters in Cyberspace, p. 408.
Children's Digest, September, 1995, Jane Raver, review of Monster of the Month Club, p. 9.
Horn Book, July-August, 2003, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Chance, pp. 447-448.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Chance, p. 682.
Publishers Weekly, June 9, 1989, review of Game of Survival, p. 70; September 14, 1990, review of Jilly's Ghost, p. 128; September 20, 1993, review of The Thirteen Hours of Halloween, p. 29; September 5, 1994, review of The Mystery of Kickingbird Lake, p. 111; August 14, 1995, review of Princess Nevermore, p. 85; May 6, 1996, review of Daddies and Mommies, p. 79; May 5, 2003, review of Chance, p. 220.
School Library Journal, April, 1991, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of The Class with the Summer Birthdays, p. 122; August, 1992, Lisa Dennis, review of The Curse of the Trouble Dolls, p. 158; February, 1994, Lisa S. Murphy, review of The Thirteen Hours of Halloween, p. 98; January, 1995, Margaret C. Howell, review of The Peppermint Race, p. 110; March, 1995, Elaine E. Knight, review of Monster of the Month Club, p. 206; September, 1995, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Princess Nevermore, p. 202; November, 1995, John Sigwald, review of Monsters in the Attic, p. 106; July, 1996, Blair Christolon, review of Daddies and Mommies, p. 70; September, 1997, Anne Parker, review of Dear Dr. Sillybear, p. 191, and Leigh Ann Jones, review of Monsters in Cyberspace, p. 224; June, 1998, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Monsters and My One True Love, p. 152; July, 1999, Amy Lilien, review of The Friendship of Milly and Tug, p. 61; September, 2003, Donna Cardon, review of Chance, pp. 188-189.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1996, Sally Kotarsky, review of Monsters in the Attic, pp. 375-376.
Writer's Digest, winter, 1987; fall, 1992.
Dian Curtis Regan Web Site, http://www.diancurtisregan.com/(February 4, 2002).
Kids Bookshelf, http://www.kidsbookshelf.com/(May 3, 2004), author interview.
Dian Curtis Regan
I was born in the middle of a marigold patch on a farm outside of Rosedale.
Oh, wait, that wasn't me; it was Chance, the main character in my Philomel picture book of the same name. Sometimes writers climb so deeply into their stories, they have to remind themselves what is real and what is fiction.
Take two: I was born at the foot of majestic Pikes Peak in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Good thing a hospital was located in the same spot. I grew up in Colorado Springs, mostly on High Street, attending the same schools my mother and father had attended.
When I was ten, we moved across the street and up a few houses because my uncle (from whom we rented) was retiring from the Army and coming home. We moved from a small house (after turning the huge pantry into a third bedroom for my brother) to a three level house with lots of room. In the backyard sat an oldfashioned barn, complete with a wooden ladder leading to a hayloft. This barn made an appearance in Monster of the Month Club:
Rilla danced the flashlight beam along a pathway of round flagstones as she made her way to the barn. Hugs from a warm kitten or two seemed the only thing that might comfort her right now.
She entered the barn and waited, inhaling the scent of damp wood mixed with cat. Usually the kittens heard her coming and bounded from their napping spots to greet her, yet none came. Where were they?
"Oreo?" Rilla called. "Milk Dud? Here kitties."
When they didn't appear, she assumed they were nursing. Hoisting the Friskies bag beneath one arm, she climbed the wooden ladder to the loft to check Oreo's favorite spot.
A lumpy pile of fur confirmed her theory. The kits had nursed, then fallen asleep, cuddled together to ward off the nippy air.
Rilla aimed the flashlight, smiling at the confused, blinking eyes that greeted her.
Wait a minute. There were too many eyes.
"Icicle!" Rilla dropped to her knees for a closer look. One of the lumpy bumps in the furry pile was a monster. His silver fur was not cat colored, making him an obvious intruder.
Icicle's head lay on Oreo's rump; Dorito and Pepsi cuddled close, one under each hairy monster arm, and Milk Dud sprawled across the monster's legs. (Henry Holt & Company, 1994)
The house on High Street can also be found in Adjusting to Midnight, a novel-in-progress. The downstairs was "imagined by the author" to be the home of Cassie's Aunt Marta and Cousin Robyn. The upstairs was Cassie's home in Denver as the novel opens:
I stumble up worn carpeted steps, feeling my way like a cat scrambling on four paws.
At the top, I turn right, shoving open the door to Mom's bedroom. Cool air pats my face; perfumed talc tickles my nose. Something citrus-y, like grapefruit.
I notice details now. Things normal people do not.
Like, if I'd turned left into my room, the air would be warmer, heated by the August sun—even though it had set hours ago.
No grapefruit talc in my room—only the scent of worn-out gym shoes I refuse to toss even though I will never be running track again at Sinclair Middle School.
My father, Donald Curtis, worked for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad for most of his career. I am writing this on his eighty-third birthday. My mother was a stay-at-home mom with a great sense of humor, and made the best homemade brownies in the history of the world. She remains my close friend and confidante.
My sister, Donna Sivesind, lives in Phoenix, and my brother, David Curtis, lives in Colorado Springs. I, Dian, am the youngest of the "Three D's," and am the only redhead in a family of thirty cousins, which made for much teasing.
