I was born a very long time ago and grew up in Temple City, California, before there were such things as shopping malls, or fast food restaurants, or self-serve gas stations, much less cell phones and computers.
My young life in our quiet suburban town was so dull that I used to pray for an earthquake. Luckily, the recipient of my prayers was wiser than I, and the foundations of Temple City remained calm and secure.
Lacking real life excitement, my adventures came through books. Stories about dogs, ocean voyages, struggling orphan children and, of course, Nancy Drew and her mystery solving chums, all provided me with a magical window, through which I could see a vast variety of worlds beyond the limits of my everyday life. It is this gift that comes from reading a book that I seek to share with young people.
I taught for decades at a “last chance” high school in southern California. Most of my students lived hard lives and sometimes were only at the school a month or so before they moved on.
Not many of them liked to read. I wanted them to gain the breadth and freedom that can come through books. If only I help them establish a reading habit, that would be the gift of a lifetime.
It turned out that most of my students did like to read if they found a book that was meaningful to them. They wanted to read books that reflected life as they new it. As wonderful as The Red Pony, or The Pearl, or To Kill a Mockingbird are, they had no appeal for most of my students.
Because I had trouble finding enough books my students could relate to, I decided to try writing one. I chose to write about a twelve year old girl who was being molested by a neighbor because that was a subject that had not been dealt with in teen fiction, and because I knew that molestation was a secretive but widespread problem. My students easily connected with that book, Telling, as did others.
Since that first book, I have written nine more books of realistic teen fiction in the “True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High.“ These books all deal with difficult issues and situations that many teens must face, issues such as teen pregnancy, rape, racism, abortion, school failure, lack of family support, sexual identity crises, sexual abstinence, mixed race heritage, and on and on.
All of my books have been well reviewed. Several have won awards. Still, nothing compares with the experience of going to the mailbox or opening my email and finding a message from a far away reader telling me how one of my stories has, in some way large or small, affected that person's life.
When speaking with groups I am sometimes asked, "Why don't you ever write about happy things?” Strange as it may seem, given the subjects of my books, I believe I do write about happy things. I write about people who are faced with extremely difficult situations, yet they somehow manage to cope. They get on with their lives. To me, that is a truly happy story, one that shows the strength and resilience of the human spirit.