Longest time to write a book: One year plus to do the onsite research, interviewing, and writing for Joel Growing Up a Farm Man. Our family spent that year living in a Quonset hut down the road apiece from Joel’s farm. Hay bales helped to keep us warm in winter.
Closest call: When a rip tide swept me out into the Atlantic Ocean while I was swimming at Jones Beach, NY. Two strong lifeguards rescued me.
Worst hair: My “do” in third grade
Favorite bird, besides Max: The blue heron that fishes at twilight on the river behind my place. (After living in the Chicago area for 35 years, I now reside in northern Wisconsin.)
Most unusual job: Call me Bo Peep! I was a ten-year-old shepherdess at our Iowa farm—though not a very good one. Once all the sheep got away on my watch and galloped down the country road. Our sheep dog, named Shep, herded them back home. (Aftermath:Years after the sheep stampede, I’m writing a picturebook about a rambunctious ram, called Shelby Not the Least Bit Sheepish.)
Favorite Part of 6th Grade: Every day after recess was singing time for our sixth-grade class. I played the piano while my classmates belted out soulful songs, like “O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.”
Best phone interview: Billionaire Ross Perot donated Hannon (the star of our photodocumentary book City Horse) to the NYPD. I interviewed Mr. Perot by phone to find out about Hannon’s colt-hood. Later, Perot ran for President of the United States.
Most “breathtaking”: On the way to tape an NPR reading of Max the Bad-Talking Parrot, our car ran out of gas! After a mad dash across Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, I arrived out of breath and just in the nick of time.
Oddest office: I wrote my drafts of Joel Growing Up a Farm Man inside an old Civil War church, with permission of the Scales Mound, IL town council.
Always Fun to visit: My grandkids have a bathroom floor made of pennies. And my son Luke lives right now in a tipi.
Worst part of being a writer: For me, it’s the pressure of deadlines. I picture lots of people tapping their pencils, waiting on me. The writer is always the first one in the publishing chain. If I’m late, the dominoes start falling. The editor, illustrator, copyeditors, fact checkers, printers—none of them can start their jobs until I finish mine.
Best part of being a writer: It’s those days when the words flow in an easy, steady ripple. Also, hearing from happy readers!