Bio   Interview

More about me: Interview by Jacqueline

Q   Why do you write?
A Because I need to and am unhappy if I don't. I have an active imagination and am always speculating. Writing helps me digest the world and understand the human species, which baffle me so. And I love the rhythm of language, though I cannot stand reading something poorly written. It's like hearing music played out of tune.
Q When did you start writing?
A I started scribbling and keeping secret journals when my world was turned upside down at age eleven, but my first serious attempt was at twenty with a chapter book for children about a spider called Rosemary. A South American friend and I drove down to Bolivia from CA, so I had ample time to study spiders. The story took years to complete and never sold, though I never tried very hard and admit that it may need more work.
Q Have you written anything else for children?
A Yes, lots. I love children's literature, though I do not like didactic or what I call 'goodie-goodie' type stories and don't understand the trend towards encouraging children to think mostly about themselves.
Q Can you name some of these titles?
A Published or unpublished?
Q Laughter. Either.
A Well, I've got lots of manuscripts in my file cabinet plus a story in the anthology Lines in the Sand: New Writing on War and Peace (more). It was an honor to be involved with this project but remains a mystery why so many of my other titles are a hard sell. Editors don't have time to give reasons for rejections, but my own favorites are: Huntsmen Are Coming!; Willy Nilly and The Sleeper-Trickster; The Night Lorena's Bed Collapsed; Chickens Love Onions; Gudrun's Oar; Bosun's Diet; Lost in The Fog; Knock! Knock! Rat-a-tat-tat! (which my aunt, who is a talented artist, is in the process of illustrating); The Chihuahua and the Red Sombrero; and Water Water Everywhere, all submissions that have elicited positive response through personal letters —the next best thing to acceptance, they say!— though no takes yet.
Q Great titles. Good luck.
A Thanks. If you know any editors who might be interested, do please tell them about my work!
Q Sure. Laughs. Do you have any children?

Me with book and cat in lap

Dock visitor in the Bahamas

A Just cats.
Q Aren't children a prerequisite to writing children's literature?
A Actually, you'll find that many successful children's authors don't have any. Writing for children requires a childlike mentality more than anything else, which doesn't always go hand in hand with parenthood. I once chartered with a twenty year old couple who acted more like middle aged spinsters than the young parents they were. We were sailing in the Caribbean through some of the most spectacular waters imaginable, waters I'd sailed through hundreds of times, yet they were bored and I was excited. The late editor Ursula Nordstrom put it well when she was questioned on this point and reputedly said, "I was once a child but haven't forgotten a thing."
Q I gather you write for adults too. What genre?
A Mostly nonfiction. First person narratives or travel essays, as opposed to promotional or action-only type stories. I enjoy writing about place, nature, people, and food, and tend to incorporate the local lingo. I try to give the reader essence rather than a list of facts. I also write fiction, though mostly for children.
Q If you had a writing wish list, what would it be?
A Oh, that's easy! More travel assignments. More acceptances for my children's stories. More replies to my queries and submissions —even if just a short, courteous, No thanks.
Q Can you name some of your favorite books?

Hmmmm, let's see, off the top of my head: West with the Night by Beryl Markham; Island by Aldous Huxley; A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul; Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Charlotte's Web by EB White; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; Buoy, Home at Sea, by Bruce Balan. Also, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Anne Tyler's writing, and short stories or children's books by Roald Dahl. I'm also mad about reference books of all sorts. Oh, and I mustn't forget Tintin and anything by La Comtesse de Ségur, which I read as a child.

Q Where did you go to college?
A I didn't, I wanted to travel after high school. Not that I am proud of the fact, and I do feel bad for disappointing my poor father, but I had a yearning to break loose and explore the world early on. I felt kids my age were going to college because it was expected of them or, at least for those whose tuition was paid for, because it was easier than being out there on your own. Education can be acquired by different means, the path you chose really depends on your goal in life. I do not think a degree is necessarily an indication of merit, nor that it's a guarantee of skill. Not that schooling doesn't have its place, but there is no substitute for experience. My brother, who I look up to, is incredibly accomplished in his work as a film editor despite his lack of formal education. Ursula Nordstrom never went to college either, yet she was one of the most successful editors in her field.
Q What would you advise beginning writers?
A Above all: Write. Don't just dream and talk about it. Practice writing every day. We learn the basics in school but writing is a craft that needs to be honed like any other. Talent is useful —perseverance is essential. And of course, read. Much to my detriment, I am a slow reader; I get hung up on details such as punctuation and words. Study the writers you admire. When you're ready to submit, spend time in the bookstores and libraries and make a note of those publishers likely to be receptive to your work. Remember, writing's a tough way to make a living.
Q Now for some personal questions, where do you call home?
A My boat, Firefly, and wherever she happens to be.

S/Y Firefly

S/Y Firefly

Q Why a boat?
A Because I love it and can't imagine living any other way. The first time I ever stepped on a boat was in the Mediterranean about 30 years ago and I haven't been off since, except for short bursts. It was the coup de foudre. I'd finally found my raison d'etre: a place to call home but still travel —which is in my blood— without having to lug around suitcases, pack and unpack, or be forced to spend money in hotels and restaurants. It felt like a turtle with her shell. When I crossed the Atlantic on my 27ft. engineless sailboat with 2 cats and one crew, it was a humbling experience to travel such a distance by wind alone. Boats give me a sense of independence. A feeling of freedom from the tethers that so often tie landlubbers down. Life is so much simpler at sea. There are no hidden nuances, things either are or are not. If you make a wrong decision, you find out pretty quickly. Growing up on the move as I have, I don't feel attached to any one particular country though I still have a need to nest. Now I'm always at home, surrounded by the books and things I love no matter where we are. Plus, I love meeting people of different walks of life. This is difficult when rooted ashore because one tends to mingle with the same neighbors and fellow workers.

At sea with sextant

Taking a sunsight on my first
Atlantic crossing with Toad

Q Have you had any unpleasant sea-related experiences?
A One. Getting stung by a stingray off a deserted island far from help. The spine injects a venom designed to cause pain. I tend to forget bad weather and such, but I shall never forget this.
Q Do you have any hobbies?

Raku bowlWooden fishBargemont flowersRaku bowl

Some homemade gifts
A Yes. Asking questions, I'm told. Laughter. Actually, I quite like working with my hands, and once studied with a ceramist in France and apprenticed with another in NC. I've tried teaching myself Spanish guitar too. Otherwise, I love to varnish and work in fiberglass, pick mushrooms, go for walks, and explore country roads by car; I love identifying birds and insects, looking at animals and being surrounded by nature; I adore cats and sea creatures; I love ethnic music and tropical colours, and I hate noise and highways. I love the BBC news and NPR, reading, cruising, anchoring in protected, secluded coves, and making offshore passages. I love discovering new places, people, and foods. I love to dream. And lots of other stuff, too numerous to name here.

Guitar lesson

A lesson from Paul Simon

Q Why do you use different names?
A To keep you on your toes! Actually, my pen name is how I think of myself, but alas I'm obliged to divulge my legal name at times —and that's another long story.
  Check back for future interviews by Jacqueline.



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