Describe your latest project.
With a name like Harper Lee Morgan, what else could she be but a writer? As Harper's poems take shape in her head, they yearn to be put down on paper. She wants nothing more than to read her poems up on stage at the school poetry contest. But with Daddy long gone, Harper's family is overwhelmed by debt and is evicted from their home. While Mama struggles to find extra work and a place to live, Harper must leave school to care for her younger brother, Hemingway. She struggles to help hold the family together with hope, perseverance, and a lot of love, without letting go of herself along the way.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
My sixth grade teacher, Mary Rinear, was definitely my most memorable and favorite teacher. She was the first one, outside of my family, who called me a writer. I wrote my first novel in her class. It was 100 pages, mostly on colored notebook paper, and in chapter installments. Sixth grade was such an awkward time for me, as it is for so many kids. But Mrs. Rinear gave me the confidence and encouragement that every aspiring writer needs. I tracked her down and called her to tell her about Also Known as Harper when I found out it was going to be published. Just hearing her voice took me back to that time. She sounded exactly the same and said she always knew that would happen for me some day.
What was your favorite story as a child?
I absolutely loved (and still do!) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.
What is your idea of bliss?
A five-mile run through my grandfather's old property in Ireland or Seattle in the spring, followed by live jazz at the Blue Note in New York and some really great chocolate with a brand new book by one of my favorite authors.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be both a teacher and a writer. My poor younger brother, Tim, was forced to play school with me. He was a good sport about it. My mom saved a lot of the papers and report cards I had made for him. I was pretty hard on him! We also played "advertising agency." We made up fake campaigns and commercials. I wrote the copy and he did the art. Interestingly enough, he now works as a graphic designer! My mom saved most of the stories I wrote from about age five or so. My older brother was usually the villain in my first stories. Most kids tattle on their siblings. I wrote long, tattling notes!
Why do you write books for kids?
I think because of the feeling I always got when I spotted a favorite book on the shelf at the library. My mom took me to the library every week, without fail. I can remember the thrill I got in the children's or YA section when I saw a new book by a favorite author or a favorite book that I wanted to read again. I wanted to do that for someone else. I wanted to write a book that would make a child excited about seeing it on the shelf of a bookstore or library.
What book by another author do you wish you had written?
First, would have to be To Kill a Mockingbird, because I feel it truly is the Great American Novel.
Second would be Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. She reached so many girls with that book. She was edgy and honest and gave her readers what they wanted and needed to hear.
If you could have lunch with a person of your choosing — living or dead, fictitious or real — who would it be?
I'm going to cheat and pick three: Harper Lee, Roald Dahl, and my mom. It would be an amazing conversation.