I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I grew up in a small town in southern Minnesota. My mom was a nurse and my dad was a pharmacist. He and my grandpa Hillestad owned a drug store when I was little. I remember playing under my dad’s desk in the back room. I would set up my dolls and play to my heart’s content. I loved dolls as a kid, but I didn’t play with them the same way other girls did. I wasn’t interested in dressing them up; I used them to act out elaborate narratives I made up. This was probably the start of my writing career.
I was an only child until I was eight years old, and both my parents are only children, so I don’t have any aunts, uncles or cousins. Holidays at my house were very quiet. I was thrilled when another kid joined the family, even if he was a boy (I had been hoping for a girl), and way younger than me. He was kind of like another doll, easily manipulated into whatever story I was acting out.
Kids often ask me if I was popular in school. Uh…no. But I always had a few close friends. And I liked school. I was quiet and shy, a good student, and involved in lots of activities. The two main activities were band and school paper. If there’s anything I regret about my school years it’s the fact that I never played a sport. I never thought I was good at sports. I was one of the shortest kids in the class, and also one of the youngest. But I’ll never forget the day in 10th grade when we had indoor P.E. and we were playing softball. Not with a real softball–a large, rubber ball of some sort. I remember the P.E. teacher said anyone who hit the wall with the ball would get an A for the term. I hit the wall! I’m not sure who was more surprised–me or the other girls in the class. One of those girls was very nice and told me I should play softball. I really wish I had taken her up on it. I think I would’ve liked it.
In band, I started out on the clarinet, but switched to the oboe in sixth grade. I played the oboe in concert band and twirled a flag in marching band. I would have liked to sing in the choir, but unfortunately I can’t sing. And I didn’t know I couldn’t sing until we had choir try-outs in fifth grade and I was one of three kids in the whole class who didn’t make the choir. I still remember the way the choir director cringed when I tried to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He said, “Don’t just belt out the words. Sing them! Sing the tune.” I thought I was singing the tune. It was the first time I cried in school.
I was editor of my high school newspaper, and during those years I did my best to turn our newspaper into a literary magazine. Because that’s what I was more interested in. But I also wanted to tell the truth in my articles and I wanted to write stories that mattered, not just fluff pieces. So when I wasn’t allowed to write the stories I wanted to write, I quit in protest. Not unlike Zebby in my Truth About Truman School.
I also worked as a library page all through high school. I loved the library. I loved the library so much that I didn’t want to go home after it closed. So…I didn’t. I would stay on Saturday nights after the library closed and write my stories in the back room. I did that almost every Saturday night…until I got caught. A police officer had driven by. He saw a light on in the back room and thought he saw someone walking around in the library, so he called the library director (did I mention this was a small town?). Thinking someone had broken into the library, the library director and the police officer came in through the back…and discovered me. The library director said “we would talk” on Monday. I spent the entire weekend worrying that I was going to get fired. But he didn’t fire me; he just asked me to “please go home when the library closes from now on.”
Becoming an Author
When I finished college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what I was going to do to support myself. I considered graduate school…medical school…even law school. I was already married at this point, and my husband suggested I take a year off after college to “try writing.” He could support us. He said I’d always wonder if I could have been a writer. He was right. So I did what he suggested. While he went to work, I stayed home and wrote. And sent my stories out. I sold two magazine stories that year. So we decided to start a family, and I would keep at this writing thing.
I’ve published magazine stories, educational materials, plays, book reviews, characters for a board game, and by the end of 2015 I will have published 42 books for kids (if you count the 10 that were “ghostwritten”). I’ve been nominated for children’s choice awards in 19 different states, and my Buddy Files: Case of the Lost Boy won the 2011 Edgar Award for the best juvenile mystery published in 2010. My husband and I live in Kirkland, Washington with a very large dog named Mouse. Our two boys (Ben and Andy) live nearby. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, playing the mandolin, teaching my dog new tricks, Zumba, hiking, coffee with friends, and a good game of Scrabble! I feel lucky that I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do.