I was born in New York City but moved with my family when I was five to "the country." Back in those days (the 1960s) that meant New Jersey. We moved to a blue house on an acre of land in a little town called Allendale, and to a city kid like me it felt ... wild. At night, instead of car horns and sirens, all you could hear were crickets. Deer often wandered through our yard, and when I saw my first earthworm I was absolutely convinced it was a snake. There was a huge woods behind our house, and my brother and I were allowed to wander there, for hours, and build forts.
It was a great place to be a kid.
Me, in our apartment in New York.
My mom is Spanish. Both of her parents immigrated to the U.S., and she didn't even learn English until she was about five. It was very cool having a Spanish mom. For one thing, we got to eat awesome food that most kids in New Jersey never even heard of, like arroz con pollo (rice and chicken) and platanos (those big, green banana-like things you fry.) Also, our mom was different. She was beautiful, a great dancer, and a lot more fun than most of the other kids' moms. Imagine having J.Lo for your mother, and you'll know what I mean.
My dad is Irish. He doesn't speak a word of Spanish, and both of his parents immigrated to the US. from County Roscommon in Ireland. The combination of having an Irish dad and growing up in New Jersey (which was not very diverse back then) meant that English was the language of choice in our house. As a result I barely speak any Spanish today, and it's one of my greatest regrets.
My Irish grandma, my mom, me and my brother, all dressed up for Easter.
In the interest of full disclosure I'll tell you right up front: I was a geek. Bookworm, absent-minded-professor ... that was me. I blame my mother, of course. That's because when I was little she told me she wouldn't buy me every toy I wanted, but she WOULD buy me any book I wanted.
Well, you can imagine. I went wild. You know those book order forms they hand out in school?
Here I am, still in diapers and trying to read. Already a bookworm!
I would check off practically every one, and mom would buy them, no questions asked. When the book orders came in, all the kids in my class would gawk as I tried to carry my stack of new books home. For me and my siblings, walking into a bookstore was like being set loose in a candy store and told: "Eat until you drop."
I read and read and read ... then reread. I was a great rereader, and mom sure got her money's worth out of all those paperback books. I loved stepping into the magic of a book and losing myself in a wonderful story. I couldn't imagine anything better than being a writer, and early on it became my dream to create stories of my own.
After I graduated from high school I went to a very special place where I was sure I could learn to become a writer: Middlebury College, in Vermont. Now, that's the country. Looking out my dorm room window, I saw ... cows. Not on campus, of course, but right next door. There was also a lot of snow in winter, and spring didn't really ever arrive. It just became something called "mud season," and right around when you thought it might actually get warm you had to pack up and head home for the summer.
I absolutely loved it.
View of Middlebury College from the organic garden.
Middlebury opened many doors for me. During my junior year, I was able to study at St. Hugh's College, in Oxford, England, and between my junior and senior years I attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Vermont. That was a little intimidating, I must admit. There I was, this 21-year old student, surrounded by all these grownup, professional writers! And ouch! Were they honest. Brutal, actually. I remember crying when the writer, Stanley Elkin, who was assigned to evaluate my manuscript, told me it was terrible. Nice, huh?
Then-director of Bread Loaf, Robert Pack, must have heard that Stanley was picking on the young writers, because he sought me out. "So," he said, in his signature gravelly voice. "Are you tough enough to make it in this business?"
Tough? I thought. You have to be tough to be a writer? I thought you just had to work hard.
But guess what? You have to be tough. Tough enough to handle rejection, take criticism, have bad writing days when every word you put on the paper is just awful, and most of all ... tough enough to believe in yourself. Or at least stubborn enough. And as it turns out, I'm pretty stubborn. Maybe that's the Irish in me.
Bumper stickers like this one encouraged me to move to Virginia.
After college I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, home of The University of Virginia. I went there to read some more and earn a Masters Degree ... but I also went in search of romance. You see, back in 1969 the state launched this big "Virginia is for Lovers" campaign, with bumper stickers, television ads, etc. I'm very susceptible to advertising, and I believed the whole thing. So, off I went.
Guess what? It worked. Within a year I had a Masters degree and met my future husband, Conrad Schneider. I also got my first real job: as a news reporter and broadcaster for a radio station in Charlottesville. WWWV, commonly known as "three-double-U-V." With disc jockey, Jay Lopez, and news director, Missy Scott, I was on the air every afternoon as well as around town with my tape recorder, interviewing people and reporting the news.
During the 1980's Conrad and I lived in Atlanta, Georgia and Washington, D.C., where I had a variety of news reporting jobs and also worked as a press secretary for a member of the U.S. Congress. But by 1991 we decided it was time to start a family, put city life behind us and move to ... you guessed ... the country. That meant Brunswick, Maine, a town near the ocean, and home to Bowdoin College.
Some people wondered how I could give up my cool job and move to a place where wild turkeys, foxes, deer and even moose wander through the neighborhood. They didn't realize that I love the outdoors and that more than anything I wanted to raise a family and get back to writing stories.
So now I live in Maine, write, and text my kids, who have grown and flown off to college, jobs, etc. Like Conrad and me they love being outside and active: camping and biking, kayaking, skiing, playing sports and traveling.
Our family loves the outdoors. One winter we snowshoed in Yosemite National Park to see the giant Sequoias. The brown thing behind us is a tree!
Even our dog is active. She's an Australian Shepherd, named Frisbee. She's actually the most intelligent, most athletic member of our family, and if she had opposing thumbs she would probably run the world. She would probably also write my books, which might not be such a bad thing.
Hmmm ... a novel narrated by an Australian Shepherd ... stay tuned!