I've always been a writer. I've been writing stories since I learned how to hold a pencil, asking my dad how to spell words while I worked under the bar stools at our kitchen counter.
In my teens, I fell in love with theater. I wanted to act. On the stage. I loved the hush of the crowd, the sticky odor of pancake makeup and the dusty resin of wax on the stage floor. I loved to be able to look out over the audience, the flash of glasses reflecting the stage lights. I loved to hear their laughter. But mostly, I loved losing myself in a character made of words. To make that character live and breathe. Now, that is magic.
I played bit parts (including that of a catatonic in a mental institution—my only line was a scream) and grew into bigger roles on the high school stage. I spent five summers spouting Shakespeare beneath stars and redwoods, hoping one day to play Rosalind in As You Like It.
I got an acting scholarship to a good university and went on to study acting and costume design for two years. But then I traveled on the Semester at Sea—a program on which students study on board a ship and travel around the world, visiting ten countries in one hundred days. It changed my life. I realized I didn't want to spend my entire life in a windowless black box (a theater) but in the greater world.
So I created my own major, planning to use it to be a travel writer. I spent two months traveling Europe by train. I worked for nine months for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association on a research boat as a steward (making beds and washing dishes) in order to earn the money to backpack around the world. The ship went to Chile and the Antarctic, and even stopped at Easter Island—one of the most remote locations in the Pacific Ocean. After so long at sea, I needed time on land, so I packed up my sister and her puppy in a beaten-down station wagon and drove across North America.
And then I packed a single bag and flew to Africa. Alone. I spent five months in southern Africa—South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, but primarily Zimbabwe. I saw elephants and rhinos and kudu, was woken up from a dead sleep in a tent by the roar of lions and sat for hours on the banks of the Zambezi watching Victoria Falls. I spent the rest of that year in Southeast Asia—mostly eating coconut curry. After a few restless months at home, I traveled to Australia and New Zealand and completely depleted my travel fund.
And then I went to England, invited by an Englishman I'd met in Zimbabwe. I went for two weeks and stayed for six months—I left the day before my visa expired—and the next year I married him.
I lived in England for five years, in a little town in the county of Kent. I lived within spitting distance of Hever Castle—Anne Boleyn's childhood home. Penshurst Place, once owned by the Duke of Buckingham and Knole House, once owned by King Henry VIII himself were also nearby. I grew to love the English countryside—so different from the forests and volcanic mountains of California. And I came to love English history—so much more violent and colorful and ancient than my own.
In the course of my life, I've worked as a dishwasher, lingerie seller, coffee barista, cake decorator, ship's steward, video rental clerk, freelance journalist, travel agent, waitress, contracts manager, bookseller and Montessori preschool teacher.
But in writing for teens, I've finally found my calling.
And through writing, I am able to encompass all my loves. Becoming a character made of words. Exploring new worlds. And living history.