I get lots of questions from kids and teachers. Here are the ones most commonly asked, and their answers.
This should help if you are writing a paper on me or my books. Even if I am out of town when you need a fact, you can find it here, turn your paper in on time—and get an A!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
I hope you don’t mind my asking, but how old are you and where were you born?
I was born on August 28, 1951 in Pearl River, New York (it’s okay to ask).
Do you come from a big family?
Not big, but good. My dad, Carl Fogelin, was a chemical engineer. My mother, Maria Bontempi Fogelin, was a writer and a stay-at-home mom. I have a sister named Claudia who is nineteen months younger than I am. My brother, Carl Christian, is seven years younger (Claudia and I carried him around like our own personal baby doll).
My family now is my husband Ray, my daughter Josie, and our Australian cattle dog Moo.
Were you a good reader and writer when you were growing up?
Nope. I was a slow, late reader. My spelling was atrocious. If I made it as a writer, there is hope for you, too!
Why do you like to write?
Lots of reason; take your pick.
- I like to write because my mom was a writer. From her I learned that ordinary people could grow up to be writers. She gave me the courage to try.
- I love words. I make lists of my favorite ones. I spend time trying to find the right words for every sentence I write.
- Whether I’m hearing them or making them up, I love stories. I enjoy creating and getting to know my characters and building stories for them to inhabit. The characters become friends over the year or so it takes me to write a book. I know they are just in my head, but they feel very real.
- When I create a story I decide what happens—that’s rarely true in real life. I like being in charge of the world—even if it is only on paper!
Who inspired you to become a writer?
My mom. She was a fiction writer for adults. I could tell she loved doing it more than anything else. She would sneak away from the rest of the family and hide in her bedroom (her typewriter was there). Until we made her come back out she would work on her latest book.
She also taught me a lot about the process of writing—mainly that all good writing involves lots of rewriting. She taught me how to edit.
What is your favorite genre?
Realistic fiction. Other genres, like fantasy and sci-fi, are interesting but I am still trying to master the art of telling a story that could happen in the real world. Writing realistic fiction also allows me to draw on the places, people, and events that I know firsthand.
Can you describe your writing process?
There is no magic or “right” way to get a story down on paper. Some authors use a computer, others use a spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen—any tool that feels comfortable is the right one.
I usually work on a computer. That is because I revise a lot and it is easy to move things around electronically. Some writers plan, plan, plan, and others just start writing and see what happens. Part of why I revise so much is that I am that second kind of writer—a blurter (that’s my word for starting with one small idea and seeing what happens).
I am always happiest when I finish the first draft because it means that I have something down on paper, something to revise.
When I finish the book to my satisfaction, I share it with my publisher. They NEVER publish it exactly as I wrote it. The editing process each of my books goes through lasts three to four months.
Do you use events from your own life?
I use lots of things from my own life in my writing. It gives me a chance to think about what’s happened and figure out what I’ve learned. But most of the time what happens in the story is not exactly like real life. I take something that actually happened and reshape it so the story is better and the meaning of what took place is stronger (things are always more dramatic in stories than they are in real life).
Do you have any hobbies?
In my spare time I like to read, write in my journal, grow loads of vegetables, draw, and hang out with friends. My husband and I canoe Florida’s rivers, cook great suppers, talk politics, and enjoy each other’s company. I go for long walks, pat dogs, and collect rocks—some of these things show up in my stories. I also do a heck of a lot of singing in a two person band called “Hot Tamale.” Check it out below!
But most of the time I write—writing is a very fulltime job.
How long does it take you to write a book?
A hard question! My first book took twelve years to write (I had a lot to learn). Books now take an average of one year from typing the first word to having the published book in my hand.
Some of your books seem to be connected; are they?
Five of my titles happen in the same place, my neighborhood in Tallahassee, Florida. Each is narrated by a different kid and you can read any one of them separately and still get a complete story. But if you read all the books, the picture in your head gets fuller and fuller until you feel as if you live in this neighborhood, too.
If you want to read the titles in order, do it like this:
- Crossing Jordan
- Anna Casey’s Place in the World
- My Brother’s Hero
- The Big Nothing
- The Sorta Sisters
Which character is your favorite?
I like them all (even the bad guys) but my favorite is probably Jemmie’s grandmother, Nana Grace. She is so calm and wise and kind. I want to be just like her, or find someone just like her to give me good advice.
Which character is most like you?
Temperamentally, I am most like Anna Casey. No matter how bad things get, she stays optimistic. Deep down, I believe that everything will turn out all right.
The other character I have a lot in common with is Miss Johnette, the high school biology teacher Anna ends up living with. Her house is full of bones and fossils and feathers and nests—and so is mine. She also believes that to save our planet we all have to use less stuff. She shops at Goodwill, drives a little car, and doesn’t air condition. We’ve made all the same choices!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Keep a journal. The things that happen in your life will show up in your stories. It is good to have them written down—your memory isn’t as good as you think.
Write regularly. Writing is fun, but it is also a discipline. Having a time set aside for writing ensures that you will get lots of practice, which is the only way to improve.
Read. Other people’s books will teach you what you need to know about the craft of writing. Even something as simple as getting a character to walk from one side of the room to the other can be hard when you first start out. By figuring out how other writers do it, you will learn things like: how to begin a story, how to build suspense, how to develop a character, and how to sustain a reader’s interest. If you have a favorite genre, read it, but read books from outside the genre as well. To be a well-rounded writer, it helps to be a well-rounded reader.
Are you rich?
(Okay, my teacher didn’t ask me to ask this, but I’d just like to know).
The short answer is no.
The longer answer is that I feel very rich. I do something I love to do and get paid for doing it.
The long answer is that writers get paid by the book. If you buy a hard cover copy of one of my books I will get about 86 cents. Buy a paperback and my share is about 26 cents. This is a multiplication problem. To earn a big amount of $$$ I have to sell lots of books.
I wrote a book! How do I get it published?
I am amazed that you wrote a book. Wow! And now for the part you don’t want to hear. It is very hard for any writer to get a book published, but nearly impossible for a young writer to attract the attention of a publisher. There are a couple of reasons. First, let’s say you’ve written A REALLY GREAT BOOK. Part of being published is going around talking about your book which is really hard if you are still in school. But the more important reason is that THE REALLY GREAT BOOK you are going to write is still a few years down the road. Becoming a good writer is like becoming a long distance runner. You have to build up the muscles for it.
That doesn’t mean you can’t see your stories in print RIGHT NOW. Go to www.amazon.com, click on BOOKS and search the subject “kid’s publishing.” You will get lots of great titles that will tell you everything from how to start a school newspaper to publications seeking the work of young writers.
Are you working on a book right now?
Always! The longer I write the more stories I think of to tell. After a while it is like having a bunch of gnats buzzing around in my head. So many stories! So little time!
My big hope is that if I keep writing them you’ll keep reading them. Do we have a deal?