Yet childhood teasing finds its way into future books. Was I really left on the doorstep (according to my brother) because I was the only freckled redhead in the lot? A picture book-in-progress, Foster Monster, begins with a baby left on the doorstep, and is dedicated to my brother. Readers may also notice many of my heroes and heroines sporting auburn hair.
Many authors analyze the traumas of their childhood, noting how being a victim of an angst-filled youth helps today as they craft stories for young readers.
As for me, I am the victim of a happy childhood. I could not have asked for a better one: Holiday gatherings at my Grandmother French's house. Multiple cousins, aunts, and uncles. Lots of laughter as well as good food.
My parents often took us into the mountains on camping and fishing trips, or Sunday afternoon picnics. An especially-loved camping area near Colorado's Wilkerson Pass was incredibly lush, hence we dubbed it the "Green Spot." I would love to find it again someday.
The clear, rocky creek bubbling through the campground was icy cold. When the cousins waded into the water, I was the one who reacted to the chill by suffering a raging nosebleed. As a child, I had constant nosebleeds, which sent me dashing from many classrooms to wait it out in the girls' room. This curse is currently befalling a character in one of my short stories.
Lying beneath the stars in a sleeping bag brings back fond memories. Now that I'm older, and worry about bears, raccoons, mosquitoes in the night—and even other campers—I doubt I'll ever again sleep in the woods outside of a sturdy Holiday Inn. I'm glad I was too naive then to worry.
As soon as I was old enough for a library card, my mother took me to the Pioneer Library, where I spent many hours in the children's room. I'm so thankful for those numerous visits, from which I would lug home stacks of books to read—outside on an old army blanket beneath the crabapple tree, or in the room I shared with my big sister.
Fantasy books were my favorite, the thicker the better. And if a map of the imaginary world was featured on the end pages, I knew the story would be a great read since I could track the quest of the main character.
I so loved books with maps, I included a map of the "Kickingbird Lake Resort" in "Ghost Twins." New places and details were added as the Scholastic series progressed.
After a few years in the children's room of the Pioneer Library, my thirteen-year-old self ventured into the adult section to check out even thicker books. I did not return to stories intended for teens until I was older, when my motivation had changed. By that time, I wanted to read and study children's books so I could learn how to write one.
Other childhood memories include attending the United Presbyterian Church, directly across the street from my Grandmother French's house. I attended Vacation Bible School every summer, and looked forward to the Christmas pageant each year. My sister and cousins were always chosen to play angels. I was too young to be in the pageant, but they teasingly tried to convince me I'd never be chosen because "everyone knows angels don't have red hair."
Today, a red-headed angel sits atop all my Christmas trees. And I'm certain you will someday find this worried and disappointed child in one of my books. The line between real life and made-up stories is very thin indeed. I often tell students that I used to get into trouble for making up stories, and now I get paid for making up stories. Go figure.
My grammar school years were spent at Columbia Elementary in Colorado Springs. (I'm a graduate of Columbia—but not, alas, the famous university.) One outstanding early memory: whenever a teacher asked the class to write a story, I loved seeing what I could come up with—something I still try to do today when asked by an editor. Many times, my stories were chosen to be read to the class. Thanks to encouragement from teachers, I was aware early on that I had a knack for storytelling.
On the downside, my third-grade teacher accused me of plagiarism. I still remember my shock when, instead of praising my story, the teacher called my mother to say that I most certainly copied it because the piece was too good to be written by an eight year old.
To set the record straight: My story was original.
Years later, when I became a teacher, I made a point of praising all of my students' creative writing projects.
Third grade was also the year I became an avid reader. I loved poring over the Arrow Book club order form and carefully making my selections. When the carton of books arrived from Scholastic, teachers always waited until the end of the day to open it and hand out everyone's books.
For me, the wait was excruciating. I could never tear my eyes away from the mysterious carton. Minutes before the dismissal bell, the teacher would finally open it, and the scent of new books would drift across the room. I would eagerly claim the ones that belonged to me, quickly printing my name inside the front cover, lest they be misplaced.
Today, I still own some of those well-worn titles—the Danny Dunn books, Miss Pickerel, and the Arrow Book of Jokes and Riddles. Seeing my own books featured in the same book club thirty years later was certainly a thrill.
At home, I read all of my mother's Reader's Digest s cover to cover. One day, I noticed they offered $300 for an "amusing anecdote." I asked my mother what an "anecdote" was, and she told me it was a joke.
Well, I knew lots of jokes. What third-grader doesn't? I immediately wrote my funniest joke on a sheet from my Big Chief tablet, and mailed it off to Reader's Digest.
Then I sat back to wait for my $300.
I still remember the joke:
The host of a radio talk show was discussing the high cost of living. One caller dialed in to say, "What do you mean? High cost of living? Why, my entire family and I live on thirty-nine cents a week."
"That's impossible," said the host. "How can a man feed his wife and kids on only thirty-nine cents a week?"
"Man?" the caller replied. "I didn't say I was a man. I'm a goldfish!"
When I was eight years old, I thought this joke was hilarious.
