Like Cornelia in Tending to Grace, I have always been “a bookworm, a bibliophile, a passionate lover of books.” As a child my favorite reading spot was my tree house, and I spent hours there with piles of books. I walked the mile to our town library every few days for a new supply. My favorite books were Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Where the Red Fern Grows.
I knew I wanted to be a writer in the sixth grade. I
never wanted to be anything else. I was a young person who
stuttered, and writing gave me a chance to express myself.
When teachers started telling me I was talented, I never looked
back. I wrote for the literary magazine my church youth group
started, “The Worm’s Eye View,” and then walked door-to-door selling
it for twenty-five cents an issue.
I studied writing in college and graduated from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In 2002, I submitted ten pages of a novel to Alfred A. Knopf executive editor Michelle Frey. Michelle told me what I had written was good, but not good enough. She thought I could write the kind of literary novel that Knopf publishes, and she said if I tried again, she would take another look. I threw out that fledgling novel and started over, writing for almost a year, and when I finished Tending to Grace, I had written a novel about Cornelia, a young girl who stutters.
I am drawn to characters like Cornelia who “put on bigger boots and keep going,” no matter what the difficulty. In my new novel, Charlie Anne misses her mother terribly and she battles “jumbled letters” as she tries to read. Her neighbors are hateful when an African-American girl moves next door. Charlie Anne uses hope and kindness and courage to transcend her circumstances, and she ends up changing a small town forever.
Now that’s a character who I can love!