Where did you grow up?
I was born in Victoria, BC, to a single mom, and the first couple years of my life were spent in the bakery my grandparents owned. Then, my mom and I moved to Prince George, a small town in Northern Canada. I did swim team, ran, spent a lot of time in the woods 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. Later in life, I learned I have inattentive ADHD, but back then, they just called it spacey, and it was thought to be something you could and should control on your own. Then, a very special teacher came along in 4th and 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. In my teen years, I forgot about this dream for awhile because life was really tough for me. This is probably why I'm so compelled to write about characters who are struggling and why, outside of writing, I try to help other kids who are struggling with any number of issues. I love the people on the fringes, those who are hurting, those who are trying to make it through each day, those who are trying to be good, and yet fear that there is something wrong with them. I understand.
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, raising kids and teaching. 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 faster, about three years, and then another year with my agent and two years with my editor, so around six years. At the same time, I was raising my kids and teaching, as well as writing other novels, so I was pretty busy.
Where do you live? Are you married? Do you have kids?
We live in Brooklyn, New York right now. In my adult years, I've also lived in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Seoul (where I taught English As A Foreign Language) and Guadalajara, Mexico (where I went to school at the University of Guadalajara to improve my Spanish). I met my husband while teaching in Seoul, Korea, teaching English. We have two creative, fun teen daughters who we love very much.
What jobs did you work when you were a kid?
I started working at eleven because I didn't have much money growing up and I wanted to be able to buy clothes and treats. My first job was riding an ice cream bike for Dickie Dee Ice Cream. I rode the bike for about ten hours a day all summer, jingling the bells and selling ice cream, and I did that also when I was twelve and thirteen, and then when I was fourteen, I became a supervisor, which meant packing up the bikes with ice cream and counting the other kids' money at the end of the day. Then, I worked a bunch of other jobs when i could legally work at fourteen: a cashier and birthday organizer at Burger King, a hostess and server at Earl's, a sales person at Bootlegger, until finally I became a lifeguard and swim instructor, which I did at the end of high school, throughout college. In the middle of journalism school, I was also "the girl about town" for a Prince George radio station, riding in the Rainbow Cruiser and interviewing people at sporting events and festivals, which was really a lot of fun and got my feet wet in the world of journalism.
What other jobs have you had after college besides being a novelist?
I worked as a journalist, focusing on social issues like indigenous rights, as well as AIDS in the prison system, and I loved it, but it wasn't creative enough, and it paid worse than lifeguarding. So, I went to Korea to pay off my student loans and taught English as a Second Language. I loved Korea, and ended up being there during the IMF crisis, so I wrote a piece for The Vancouver Sun about that experience, but I mostly focused on my fiction writing. I started writing my first novel and came to understand that I could create social change through fiction as well as journalism. I loved the creativity of fiction and the connections I made teaching. When my husband and I moved to Los Angeles, I continued teaching ESL, in both Korea town, and the Lennox school district. Then, I started volunteering as a mentor for WriteGirl, and mentored two girls through to college, and I also started working for WriteGirl as the Curriculum Director. I teach in an interactive multi-sensory style, which works very well for ESL and also for writing. WriteGirl hired me to design interactive and fun workshops for the teen girls, who were mostly from underserved areas in South-Central Los Angeles. I loved seeing girls transform as they found their voice. Besides teaching fiction classes to adults and teens, I go into a lot of underserved schools and juvenile centers to give free writing workshops to kids. I've also taught yoga and meditation in the juvenile system in Brooklyn for an organization called Yoga for Youth. I've found yoga and meditation really helpful for myself and others to heal trauma. Writing also heals trauma. Now, when I teach writing, I usually add in a little meditation. For me, the combo of two is a really helpful. Most recently, before Covid, I helped run an in-schools WriteGirl program at a school in South Central LA for pregnant teens and girls transitioning out of the juvenile system. I loved that work too, and I hope those girls are still writing throughout this terrible crisis, which is especially hard on kids in need, in underserved communities, people of color and black kids. I can't wait until I can again serve in person, but for now, I'm teaching online with scholarships available to adults and kids in need. Also, I offer writing tips and experiments on my Instagram. (typingthumbs and writingforbusypeople).
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 adults, teens and kids 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 and speak your truth. Being a teen can be super tough, and one thing that can help is writing down your truth. Their stories matter. They matter. And I love helping them believe this to be true.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love writing for fun and also teaching writing . . . truly, what I do for my job is also what I do for fun! It makes me so happy to see someone create a piece of writing they didn't know was in them. On top of this, I love swimming, going for long runs, spending time with my kids and my husband, playing Catan, walking my dogs, hanging out with friends over a good cup of tea, hiking, skiing, or simply staying at home and having 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.