Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Prince George, a small town in Northern Canada, where I did swim team, skied in the winter, water skied in the summer, and read everywhere I went. In fact, I still love to read and walk, and even now, you can see me walking my dog, her leash in one hand and a book in the other.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I realized I wanted to be a writer when I was ten. All of my teachers used to say I daydreamed too much and they often yelled at me for not paying attention, but then a very special teacher came along in 5th grade. Mrs. Aalto put me in a group of advanced students and we got to make our own books and bind them ourselves. My book was called The Mystery of the Poison Ivy. It didn't win any awards and it wasn't even particularly good, but Mrs. Aalto inspired me and made me realize that maybe my daydreaming was good for something. From that point on, I'd think up stories in class and then I'd go home to write them down on this old typewriter my mom had bought for me at a garage sale. The steady click of the keys was so much more satisfying than the sound of pencil scratching on a paper, though sometimes I wrote in journals. Starting in 8th grade, I forgot about this dream for awhile because life was really tough for me at this point and I was bullied for being weird. I was just trying to survive. This is probably why I'm so compelled to write about characters who are struggling with their weirdness. For the rest of high school, I tried to be "normal" and it wasn't until I went to college that I decided to be me. Now, I tell kids to laugh as loud as they want and be as weird as they like. It's much more fun.
Where did you go to college? What did you study?
I went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, and I studied International Relations with a focus on Economics with a minor in English. It may seem strange to you that I didn't take Creative Writing, but in my teen years, I'd stopped writing, so it took me a while to come back to this dream. After I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree, I went to journalism school at BCIT to be a broadcast journalist. I worked briefly as a radio reporter, but then I decided I wanted to return to my true love of writing fiction. So I started writing my first novel, and later, after Trafficked came out, when my girls were little, I went to Vermont College of Fine Arts to complete my MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults.
How long did it take you to write Trafficked and This Is Not a Love Letter?
I wrote two "practice" novels before Trafficked. Then, I wrote Trafficked while writing another novel. So, after I'd finish a draft of one, I'd start on the other, so that I'd have fresh eyes. The total time to write Trafficked was about 8 years, but this includes the time I took to write the other novel. I rewrote Trafficked at least 20 times, 3 times from scratch. This Is Not a Love Letter was a lot faster, about two years, and then another two years with my agent and editor, so around four years.
Why did you write Trafficked?
I was teaching English as a Second Language and I learned that human trafficking is a serious problem in the United States, not just in other countries, and I realized it could happen to any of my students. I wanted to shine a light on this issue. Also, I wanted to look at why so many modern day slaves have opportunities to escape, but they don't. I wanted to examine fear.
Why did you write This Is Not a Love Letter?
This novel is a book of my heart, based on the disappearance of a close friend in high school and subsequent discovery of his body. His death was devastating to me. I was the last or one of the last people to talk to him alive, and I needed to explore what might have happened to him in a fictionalized story. In this book, I wanted to look at the topics of shame, white bias, racism, poverty and mental illness.
Where do you live? Are you married? Do you have kids?
I recently moved to Culver City, which is a city within Los Angeles. We moved from Brooklyn, New York where we lived for ten years. I've also lived in Seoul, Korea and Guadalajara, Mexico. I'm married to Gavin Purcell who's a TV producer, and the reason we've moved between Los Angeles and New York. I met him in Seoul, Korea, teaching English. We have two creative, fun daughters who are now 12 and 15.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
I love so many things about being a writer...The elation of being in the zone, of writing exactly what I want to write, and the peaceful feeling afterward. I love hearing from readers that my words have somehow changed their lives. Most of all, I love inspiring others to write because I think when you write, you speak your truth and you gain confidence in real life to be who you really are.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love swimming, going for long runs, doing kundalini yoga, cuddling with my kids and hanging out with friends over a good cup of tea. Besides writing, I love to teach creative writing, yoga and meditation to teens. It makes me so happy to see someone create a piece of writing they didn't know was in them, or to find the peace that yoga and meditation can offer. I love to play board games, go hiking or skiing, or simply stay at home and have an impromptu dance party. I love to dance everywhere, especially in empty elevators and public bathrooms if there's a good song playing. I try not to embarrass my daughters, but sometimes I just can't stop myself from...twirling!
Hugs to you all...and feel free to email me any more questions.