I'm still waiting for my $300.
I attended North Junior High in Colorado Springs, and want to mention one teacher who inspired and supported my early efforts at writing. Mr. Ole Bakken truly listened to his students and gave them respect. I was "Miss Curtis" in his class. He made us want to excel for him. Years later when I became a teacher, I recalled his warm approach to teaching, and how his expectations of excellence made us all sit up a little straighter and do our best work.
I was in his class when the announcement came that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I vividly remember the shock and tears from students around me. We were a generation born after World War II, living in pre-Vietnam America. Nothing terrible had ever happened in our world, in spite of the fearful mystery surrounding those mandatory air raid drills during which we were warned: "Run straight home."
We believed that all we had to do was stay indoors with our windows closed and a good supply of peanut butter, canned food, and tap water saved in milk jugs, and everyone would be safe in case of a nuclear attack.
Somewhere between the loss of a beloved president and the first Beatle invasion only three months later, I sensed a shift in the innocence of life as I knew it. Maybe it was just me, coming of age in the soon-to-be turbulent sixties, or perhaps it was the entire nation, stepping over a line and suddenly growing up.
Recently, a friend contacted me to say that Mr. Bakken had asked about me. He'd left teaching to become a librarian, and had followed my writing career. I was so pleased to hear this, and was soon in contact with him. I'm glad I've had the opportunity to let him know how great an influence he was in my life as a future teacher and writer.
Following in the footsteps of my brother, sister, and both parents, I attended Palmer High (known as Colorado Springs High when my parents were there in the 1930s). After a move across town to the Rustic Hills area, I was faced with having to change high schools for my senior year. This did not seem like a good idea at the time—leaving friends behind in my last year of school. However, the presumed trauma turned out to be nil, and I had a wonderful final year at Mitchell High School.
I remain friends with the Pompom Squad. We spelled out the name of the school. I was the "T" in Mitchell. The writer in me found a way to be creative even then. I wrote scripts for pep assemblies and the occasional love poem for a friend to give to a favorite guy.
After high school, I chose to work for a few years to help pay my way through college. I was employed by Hewlett Packard while taking night courses at UCCS, the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs Campus.
During this time, I wrote a play called "Mothers and Others," which was performed at a local church. What a thrill to see actors on stage speaking lines I'd written—and I was only nineteen years old.
After a couple of years, I moved to Gunnison, Colorado, to attend Western State College. Although I loved to write, it never occurred to me to become an author. Teaching school was what I wanted to do, and, as a child, "playing school" was one of my favorite pastimes next to reading.
In my Early Childhood Education class at WSC, our assignment was to write a research paper on one aspect of education. For each progressive assignment, we were to rewrite the same paper, adding more information and expanding the sources.
I learned a tremendous amount about how to research and write a nonfiction article, but what stayed with me more was when the professor called me into her office to tell me that, out of all of her classes and all the assigned papers, only two were good enough to be published, and mine was one of them.
Then she introduced me to a book that would change my life: Writers Market. I had never thought about trying to get any of my work published, so I was thrilled to find this book and learn about the process of submitting work for publication.
Although I was too intimidated by the idea of pursuing publication for the class assignment, I seriously started writing in other genres and sticking my freelance toe into the water.
I left Gunnison and returned to Colorado Springs, taking a job at Colorado Interstate Gas Company. My years at CIG were good ones. As an "extracurricular activity," I wrote children's stories and poems for the company magazine, and even published illustrations and cartoons.
When I was twenty-four, I started publishing stories in children's magazines, attending writers' conferences, and taking literature classes, which finally put me on the path to my writing career.
One class at UCCS, "How to Write Children's Books," was taught by Dr. William Curtis, a former Dutton editor, and the founder of the Colorado Book Award. Dr. Curtis's enthusiasm further inspired my interest in writing for a young audience. In later years, he was delighted to know that one of his students had become a children's book author.
The best part about working at CIG was meeting my future husband, John, a dashing young engineer from New York, hired during the oil and gas boom.
When John's job took him to Denver, I quit working to return to college full time at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I graduated in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education.
The summer before my senior year, John and I hosted a "surprise wedding." We invited family and friends to a barbecue, during which we announced our engagement. Then we stunned everyone by getting married right then and there. I probably have the shortest engagement on record.
We lived in Denver for six years. I taught elementary school in Adams County, and loved it. I also loved writing, but suffered from what every writer knows well: lack of time to really turn off the world and dive full-time into a creative project.
My husband suggested I "take one year off to see what I could do." I jumped at the chance, and have been writing full time ever since. However, I'm grateful for those teaching years, which not only helped me get back into the mindset of young readers, but also taught me how to work with a room full of students. This has served me well in later school visits as an author.
During the first year of setting up a home office and working on various projects, I boldly sent a letter to the editor of a writers' magazine, pointing out the fact that the magazine covered every topic of interest to writers, yet totally overlooked the then-booming market for children's books.
This led to my own column in Byline Magazine: "Writing for the Juvenile Market," which I wrote for six years. It was a great way to learn about the industry and keep up with the latest trends and publishing news. Being a Byline columnist also led to many speaking engagements as an "expert" in the field of children's literature.
