This is the looong bio... but if you're looking for something short and sweet, go here.
I was born in Baltimore City and spent the first ten years of my life there in old brick houses with alleys. When I was eleven, my mom, dad, younger brother, and I moved to a Baltimore suburb that used to be farmers' fields and woods. When I wasn't in school, I was exploring the woods and discovering old things - rusted fences, abandoned barns, hidden creeks, tree hollows.
I went to St. Mary's College in southern Maryland, near the Chesapeake Bay. There I lived in a house with secret passages called 'Poodle Doodle House'. (There used to be a poodle-grooming business in the basement). My favorite memories of that time are nights swimming in the bay with glow-in-the-dark phytoplankton and watching herons wade in the marsh and gathering sea glass on an isolated beach.
After I earned my B.A. in Anthropology and French, I decided I wanted to go somewhere faraway, so I got certified in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) and sent job applications around the globe. A small university in a town in Oaxaca, Mexico was the first to offer me a job, and I snatched it up.
The town was Huajuapan, nestled in the mountainous Mixtec region of Oaxaca, and it turned out to be an enchanting place. During my two years there, people welcomed me into their lives and shared their culture and stories with me.
Thanks to their patience, I became fluent in Spanish and learned some of the indigenous language Mixteco. I participated in Mixtec and Mazatec healing ceremonies and formed friendships with healers. Every day was so stimulating I carried my notebook everywhere and wrote voraciously, desperate to capture every detail, every bit of dialogue, every smell and sound.
A few years later, while I was working on my Masters in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Arizona, I drew on my journal writing from Oaxaca to begin writing my first novel, What the Moon Saw. That summer, for my fieldwork on Mixtec childbirth practices, I went back to Oaxaca and hung out with women and healers, and finished the first draft of the book.
I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, got married to Ian, and after five years of revising What the Moon Saw, I had it published with Delacorte/Random House, the press that published my first seven books. As I wrote my second novel, Red Glass, I worked with immigrant families and taught ESL (English as a Second Language) and Cultural Anthropology at my local community college in Fort Collins. My book Star in the Forest was inspired in part by my work and friendships with immigrant families in my community.
After Ian and I adopted our son from Guatemala, I decided to devote myself to being a full time writer and mother... and to finding plenty of excuses to travel. During this time, I've celebrated the release of Star in the Forest, The Indigo Notebook, The Ruby Notebook, The Jade Notebook, The Queen of Water, and most recently, The Lightning Queen (with Scholastic). I still travel internationally as often as possible, sometimes alone and sometimes with family or friends. And of course, I always carry a notebook with me wherever I go!
Here are some of the places I've traveled (and written about):
In 2004, I became friends with Maria Virginia Farinango, an indigenous Quichua woman who was a student at the community college where I taught. We decided to collaborate on writing the true story of her amazing girlhood, which became the book The Queen of Water (2011). While I was researching her life in the Ecuadorian Andes, I had some incredible experiences and heard fascinating stories that inspired me to write The Indigo Notebook (2009).
After several research trips to the Andes, I decided to take a solo trip to the Amazon rain forest in eastern Ecuador in 2015. I stayed in an ecolodge run by the indigenous Huaorani (aka Waorani), which was accessible by a tiny airplane ride followed by a dug-out canoe ride deep into the remote jungle. My time with the Huaorani inspired my novel Tree of Dreams (March, 2019), which begins in a chocolate shop in the Rocky Mountains, and leads us into the Amazon rain forest on an unusual treasure hunt...
The second book in the Notebooks series - The Ruby Notebook - is set in Aix-en-Provence, France (2010). This is the beautiful, magical town where I lived for my junior year in college with a wonderful French family. Since then, I've returned for research trips and brought my mom and son along (a toddler at the time.)
The third book in the Notebooks series -- The Jade Notebook (2012) -- is set in Mazunte, a small, off-the-beaten-track beach town in Oaxaca, Mexico. I discovered this gorgeous place back when I lived in the mountains of Oaxaca. It was one of my favorite relaxing beach getaways - and one of the coolest things about it is that rare sea turtles nest there.
In addition to What the Moon Saw and Red Glass, my most recent book, The Lightning Queen (2015, Scholastic), is also mostly set in rural Oaxaca, Mexico, in the Mixtec region where I lived. I got the idea for the story from intriguing oral histories I heard about the Romani (Gypsy) caravans who used to visit remote Mixtec villages. The idea simmered in my unconscious for a decade or so, until I finally felt ready to write the story.
I've also taken several trips to Guatemala-- while I was living in Mexico and later, as part of the adoption process. So far, the only book set (partly) in Guatemala is Red Glass, but who knows, maybe I'll get inspired to write another one...
And then there's the long, ever-growing list of places I'm planning on traveling to in the future (much like Layla's list in the Notebooks series!) For more about my latest travel and research adventures, read my blog.
Thanks for coming by!