How long have you been writing?
I started writing seriously in 2008. Before that I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, where one of my main projects was compiling a children's picture book of local folktales. Another volunteer and I transcribed oral folktales from village elders, found a local artist to illustrate the stories, and bound them to distribute to local schools. Through this I discovered a real love of children's books. Back in the US, my then-boyfriend/now-husband encouraged me to give writing children's literature a try. I instantly fell in love with both writing and the man :)
Why do you write for children?
I love all types of literature, but young adult books are closest to my heart. I can't tell you why, exactly. It's something about the perspective of YA lit. I like how forward-thinking it is. Even when it's dark, there's rays of hope. YA literature is often about "big, important" things: the future, saving the world, love, first kisses, friendship. It's always thrilling, never boring (ideally). I just can't see myself ever writing about, say, a forty year old divorcee struggling with putting her parents in a nursing home. I just can't.
What inspired you to write THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER?
When I was sixteen years old, I spent a year abroad in Costa Rica. For several reasons, I didn't have to go to school that year. (Yes, it was totally awesome.) So I traveled a lot, visited volcanoes and beaches and tropical jungles. It made me fascinated with tropical places. I was a huge fan of the TV show LOST, and when it ended I thought about writing a book set in a similar tropical island location. At the same time, I was reading Bram Stoker's DRACULA. Something about missing LOST, and reading Gothic classics, reminded me of an old favorite of mine, HG Wells' THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU. When I reread it, I realized that as a novella, there was room to take a spin on that classic story from a new character's perspective.
What inspired you to write THE CAGE?
In spring of 2012 I attended the Bat Cave Writer's Retreat. It was in a town actually called "Bat Cave." With eight other middle grade and young adult writers, we spent a week in a cabin drinking wine and talking books and critiquing each others' work. One night one of the writers told us about her husband's job working with wildlife, and that got me thinking about zoos. In my day job before I starting writing full-time, I sometimes worked with a local nature center that was part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. I started to get fascinated by the idea of a "human zoo" where another species kept us in environments that are replicas of human society. Voila, The Cage!
Will you recommend me to your agent? Read my work?
Unfortunately, I can't recommend you to my agent unless you are one of my critique partners. But the good news is, you don't need special connections in the YA world. Agents are more than happy to look at queries--the trick is just having a really strong, professional query, and carefully follow the submission directions on their website. I also can't read non-agented work unless it is an official critique as part of a conference or contest prize. Between my own work and reading critique partners' work, I'm swamped!
What was growing up in a family who owned a bookstore like?
In a word: awesome. My parents have owned their independent bookstore, Highland Books in Brevard, North Carolina, for over 35 years. My mom likes to say my sister and I, as "cute babies," were the original promotional draw. My sister and I both spent many years working there, as did my grandmother. The bookstore staff has been there as long as I can remember, and they are like family too. It was such a wonderful way to grow up: a personal lending library, a place to curl up in comfy chairs after school, one of my small town's social gathering spots. To this day, every time I go to the bookstore, I know I'll run into someone I know!