I am a YA writer who grew up in New City, NY and came back to raise my family there. I went to undergrad at Duke University and grad school at NYU, studying English and Dramatic Writing and yelling loud at basketball games. After school, I spent six years at the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop), working on international versions of Sesame Street and other kids’ programs. I met my husband, Mat, at sleepaway camp when we were 17 and there are times we still wish we were back at camp. My three kids, Lissie, Josh and Eric make me laugh and have been my biggest fans. Life is good.
The longer version (if you have a few minutes…)
I grew up in New City, New York in the days before playdates. My two younger brothers and I and all the neighborhood kids would be outside all day, riding bikes, playing baseball and football and just digging in the dirt. Family legend says that I was reading at three years old. I’ve never stopped. I remember a ridiculously early bed time and reading at night by the hallway light. This is probably why I now need glasses. But it was worth it.
At New City Elementary School I wrote letters to my favorite authors. Some of them wrote back. I’m still waiting to hear from Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have a vivid memory of my mom waking me up one night at 8pm (I told you my bedtime was ridiculously early) to watch a new program based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, Little House on the Prairie. I loved seeing one of my favorite books come to life and I especially enjoyed staying up till after sunset. My dad was also very supportive of my book habit. I would carry stacks of books to the checkout at the book store and he never once said “no.” This was very useful in fifth grade, when I snuck a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever onto the pile and was the hit of the class as we all read the “dirty” parts. Mrs. Lazzari’s Fifth Grade Class thanks you, Dad.
Sixth grade saw my literary debut. After reading Cheaper by the Dozen at least one time for each of the twelve Gilbreth children, I decided to adapt it for the sixth grade play. I should note here that the book Cheaper by the Dozen by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and her brother Frank, bears no resemblance to the Steve Martin movie (which I kept muttering the whole time I watched the movie until my daughter asked me to leave the room).
At Clarkstown Junior High (now Felix V. Festa Middle School) and Clarkstown High School North, I kept reading and probably kept writing, but none of it really stands out to me. I didn’t even remember I was on the Junior High Literary Magazine until one of my friends found an old copy and showed it to me a few weeks ago.
In June 1984 I graduated high school. The next day I went up to Camp Eisner and met my husband, Mat. Now I was 17, so it never occurred to me that this could be my husband, but he was very cute and we had a lot of fun that summer.
Eager to leave New York, I headed to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Go Blue Devils! (you will notice that all of my books have at least one shout out to my alma mater). One night when I was in college I had nothing to do (this was extremely rare) so I started writing a screenplay. On a whim I sent it to NYU’s Dramatic Writing program and much to my shock, I was accepted.
NYU led to an internship at Children’s Television Workshop. I liked it there so much I stayed for six years, working on productions of Sesame Street around the world. It was a fun job and I got to meet so many different people and travel to some pretty neat places.
What could be better than traveling around the world and entertaining and educating children? Having babies. I never thought I’d be an “at home” mom, but after my daughter Lissie was born, the bloom went off the TV production rose. When she was about 18 months old I decided to temporarily retire and hang with Lissie all day. Soon after, Josh joined us and then we moved back to New City (actually we bought the house and got a minivan all in the same day, which shocked me right into suburbia). Eric came about nine months after we moved in, thus confirming the “new house, new baby” theory.
Lissie had been born with a heart defect (she’s fine now), so eager to share our experiences and help other parents, my friend Gerri Freid Kramer and I put together a wonderful resource: The Parent’s Guide to Children’s Congenital Heart Defects. It was published in 2001 and we hope it has been of great comfort to parents of children with heart defects.
After Eric went to kindergarten, I cleaned out the closets and redid the kitchen. Then I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life while the kids were at school all day. I decided to revisit writing and took a class with the Institute of Children’s Literature. While taking the class I was watching one of Dr. Oz’s Discovery Health programs on patients who were receiving heart transplants. Mat, a cardiologist, and one of his patients were being featured so we wanted to take a peek at the show. What I saw changed my life. There was a story of a young girl who needed a transplant. I watched as she was rolled into the operating room to receive her new heart and was haunted by the look on her face – uncertain as to whether this would save her life or kill her. That girl led me to write Change of Heart. After rewrites, an agent search, more rewrites and then submission, I’m thrilled that the dream of publishing Change of Heart has become a reality.
Thanks for hanging in till the end of the story. Well, it’s not the end, only the middle. Stay tuned!