Along the way, I discovered the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. While attending my first SCBWI workshop, I remember feeling as though I belonged there and that I'd finally found my life's work. This was what I was meant to do—write books for the greatest audience I could ask for—young readers. My "writer's voice" was definitely best suited for children's books.
Earlier, I mentioned reading adult novels at the age of thirteen, then returning to children's stories as an adult. I discovered all the great books I'd overlooked as a child: C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, Newbery and Caldecott winners, and the new genre that was bursting upon the scene in the early 1980s: young adult romance novels. They were quickly overtaking the serious problem novels which had been the previous trend.
A bookmobile visited my neighborhood in Westminster, Colorado, once a week. I would be there to check out stacks of young adult (YA) novels. Some were good; some were not, but there was such a demand for books, due to the "baby boomers' baby boom," publishers were scrambling to meet the needs of a rapidly growing audience.
I never thought I could write for teens. I was much more interested in writing for younger children. I never felt "normal" as a teenager, then I realized no one feels quite normal during adolescence. The object is to usethose feelings of alienation. If you recall what it was like, and can put those feelings into words today's teens can relate to, then you have a story to tell. I even turned this epiphany into an article for Writers Digest magazine, called "How to Write for Teenagers when You Aren't One Anymore."
After reading many YA romance novels, I felt confident enough to try my hand at one, but couldn't do it with a "straight face." My novel became a parody of the angst-filled books I'd been reading. I poked fun at the genre while, at the same time, creating a story which "followed all the rules."
Since I worked better with a deadline, I chose the first Delacorte young adult novel competition as my goal. My finished book, The Girl with the Unlisted Life, was finally ready to mail the day before the deadline. Unfortunately, it was also the day of the "Blizzard of '82," which dumped so much snow on Denver, there was no way I could get out to mail the manuscript.
After all my hard work, I was determined to send the book off into the world. Enter super husband. I carefully explained the rules:
*Make a copy of the original (typed on a Selectric typewriter in pre-computer days, hence no back-up copy on disk).
*Take to the post office and have it weighed, then buy double postage.
*Buy a second envelope. Stick on postage, along with a label addressed to me.
*Put envelope inside the mailer with the manuscript. Put cover letter on top.
*Seal and kiss good-bye for luck.
*Bring home the copy.
My husband carefully followed the rules, assuring me that he did, indeed, kiss the manuscript good-bye for luck.
I did not win the contest. However, I did complete and submit my first novel, which, in itself, was an accomplishment—and a thrill.
I could do it.
The Writing Life
Fortunately, home computers were soon invented. (Pause to feel the angst of every novelist born before the computer age....)
I retyped the entire novel onto my trusty Kaypro, then sent it out to a couple of publishers, who mostly wanted me to undo the parody angle and rewrite the story as a "straight" young adult romance novel. I knew my book was different from others in the genre, and I saw that as a good thing. I wanted to keep the humor.
After several rejections, a.k.a. "paying my dues," writing was put on hold when my husband was transferred to Amarillo, Texas. There, we expanded our family by adopting a Texas kitten, who was with us for twenty years.
In Amarillo, I met a group of wonderful writers. With their help, I founded the West Texas Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and organized several conferences, bringing in authors and editors to give seminars.
For the next eight years, I served as a Regional Advisor for SCBWI, both in Texas and Oklahoma. In 1993, I was honored to be chosen as SCBWI's "Member of the Year."
While in Texas, I also taught "Writing for Children" at Amarillo College—and I began to work with a literary agent. It's very exciting for a "new" writer to acquire an agent. One tries to drop it into conversation as often as possible (e.g.: "I'll take fries with that. My literary agent recommends them.").
My agent lived in San Francisco, and offered to work with me based on the parody novel plus another one I'd begun—a Rocky Mountain adventure story, called Game of Survival.
Within six months, my agent placed the first novel with Avon Books for Young Readers. The book, retitled I've Got Your Number, was published in 1986, sold about 200,000 copies, was translated into German, won a Children's Choice Award, and was picked up by a book club. I was pleased—and totally hooked on the idea of a career as a novelist.
Selling a first novel is certainly one of the highlights of a writer's life. I received the good news while in a library, which seemed appropriate. My writers' group met for critique sessions at the Amarillo library. No food was allowed, but on that particular night, my friends had smuggled in a birthday cake for me. I had written a story about a walrus, titled "Almost A Star," and one friend had printed those words in icing on the cake below my name.
I stepped out of the meeting room to call my agent, then rushed back with the thrilling announcement: I sold my first novel! My friend promptly smudged out the word "Almost," to make the icing sentiment beneath my name read: "A Star."
My relationship with Avon led to the publication of four more YA novels: The Perfect Age, Game of Survival, Jilly's Ghost, and The Initiation, plus a story in the anthology, New Year, New Love.
While I was in Amarillo, I also started writing what I thought was going to be a picture book, but eventually turned into a young adult fantasy novel, Princess Nevermore. Readers who live in the area will spot the clues and know that the "outer earth" scenes are set in Amarillo.
In the late 80s, we moved to Oklahoma, and settled in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City. I began working with another agent, based in New York, who specialized in children's books. I also started writing for a younger audience. Scholastic published my first middle grade novels: Liver Cookies, The Kissing Contest, My Zombie Valentine.
