Bio

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© Photo by Nancy Butts

I’ve had my head stuck in a book ever since I learned to read–and I’ve been writing stories for just about as long. My younger sisters still tease me about how I used to hide out in the coat closet just to find a quiet place to read, and even today I am still looking for the perfect sanctuary where I can sneak away to write.

I published my first work, a poem, at age eleven; and decided after reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in fifth grade that I wanted to be a writer, too. But I never thought I was good enough to make a living at it, so by the sixth grade I decided to be an astronomer instead: and after that a lawyer, Congresswoman, spy, and finally a doctor. And if I hadn’t gone to Duke University, where I learned that in order to be premed I had to hang out in chemistry lectures with 500 other students, I might be a doctor today. Instead, I took a seminar in Zen Buddhism and decided that spending all my time talking about big ideas in small classes with bearded professors was what college was supposed to be about. I switched my major to religion–with a minor in Russian of all things–happily haunted the stacks of the college library for four years (even better than a coat closet!), and when I graduated, had absolutely zero idea what I wanted to do with my life.

So I read all 88 Agatha Christie mystery novels in two months, took a job in a medical lab, got married, moved to Georgia, and spent the next six years thinking that I really should have applied to medical school after all. Then I tried PA school instead, had an early mid-life crisis, and when someone asked me what I saw myself doing in ten years, I suddenly remembered what I had known back in fifth grade: I wanted to write. I quit PA school, and within a few months had landed a job as a reporter at a small-town newspaper. I spent the next eleven years working there, writing several stories each week and winning awards. But once my son was born I secretly started to write my first children’s book–the story that ultimately became my debut novel, Cheshire Moon.

Color crop

© Photo by Nancy Butts

Of course it wasn’t that easy. It took me years to finish that first book, because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Then it took four months to find a publisher, Stephen Roxburgh at Front Street. When I learned that he was the same man who had also edited my girlhood idol, Madeleine L’Engle, I felt as if I had finally found what I was meant to do. Cheshire Moon was published and won the respect of members of the deaf community for its portrayal of a young deaf girl who will communicate only in Sign. This book was soon followed by the science fiction novel The Door in the Lake, which I wrote so that my son might actually be interested in reading it. (He took it to school after it was published and shared it with his friends, so I think I succeeded.) Door was an ALA Quick Pick and a Scholastic Book Club selection, and was even “translated” into the Queen’s English for a British edition.

Since then I spend much of my time working as a creative writing teacher and book “Sherpa.” I’ve taught for over a dozen years at the Institute of Children’s Literature, and also led writing workshops in schools, community college, and at the Michigan SCBWI conference.

Some of the people whose books I’ve had the privilege of shepherding into the world are Monica Roe, author of the YA novel Thaw; Alberto Hazan, author of the YA fantasy The League of Freaks and the Secret Key; and Jennifer Lundquist, author of the middle grade novel, Seeing Cinderella. I’ve also published several books for the direct-to-school education market, and was the lead editor of a how-to book on revision entitled Writing it Right! by the author Sandy Asher.

And in April 2013, I took my first plunge into the indie publishing world with my why-to book on writing for adults, Spontaneous Combustion: A Writer’s Primer for Creative Revival.

Somewhere during these years I also managed to land a spot as a contestant on the TV game show “Jeopardy” and was a one-day champion.

But writing fiction for kids continues to be my passion, and I am tinkering with another middle grade novel set in a sleepy Southern town much like the one where I live: only with more ghosts.

There is just one ghost in the 130-year-old Victorian cottage where I live and work: one humming ghost, and far too few electric outlets for the Mac laptops which are my auxiliary brains. When I’m not teaching, editing, or trying to carve out time for my own writing, I am an avid walker and photographer. (Though I don’t claim to be particularly good at the latter, but judge for yourself: the photos on this website are all mine.) I also like to grow herbs, stitch quilts, knit miles and miles of scarves, play the mountain dulcimer and Finnish kantele, be the Mac tech support person for everyone I know, and tend to my more-than-slightly neurotic Newfoundland dog, Yukon.

[Note: For your convenience, I’ve placed direct click-through links to Amazon should you care to purchase any of the books I mention on this website. If you do buy a book through these links, whether print or Kindle version, it won’t cost you any more, but it will contribute in a small way to support this website. And for that, I thank you.]

 

 

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