I know so many writers who say they made the decision to be a writer when they were very young – say, 8 or 10 years old. Not me. Being a writer would have meant sitting still too long. I guess I was what you might call an active child. One of my earliest memories (about age 5, I think) is of climbing up a tree and not coming down. My mother stood below – exasperated as the sun set – trying to coax me out of the tree. I wasn’t trying to be naughty or difficult, I was simply loving be way up high, able to see over the top of our house and beyond. It was a different world up there.
I was the youngest of four kids – two older brothers and a sister – and my mother was an artist. She mostly painted landscapes, but would paint still lifes if she couldn’t pack up her easel and head outside for the day. She taught me how to paint and I always assumed I would grow up to be an artist. I still love to paint. When I went off to college at the University of Illinois, I took my first Art History course and loved it, too. I finally settled on that as my major and minored in studio art. Along the way, I took metal-smithing courses, and added that to the mix. My first line of work after college was designing jewelry!
Dollhouses, jewels, artists, and history; the pieces were coming together that would end up as my first book, The Sixty-Eight Rooms. It still took a while for everything to percolate, and I was awfully busy with my children and husband for many years. But it was during this time, finally, that I started to love to read. I read all the great children’s books that I hadn’t read as a child to my own three children, and I began to understand the freedom that writers must feel. I learned that writing – and reading - a story takes you into an imaginary world just as being way up high in a tree takes you away from the everyday life on the ground, and just as creating a dollhouse takes you into miniature imagined worlds.
When my oldest, Maya, entered middle school, her best friend’s mother and I tried a little experiment; we wondered if we could start a school for girls, to make up for some of the deficits we saw in Middle School education. Our little experiment worked and for the next decade I worked as the Art Teacher at Campus Middle School for Girls. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed working with this age group; the challenges brought big rewards. It was then that I decided to write a book that my students might enjoy.
So now my kids have grown up and are mostly finished with school. My husband Jonathan Fineberg and I live in Urbana, Illinois, a really nice college town surrounded by rich farmland and beautiful prairie which I am lucky enough to be able to gaze on out my window while I write.