The Zombie book was very well-received, and I felt as if I'd carved my own niche. The books were not horror (popular at the time), and they were not straight humor. They were what one editor called "funny-scary" stories. The book did so well that Scholastic asked me to "write something just like it for Christmas," so I wrote The Vampire Who Came for Christmas.
Again, the book did well, so they asked for another "holiday-monster book," and this time they gave me a title: Home for the Howl-idays. The next year, I was asked to write something similar for Thanksgiving with this title: Fangsgiving.
In the mid 90s, Scholastic also asked me to write a series. The premise they pitched was simple: Twins, a boy and a girl, and their dog, a St. Bernard, "become ghosts." (A kinder way of saying, "They die.")
Based on this pitch, I created the characters, story lines, and setting (Kickingbird Lake Resort) for what became an eight-book series called "Ghost Twins." The series had a very loyal following (and still does), however it launched at the same time another series called Goosebumps was becoming an international phenomenon. My series (which also began with a "G") seemed to be quickly crowded off bookstore shelves.
During these same years, I wrote a middle grade novel called Monster of the Month Club, which was published by Holt. Before it came out, my editor asked me to write a sequel because I'd introduced only three monsters in the first book: Icicle (January), Sweetie Pie (February), and Shamrock (March).
The second book, Monsters in the Attic, introduced Chelsea (April), Burly (May), and Summer (June). After this book came out, I signed a two-book contract with Holt to finish the year and create all twelve monsters.
Monsters in Cyberspace introduced Sparkler (July), Butterscotch (August), and my favorite monster, Owl (September). Young readers do ask which monster is my favorite.
The final book, Monsters and My One True Love featured Goblin (October), Cranberry (November), and Bow (December).
If all that sounds like a lot of books in a very short period of time, it was. In the mid 90s (before the distraction of e-mail and Internet surfing), I was extremely prolific. I rough-drafted a few of the novels in two weeks or less. (Polishing time took longer, but getting the story down is the first big hurdle.) In one span of eighteen months, I had sixteen books published.
On any given day, I might be sending off a proposal for the next "Ghost Twins" title, reading the copy-edited version of another book, with the galleys of yet another waiting for my attention—all the while writing something new.
Today, I wish I could regain the focus and productivity I experienced then. On the other hand, I now lead a much more balanced life, and no longer 'live' in my office.
I remember doing the final work on the last "Ghost Twins" book on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. My house was about twenty minutes away from the Murrah Federal Building, yet the explosion shook my house with such force, I thought we were having an earthquake.
Needless to say, my focused ability to stay "in" a work-in-progress was never the same after that, since the tragedy was so distracting for everyone who lived in Oklahoma, as well as the entire nation.
The Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators sponsored a book drive in memory of the children lost in the bombing. We were pleased to donate 2500 "Purple Ribbon Books" to libraries all over the state.
I lived in Oklahoma for eleven years. Many of my fifty published books were written there. Oklahoma has an amazing community of writers, and offers multiple opportunities to attend seminars and workshops, and to meet nationally-known authors, editors, and agents.
The Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers sponsors a TV program called "Writing Out Loud," for which I have done several interviews. In 1996, I was honored to be inducted into the Oklahoma Professional Writers' Hall of Fame. The following year, I was presented with a medal as a "Distinguished Author of Children's Literature."
In the midst of writing multiple books on assignment for Scholastic, I was revising my "heart novel," Princess Nevermore. At the time, the working title was "The Princess from under the River."
The novel was published by Scholastic Press in 1995, and has been my most popular book. The story was highly influenced by all those fantasy novels I read as a child. I loved the idea of inventing my own fantasy world, like Prydain or Narnia, and setting stories there, so I created an underground kingdom called Mandria, which is the setting for Princess Nevermore and its sequel.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the author of The Prydain Chronicles, Lloyd Alexander. I started to tell him that he is the reason that I am a writer. Instead, I became very choked up, trying to get the words out. His books had meant so much to me, and meeting him was such an honor. He responded with a hug and the pleasure of knowing how much his books had affected one of his readers.
Choosing to Write
Students always ask, "What made you decide to become a writer?" I've never come up with a good answer. Writing chose me. It's something I cannot turn off—even while on vacation.
I wrote Barnyard Slam in my Jeep while driving from Kansas to Colorado, and in bits and pieces while visiting there. I wrote "Christmas at the Storm Blew Inn" over the course of several mornings in the restaurant of a hotel in Tennessee. And I drafted an entire short novel in a motel room in Oregon while on vacation. Sometimes being away from the obligations of home frees up one's creativity.
Once, I heard an author proclaim that she was predestined to become a writer because her parents met in a bookstore. I loved this analogy, and wondered: What if . . . what you become in life is determined by where your parents were when they met?
What if Laura Ingalls Wilder's parents met in a little house on the prairie? (I'll spare you more examples, however fun they are to invent . . .)
With much anticipation, I called my mother and told her I had a very important question to ask: "Where did you and my father meet?"
I was hoping her answer would be something like: "We met at a café in Newbery, Pennsylvania." Or perhaps, "We met on a cruise to the Caldecott Islands."
