There are three segments of questions and responses for this page. These segments pertain to my personal life, my family, and writing. If you have questions that are not on this page, you may contact me with them and I will respond as soon as possible.
When were you born?
I was born in 1957 in Irvington, New Jersey.
Where did you grow up?
I lived in South Orange, New Jersey until I was 10. Then my family moved to Newton, Massachusetts.
Where else have you lived?
New Mexico, Maine, Washington State, and now, Berkeley, California.
What were you like as a teenager?
That would depend on whom you ask. My sisters would tell you I was a pain in the neck. My oldest sister Susan might remember how many pairs of her stockings I borrowed and tore. My middle sister Leslie, whom I shared a room with for seven years, could describe my difficulty connecting clothes with hangers and drawers. There was always a clear path to my bed, however, so I’m not sure what the problem was.
I was a good student. I had friends in different groups: the hippies, the smart kids, the theatre types, the outing club gang. By high school, I felt like I was more on the fringes of all the groups. It didn’t help that I went to a school with nearly 3000 kids. I spent long hours shaping clay on the pottery wheel, took unusual courses like Japanese History, designed independent studies whenever I could get away with it, and more or less underachieved unless I loved the subject and had a great teacher whom I wanted to please. In high school I was in a hurry to grow up, so I went out with older boys and put myself in positions of responsibility, such as working in a women’s health clinic and tutoring other kids.
What were your favorite books when you were growing up?
As a younger kid: Hop on Pop. All the Dr. Seuss books. Stuart Little—a mouse on a motorcycle! How cute is that? Misty of Chincoteague. Fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. Heidi. Those orange or red-covered biographies; I read all the ones about women—Amelia Earhart, Florence Nightengale—and wished there were more than the six or so in my school library. A Little Princess. Harriet the Spy. The Secret Garden. All the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Rascal. The Yearling. Nancy Drew—oh yeah! A Wrinkle In Time. Julia of the Wolves.
In high school, I read Gone With the Wind at least six times. My friend Hannah and I saw the movie numerous times and finally went together. We kept saying the lines before the actors did and howling with laughter. The people sitting near us were furious.
Other books I loved as a teen, or that made a strong impression on me: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Lord of the Flies. Animal Farm. 1984. I read a lot after school, but I can’t remember half of what I read. Or maybe I just kept reading Gone with the Wind over and over, hoping that this time Scarlett wouldn’t be such a dolt about Rhett. I really wanted them to live happily ever after.
What events in your life have influenced you the most?
The Vietnam war, for one. I was a pre-teen and teenager then, and the photos coming out of that country gave me a horror of war as a means of addressing global conflicts. Volunteering at eighteen to give vaccinations to children in rural Paraguay, where I learned how important it is to see the world through the eyes of people who live very differently from me. Giving birth and becoming a mother: I now move through life with a big portion of my heart open and exposed on my sleeve. Climbing 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2005, one of the most hilarious and yet confidence-boosting experiences of my life.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Come up for huge gulps of air. Walk, run, bicycle. Seek out friends. Think about making dinner. Pester the cats. Shop for food, do laundry, and return late books to library. Run to bus stop to pick up son. Try to beat him at Yahtzee. Catch up with husband about his day. Watch “Seinfeld” reruns. Read. Send emails to friends all over the world. Travel.
I know you have been to Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Israel, Russia, India, Nepal, Canada, and all over the U.S. Why do you travel so much?
I love to travel—my whole family does. I believe that it’s vital to spend time outside your own country, if at all possible. We are really very isolated in the U.S. and not as well informed about other countries as many of their citizens are about us. Although I lose writing time when I travel, I get such great inspiration for stories that it’s worth it.
What is your favorite place that you’ve traveled to?
In this country, the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Overseas, the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. But the trip that combined the most fun along with the most misery was climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2005. I hope that experience will emerge in a book someday.
Here’s a photo of me on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. That’s me on the left, next to my friends Karla and Barb. The reason you can’t see more of my face is that it was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of another 10 degrees or so. And you really wouldn’t want to see my face in this photo. I’d been up all night climbing the last 4000 vertical feet of the mountain, and the altitude was making me queasy.
Climbing Kili was kind of like writing a novel: tedious, repetitive, and sometimes nauseating, peppered with hilarity, and rich in discoveries.