I'm from Long Island, that sandy haven of fast tawkers, poofy hair, and a deli on every corner. In Kings Park, my home town, I read a lot, wrote stories and poems, played tennis and volleyball, and ate a lot of bagels and pizza. And during summers, my wise parents, Harry and Theresa, showed my brothers and sister and I another type of life by having us spend our time at a cabin in Maine. We picked blueberries, swam in Bauneg Beg Lake, and ate clams and whoopie pies. We also informed locals that they spoke funny. We, of course, had the proper Long-Gisland accent.
I was a shy freckle-face kid. Maybe you know kids like me. We’re the ones whose faces turn red like a tomato when the teacher calls on us. But when I couldn’t find the words to speak, I would find my voice by picking up a pen and writing stories, and that’s what I did, in the solitude of my bedroom. My mom bought me stacks of loose-leaf paper, and I’d fill them up with endless tales about gutsy girls who knew karate, time-traveled, and always showed the bad guys who was boss.
I grew out of my shyness. After high school I did something many shy kids might not do. The year was 1980 and the Village People were on the radio singing:
“They want you,
they want you.
They want you
as a new recruit!
In the Navy...”
And so I cut my hair short, did lots of pushups and laps around the high school track, and answered that call. I attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in one of the first classes to admit women.
Later, I served five years as a naval officer. Boat School was a thrill—and a challenge—and I’m lucky to have made so many terrific Navy friends. (In Rocky Road you’ll learn about a crotchety, loveable character who was inspired by an enlisted Navy chief I worked with.) One important rule I will never forget from my Navy days goes like this: GO NAVY, BEAT ARMY!
After the Navy I worked for Kraft Foods, the folks who make Mac & Cheese and Velveeta. I learned so much about food’s role in people’s lives at Kraft. (I also got to ride in the Weinermobile, but that’s another story.) If you look at the covers of my books you’ll notice food plays a starring role in my stories.
Then I spent several years as a freelance journalist, writing about business, law, technology, and my favorite, human interest stories. I have lived in many places too, including Maryland, Texas, Washington, DC, Chicago, Long Island and Connecticut—and for a short stay, aboard a battleship. But home now is with my husband, Tom (a Jersey Boy) and my family in upstate New York, in a small town along the Mohawk River.
I turned to writing for children after adopting my son, Connor, from Korea. I loved to read out loud with all of my children. With Connor and later his sister Theresa, who is also adopted, I looked for books with characters who were adopted. I couldn’t find many. A Navy Captain I worked for once told me, “Lieutenant, if you are going to come to me with a complaint, you better also think about a solution." And so I decided to write a book for adopted kids like Connor and Theresa—and all kids, for that matter— because I believe all kids are trying to figure out who they are, starting in those tween years.
Kids are the hands-down
best part of school!
(And for me, doing school visits.)
And do they ever ask delicious questions …
“Do you really work in your pajamas?”
“Yes, of course. On snow days, my birthday, and Mondays when the laundry is backed up. But not everyday. I take my dog Summer for a run every morning before I start writing and neighbors give me strange looks when I run in my PJs.”
“Who inspired you to write?”
My father, He is a retired elementary school principal who was born with extra helpings of smarts, compassion, writing know-how & Irish blarney. (He still tells the corniest jokes -- now he emails them.) As a kid, I lingered at the dinner table, listening to him explain complex topics like apartheid, civil disobedience, capital punishment, and the history of conflict in Ireland, his mother’s homeland. Right there over the dirty dishes he taught me to think for myself and to speak (and write) about what mattered.
“Do you have to be super smart to write books?”
No. You have to care a super lot. And stubborn genes are a must, so you keep going, even when it’s hard, even when you’re stuck or you get rejections. All writers get rejections.
Your first book is called Kimchi & Calamari. That’s food, right?
It sure is, tasty food. Kimchi is spicy pickled cabbage that Koreans often eat at every meal. Calamari is a delicious squid dish that Italians make for special occasions. Now you’ll have to read Kimchi & Calamari to figure out why it’s got this title. (Nope, it’s not a cookbook.)
Who are your favorite authors?
Joan Bauer, Patricia Reilly Giff, Deborah Wiles, Grace Lin, Cynthia Rylant, Shirley Jackson and John Steinbeck. Jackson and Steinbeck didn’t write for children, but their books are so awesome I recommend them to reader friends.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Write, write, write! Fill up your notebooks with stories and poems. Make your laptop hum with your fingers tap-tapping to relay those brain bubbling ideas. Writing is no different than dancing, playing an instrument, or playing a sport. It’s all about practicing. We all get better by writing more and being open to helpful suggestions from teachers and others.
If you didn’t become a writer, what would you be?
An African safari tour guide, an Olympic hurdler, a pediatrician, a Broadway actress, and a pastry chef in Venice, Italy -- all on different weekdays. (Hey, it’s my daydream!) But even if I got to do all those exciting jobs, you’d still find me writing and reading on the weekend. It makes me think of a quote from Anna Quindlen, an author I admire. She says,
“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
“Did you ever meet JK Rowlings?"
Not yet, but if I do I will try to act cool, calm and collective, greeting her with a friendly smile while saying, “Hey JK, I’m RK, nice to meet ya…”
What’s the best part of writing a book?
Revising. I love taking a rough draft and jazzing it up.
What’s the hardest part of writing a book?
I often don’t know what’s coming next in my stories. That feels scary, even if eventually I figure it out.
You wrote a book called Rocky Road. Is that your favorite flavor ice cream?
It’s my character Tess Dobson’s favorite flavor. Mine is coffee, which means I thrive on the passion of the moment. (Visit Books to learn what your flavor reveals about you!)