Alas, her quick reply was: "Your father and I met at a funeral."
I have no idea what it means. So much for my analogy.
The next move for my husband's job took us to South America. When I first received the news about the impending move, I found a world atlas, looked up Venezuela, and located a city called Puerto La Cruz, five hours east of Caracas, which was going to be my home for the next three years. It seemed like an awfully long way from Colorado.
Writing was put on hold while we sold the house, the cars, then decided which possessions would go into storage, which would ship by air to South America, and which would be sent the much longer route by sea. This was quite an undertaking, but the most worrisome part was figuring out how to fly my fourteen year-old Texas kitten overseas, then back again when he was seventeen.
In June 1998, the enormous task of moving our household (and cat) to another continent was accomplished. The thrill of living in an exotic new world soon gave way to the reality of life in an impoverished, politically unstable, third-world country. Lack of familiar foods, miscommunications due to my lessthan-fluent Spanish, and safety issues became daily concerns to conquer. Throw in food poisoning and a few skin cancer scares, and you'll have an idea of how drastically life changed.
But we adapt. I learned to drink liquid yogurt and Chinotto, sample arepas for breakfast, empanadas for lunch, and hallacas, the customary Christmas dish during the holidays.
Thanks to expatriates who'd come before me, I learned where to shop and what parts of town to avoid. I had the opportunity to spend days with new friends, cruising the local islands in the sparkling-blue Caribbean, taking a ferry to Margarita Island to shop, or driving into the rainforests of Los Altos de Sucre to buy unique ceramics created by local artisans, black pearls harvested from the sea, and items made of banana leaves.
I met Sally Hefley, the director of Escuela de las Americas (ELA), a private school, and we became good friends. I donated books and gave presentations at the school's campuses in Lecheria and El Tigre, as well as at an American school founded by Conoco, Colegio Internacional de Puerto la Cruz.
In 2001, ELA built a new school with a much larger library, and dedicated it to me. I am extremely honored to know there is a "Dian Curtis Regan Library" in Venezuela. (I'm told I can check out any book and never have to pay a fine.)
After traveling to the city of Mérida in the Andes Mountains, I found a few children's creation stories at a university. Previous to this, I'd had difficulty finding any sort of local children's books. The reason, I learned, was not only because of few publishing companies, but also because the culture still leans more toward oral history rather than written legends.
I collected as many of these tales and myths as I could find. Some of the ELA students helped translate them into English. Also, my maid and friend, Maria Rocha, from Peru, helped translate. One story that was little more than a short anecdote, I have written as a retold tale, titled "Caribay," a legend about why the peaks in the Andes are covered with snow year-round, even though the mountains sit in the middle of the tropics.
I'm not certain I could have survived living in such an isolated place for three years were it not for daily e-mails from family and supportive writer friends.
One of the great things about being an author in the twenty-first century is finding other writers via the Internet. When I began writing, I did not know anyone else who wrote. I had no one with whom I could discuss the process of creating a book, or how to submit a piece for publication. Today, writers have quick answers at their fingertips and entire online communities to join.
Being part of an online group which discusses all aspects of writing books for young readers 24/7 is the best way to keep on top of what's going on in the industry. Often, I will hear the latest publishing news, or find out the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Awards before my New York agent, in the heart of publishing country, has received the same information.
My years in Venezuela produced three short stories I never would have written were it not for that experience. The first, "El Golpe de Estado" was published in the Knopf anthology, Shattered: Stories of Children and War. It's the story of an attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government in 1992, by a man named Hugo Chavez, who went to prison for three years after his failed coup attempt. Today, Hugo Chavez is president of Venezuela.
In the following scene, sixteen year-old Zack and his mother have recently moved to Caracas, due to his father's job. A few weeks later, the coup begins. Zack's feelings of danger and uncertainty are very much the same emotions I experienced while living in Venezuela:
Feeling an unspoken need to stay in the same room, Mom and I play cards by candlelight. I've just fixed a second bowl of ice cream when, up from the streets, a low clanking begins.
Mom and I look at each other. In the soft light, her face appears young, her eyes tinged with dread. I know she is worried about Dad. He's stuck in Punto Fijo, trying to get a salvo conducto permit from the Guardia Nacional to allow him safe passage to Caracas.
The faraway clanking grows louder. The creepy noise draws me to the window in spite of Mom's protests. What's going on? This is freakin' unnerving.
I see people swarming into the streets, banging pots and pans. In the moonlight, outlines are blurred, creating a ghostly effect. They ooze across the avenue, surrounding our apartment building. A sea of angry people, powerless, yet wanting their presence to be known.
The mass clanking becomes deafening, nerve rattling, terror inducing. Totally spooked, I stumble back to the kitchen in the dark to make sure Mom is okay. She is so shaken, she is eating my ice cream.
I check the door to make sure it's locked.
I check the door again.
And again. (Knopf, 2002)
The second story, "The Evil Eye," appears in Simon and Schuster's Soul Searching: Thirteen Stories about Faith and Belief. I had read about a cult in Venezuela, and wanted to base a story on it by creating a fictitious one. There is much spiritualism in Venezuela, oddly mixed with Catholicism. My story is about Ben, a teenager from the U.S. who becomes caught up in a dangerous cult.
