I had an interesting childhood. Born in the mountains of north Georgia at a time when almost nobody there had luxuries like running water, indoor toilets, and electric lights, I grew up without television. It was a great advantage. I had adventures. I played in the woods, rode in wagons pulled by mules, and went to Primitive Baptist churches. I even picked cotton a few times.
For entertainment, we told stories. Some of the stories were family history, like how my father met my mother on his way to marry another girl. Others were funny stories, and some were hunting yarns. Best of all, however, were the scary tales my grandfather told us as night moved in-stories of ghosts and mountain lions and people buried alive. Those in the last category were made all the more scary by my grandmother’s absolutely true stories of the dead folks she had “laid out” back before mountain people began using undertakers. She said there was one corpse who never got cold under the arms. I suppose I began to absorb the basic elements of storytelling during those sessions.
When my parents got me in school around age nine and I learned to read, I discovered a world of new stories in books. Soon I began reading to my sister and younger brothers. Eventually, I began to make up my own stories, sometimes to entertain them and sometimes just for myself. I didn’t write my stories down. They mostly worked out my dreams of getting an education and moving far away from the Georgia mountains to some interesting and exciting places.
It wasn’t until I’d finished college, taught school for eight years, and become a wife and mother that I tried writing. My husband, Benjamin, and two sons, Ben and David, encouraged me all the way. When my first story came to me, it was rooted squarely in the Georgia mountains and the kind of country people I had grown up with. I’d finally realized that I was a part of those people and that I felt good about it.
My stories start with a picture, or sometimes several pictures, in my mind. There is generally a main character, but I don’t know much about him or her until I begin writing. What I am usually very sure of is the setting. It’s almost always rural. I’m a country woman, and I feel more at home surrounded by trees and fields, and so do my characters. My stories frequently involve families, because family is so important to me.
Almost all my stories have funny parts and scary parts because I love these elements in the stories I read. Dogs frequently show up too, even when I haven’t planned them. You might guess that I’m a dog lover. My dog, Bo, is a member of our family. I talk to him and (don’t let this get out) I sometimes talk for him.
When I visit schools, I tell students to go for their dreams-whether those dreams are to write, paint, make movies, or fly jets. I’ve found out through my own experience that people can do the wonderful things they want to do, if they’re willing to work for their dreams.
I have written well-reviewed, award-winning picture books, fiction and nonfiction for middle grade students, and one adult history for adults. HALLEY, my latest novel is intended for young adults, but could be read and enjoyed by anyone twelve years or older.