I first knew I wanted to be a writer at an early age—probably sometime in grade school, after I realized I couldn’t be Jane Goodall. We moved a lot when I was a kid. Changing neighborhoods and schools was a challenge, but a nomadic life suited me. The rangier education appealed to my curiosity and sense of adventure. While school knowledge often fit together like a puzzle of mismatched pieces, I learned to pursue my own interests, reading greedily on my own: historical fiction with its solid (exotic, to me!) sense of place and time; fairy and weird tales; folklore, myths, and legends; books about animals and animal behavior; ghost stories.
I still read all that, together with histories of subjects I get sporadically obsessed with: silk, tulips, honey, death, royalty, feral children, the circus . . . but I live a reasonably settled life in Massachusetts with my family. When we became parents (of Clyde and, later, Michaela), we wanted our kids to have secure roots. But I travel whenever I can and rarely write at home, roaming instead with my laptop from coffee shop to coffee shop. On days when I’m content to work in my apartment, I enjoy a bottomless pot of tea and the company of a Jack Russell terrier named Molly or our cranky marmalade cat, Moe (never both at once in the same room: Moe won’t hear of it).
My restless early life set the stage for the kind of writer I am today. I’ve been lucky to publish a wide range of books—from picture books and creative nonfiction to young adult and adult historical fiction—and to work as an editor/anthologist and photographer. Photography started as a hobby, but I have a funny habit of corralling my hobbies into my work so I have the excuse to play more. Animals are my favorite photographic subjects and turn up all the time in my writing too. In The Ghosts of Kerfol, they even haunt a house. . . .
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. I was a zookeeper for a year, taking care of snow monkeys, an anaconda, and Madagascar hissing cockroaches, among others. I’m the only person I know who’s been bitten by a dwarf lemur.
2. When I traveled to Namibia for African Acrostics, I swaddled myself in camouflage and climbed trees to spy on zebras and warthogs—or crouched for hours in fiberglass blinds near waterholes. My favorite blind was shaped like a giant termite mound, and when I was inside doing my vigil one hot day, a tick, one that causes a particularly nasty kind of fever, bit me on the toe. We were hundreds of miles from the nearest doctor, but luckily my hosts had old antibiotics on hand.
3. I regret that I never learned to play a musical instrument, so am teaching myself to play piano. But my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I can’t keep the notes straight!