My housekeeper helped me research the story after I realized that more could be learned "on the street" than in any reference book. Ultimately, I found out more than I wanted to know about spiritualism and witchcraft in the area where I lived.
Locals use a charm called an azabache to protect themselves. The charm is a seed, carved in the shape of a closed fist. When worn about the neck, the fist will "catch" the evil eye before it can harm the wearer. Even babies wear the charms around their wrists. (Yes, I acquired a few azabaches of my own....)
Here is an excerpt from "The Evil Eye":
We hike into the rain forest, following a path overgrown with red poinsettias. I wish Mom and Jules could see them; they'd go crazy and want to pick basketfuls for the holidays.
Thoughts of my family jerk me back to the present. What am I doing? Following a stranger into a forest in a foreign country? On the pretense of going to church? Am I crazy?
Think with your head, Ben, not other body parts. (My sister's sarcastic voice inside my head again.)
"Hey, Ludy, stop," I say. "We need to talk."
She scrinches her face, as if wondering why it's taken me so long to question her.
"When you invited me to church, I assumed you meant Mass—with other kids from school. That's not what's going on here. What's the deal?"
Hesitating, she plucks a mango-colored blossom from a vine and absently rips off the petals one by one.
He loves me; he loves me not, I think. Ha, like that's what she's wondering.
"There are many ways to worship," Ludy begins. "Our beliefs are based in your Catholic Mass, but flavored with other religions in the West Indies. The Church of Maria de la Noche offers you a peace you've never known, love, acceptance, and total revenge against your enemies."
Her halfhearted answer sounds rehearsed; the English perfect. She's got me with the peace, love, and acceptance stuff, but . . . revenge? Is that in the Bible?
I think of sixth grade with Sister Rachel: "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord." I can hear the sister's drawly voice adding an emphatic: "What the Lord means, people, is that we aren't supposed to avenge our enemies. He is."
This does not make me feel any better. (Simon & Schuster, 2002)
The third story, "Second Culture Kids," appears in Candlewick's First Crossing: Stories about Teen Immigrants. My story is based on a real occurrence: In December, 2002, U.S. companies pulled expats out of Venezuela for safety reasons during a nationwide strike. One company set up a temporary school in Houston for the displaced students.
In the following scene, Amina is a Venezuelan teen, whose mother has married an American oil worker. They are included in the evacuation, which happens so fast, Amina is not able to say good-bye to her friends or to her beloved Tomás:
Waiting for my bag at the airport, I listen to English bounce around me. How odd it seems to hear not Spanish. Every once in a time, my ear picks up Español from strangers. It makes me already homesick.
What does "Yo" mean here? In my country, it means "I." And why is everyone asking, "What's up?" Is something supposed to be up?
I watch Mamá smiling with Andrew, a look on her face like she won a lotto of cien mil milliónes bolivares. She holds Andrew's arm with both hands as if she worry he might change his mind and send us back to Guanta.
Coming to America is her dream, not mine. My dream is to attend university in Mérida with my Tomás. I start to think of him and know I'm going to cry.
A man next to me speaks quick words I do not understand. He points to a glass wall and I see it is raining. I nod to pretend I understand.
A buzzer blares, making my heart jump. The luggage begins to come. I watch it circle past to keep from crying. Part of me is eager to go outside and see Houston, this city I listen about since Andrew came to our lives. The Galleria and the Astrodome. Mercados day and night open. This I cannot imagine. Who shops in the middle of the night? Americans, I guess!
We take our bags and walk outside.
The Houston rain is cold.
The rain in Guanta is warm, always warm.
I think this is a bad sign. (Candlewick, 2004)
Back in the USA
During the summer of 2001, we returned to the United States, landing in Kansas this time. I've found Wichita to be a great place to live, with a supportive arts community.
I've continued to write for anthologies, and, after being in Wichita only a few days, wrote a story set in the city called "Living on Chocolate." It appears in HarperCollins's Period Pieces: Stories for Girls.
I mentioned earlier how much the Internet has helped me (and other writers) keep in touch with the world of publishing. I also find it helpful (and amazing) to have all sorts of research available at the click of a mouse.
Two examples: I wrote a story about synesthesia called "Tangled Notes in Watermelon," for a Knopf anthology titled, What a Song Can Do: 12 Riffs on the Power of Music. I knew very little about synesthesia (combined senses), but was fascinated by the topic. Online, I found all the information I needed to craft the story I wanted to write.
A novel mentioned earlier, Adjusting to Midnight, is about a girl who is blinded in an accident at the age of fourteen. I grew up one block from the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. The school loomed large in my childhood. We played on the grounds, attended talent shows, and often saw students and instructors practicing cane walking around our neighborhood.
The school in my book is fictitious, but is based on the school I knew so well during my childhood. While writing the story, I visited the campus and walked the grounds, thinking of my main character, Cassie, and how she might maneuver the campus as a newly-blinded eighth-grader. I visited a classroom and talked to the students. They answered questions and showed me how they worked on Braille typewriters.
But the thing that helped me get beneath the skin of my main character was to become part of an online group of vision-impaired college students. I asked questions, and listened to concerns and issues I might never have considered. I learned about adaptive technology, and chatted privately with students who explained things, like how a blind person is able to read and answer e-mail. The opportunity to be part of this online community was invaluable to Cassie's story.
Variety of Books
I began my career writing for teenagers, then switched to writing for middle-graders. Eventually I tried writing for a younger audience, penning chapter books for seven-to nine-year-olds for Holt: The Class with the Summer Birthdays, The Curse of the Trouble Dolls, and The Peppermint Race. I discovered that the shorter the book, the more difficult it is to write. An author has to achieve everything attempted in a longer work: intriguing characters with emotional depth, interesting settings and plots, lots of conflicts, plus a few twists and turns. But it all has to be accomplished in, perhaps, forty pages instead of more than two hundred. It's quite a challenge.
I progressed to writing for an even younger audience: The Friendship of Milly and Tug is a beginning reader, and the following are picture books: Dear Dr. Sillybear, The Thirteen Hours of Halloween, and Chance. The main character's voice in Chance, a tall tale dialect, is a completely different style of writing for me. The ultimate challenge for every story is to come up with a fresh voice that fits the character and the story you want to tell.
I have also enjoyed writing board books for toddlers with my former "Ghost Twins" editor, now at Simon and Schuster: A Sparkly Christmas Eve and Eight Nights of Chanukah Lights, plus companion books: How Do You Know It's Halloween? and How Do You Know It's Easter?
My present work-in-progress is the much-requestedby-readers sequel to Princess Nevermore. With or without all the letters and e-mails, asking me to continue the story, I always knew I would write more about Princess Quinn and Cam, the wizard's apprentice. After ten years, I am pleased to be writing "the rest of the story."
When readers ask an author which book is a personal favorite, the answer is usually the one a writer is presently immersed in. Therefore my answer changes continually. I hope I'm always immersed in something new and intriguing.
Readers also ask, "Where do you get your ideas?"
I think ideas are like mosquitoes, buzzing all about until one takes a serious bite out of you. The ones you listen to and cannot forget are the ones to which you pay attention.
Besides ideas pitched to me by editors, other ideas have come simply from a title: My Zombie Valentine, Liver Cookies, The Kissing Contest, Monster of the Month Club.
Or, from life circumstances: the Venezuelan stories. Or perhaps from something I've overheard. Once, a teacher told me that he taught the class with the summer birthdays. I told him he'd just given me a great idea for a book. The following year, I sent him an autographed copy of The Class with the Summer Birthdays, with his name in the acknowledgements.
Even a slip of the tongue can lead to an idea, which is how I came up with the plot for a work-in-progress called The World According to Mallory.
Lastly, after growing up in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, inside of which NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is located, I've always wanted to write a novel in this setting. It's hard to believe that fifteen-story buildings exist inside of a mountain. I wanted to see it for myself.
Due to today's heightened security, extensive tours are no longer given to the general public. However, I was able to tag along with a group of high school students from Denver, all planning future careers in aviation. My young adult adventure novel-in-progress, set at NORAD, is tentatively titled Dream-Giver.com.
I would be remiss not to mention my "familiar," the walrus. It all started with a story I wrote several decades ago about an outspoken walrus named Jincy. A few friends read the story and gave me stuffed walruses. After that, I started planting the word "walrus" in every book. Readers began writing to tell me where they'd spotted the word. Through the years, walruses have appeared beneath my Christmas tree, inside birthday gifts, collected as souvenirs on trips, and as gifts from schools. Sadly, I have yet to receive a walrus with red hair.
To date, I have over one hundred walruses in my office. Ironically, Jincy's story has never been published, yet she and her exquisitely polished tusks have obviously brought me very good luck.
From the "Life is All About Change" department: After two years in Kansas, my husband accepted another job in Venezuela, and will be working there until 2006.
This time, I will keep a house in the USA, and will travel between continents as often as possible. I used to say: "I divide my time between the kitchen and the laundry room." Now, I'm pleased to change that to: "I divide my time between the Heartland and the Caribbean." It sounds much more writerly.
I am constantly on the lookout for new story ideas (as I'm sure all writers are) so I predict there will be more stories set in South America. I would love to preserve some of the tales and legends of the Venezuelan culture by bringing them to print.
I have been very blessed by this life that's chosen me, and am thankful to God, to good friends and family, and especially to my husband for the love, encouragement, wit, and good humor.
The best part about writing for young readers is that they write back, and are very open and honest. Their letters always seem to arrive when I need a boost or am wondering if anyone out there is reading my books. In closing, here are a few excerpts from fan mail:
"Do you make more money or less money than normal people?"
"Home for the Howl-idays is my favorite book. I've read it thirty times this year, and almost have the entire story memorized."
"I liked your speech, except your cat sounds as if he needs professional help."
"I have read fifty-two books since August and yours is the best—so far. And I'm not just saying that to make you feel better."
"Hey! Try turning your books into movies!"
"PRINCESS NEVERMORE REALLY NEEDS A SEQUEL!"
"It is most imperative to my sense of well-being that you continue writing monster books at a furious rate."
And my favorite:
"I think you are one of the greatest authors, however SOME people might not know this yet...."