Even though I still loved writing, a long struggle with asthma as a teenager turned my interests to medicine. I went to Harvard, then Stanford Medical School. Later I moved to Boston to marry a medical school classmate and work as an internist in a community health center. After 1990, I began splitting my time between medical practice and the Noyce Foundation, an educational foundation established in my father's honor. (He was an inventor of the computer chip and founder of Intel Corporation.) I became very active in mathematics and science education reform in Massachusetts. I helped lead several National Science Foundation projects and establish the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy. I still serve on the boards of multiple educational non-profits and a couple of foundations.
My husband and I have five children. After the youngest was born, I stepped away from the daily practice of medicine. As the first kids started to leave for college, I finally returned to my old love, writing. I wrote Lost in Lexicon, for my son Damian.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
I write literary fantasy in the tradition of The Phantom Tollbooth. I say “literary” because I pay a lot of attention to the beauty of language and to digging for deeper themes. The fantasy is not about wizards and magic but instead about the wild possibilities of imagination.
Why did you choose this genre?
There were fantasy books that meant a lot to me during my own middle childhood. They were the books that helped me create a heroic myth for my own life. In fantasy, any ideas can be explored. I thought it would be particularly fun to explore and preview important middle school concepts about mathematics and language by embodying them in quirky characters and mixed-up villages.
My first book, Lost in Lexicon: an Adventure in Words and Numbers, originally came out in October 2010. It won a number of prizes, and Scarletta Press brought out a second edition in August, 2011. I will be publishing further books in the series each August for the next three years. The second book, due out in 2012, is called The Ice Castle: an Adventure in Music.
What ages do you direct your books?
The books are for strong, curious readers ages 9-12. I have had kids as young as third grade read Lost in Lexicon and enjoy it, but as one mentioned to me, “I kind of skimmed over the iambic pentameter part.” Beyond middle school, I think kids would find the books too innocent. Adults love them again. The books are especially good for parents and kids to read together.
Tell us more about your books, and where we might find them.
Lost in Lexicon: an Adventure in Words and Numbers
|Making flower petal |
sentences in the
village of Flora
Trekking between villages in search of clues, the cousins encounter a plague of punctuation, a curious creature, a fog of forgetting, the Mistress of Metaphor, a panel of poets, and the illogical mathematicians of Irrationality. However, when a careless Mathemystical reflects them across the border into the ominous Land of Night, their peril deepens.
Kidnapped, imprisoned, and mesmerized--with time running out--will Daphne and Ivan find a way to solve the mystery of lights in the sky and restore the lost children of Lexicon to their homes?
|Fifth graders |
for Emily the Thesaurus
The main objective is to introduce kids to the delight and wackiness of various aspects of poetry, grammar, punctuation, number systems, geometry, and logic. I want kids to play with ideas about ideas as diverse as slope, paradox, imaginary numbers, and propaganda. They do not have to master these things, just to brush against them and become intrigued. I am hoping to remind kids of all the enjoyment that comes from wandering around inside their own imagination.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
It is funny, but I always have a hard time writing until I know the names of my main characters. I need a name that sounds like the picture I have in my mind, and I really do not know how to find those names. It is sort of like figuring out what to name your baby: you flounder around until suddenly you know. Once I had Daphne, Ivan, and Great Aunt Adelaide, I was all right. Most of the village names come from concepts I was working with. Flowers grow in Flora, word roots grow in Radix, and people in Irrationality love complicated mathematics but do not always think clearly. Most of the character names relate in some way, perhaps not at all obvious, to what that character represents. For example, Mr. Garrulity talks too much and Vera believes she has a handle on the truth, or verity.
How did you develop the character/s in each of your books (If you have more that one)?
Many of the characters represent different aspects of me. I think that is true for most authors. Oh, sure, there is a little of my mother in Aunt Adelaide, a little of my son Owen in Ivan and daughter Sabrina in Daphne. However, deep down inside, I am the strict Aunt Adelaide, the math-loving Ivan, Daphne who is shy about her poetry, clumsy Bran, creepy Zeta, and grouchy Mr. Carter.
Is there a unique character or a recurring character if you have more than one published or to be published book?
I can tell you that Ivan and Daphne are going to reappear in several books, but other than that, you will have to read on to see who shows up again.
book club members
Emily the Thesaurus
and author Pendred Noyce.
I am pleased that the books are funny, and I love the fact that kids really connect to some of the characters and come up with great questions. I also love the parts other people did, like the illustrations and the overall design.
Is your book illustrated? If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?
Joan Charles is the wonderful artist for the Lexicon books. I found her through her online portfolio, and we have quite a similar vision. Like me, she came from a large family that engaged in lots of imaginary play. I love her humorous, quirky, imaginative style. Sometimes it is spooky and foreboding, but it always conveys a lot of feeling.
Editors are always looking for what is hot right now. They told me Lost in Lexicon was too old-fashioned or too didactic for today’s kids. In the end, I decided the only way I could prove them wrong was by publishing the book myself, and making a success of it. I pulled together a great team – an editor, an artist, an art director, and a designer – then published a book that has won awards and enthusiastic followers. While I was doing a radio interview and bookstore visits in Minneapolis, I finally ran across a publisher, Scarletta Press that understood what I wanted to do in providing challenging, thoughtful fiction for kids. Scarletta acquired Lost in Lexicon to anchor their brand new line of children’s books.
Why and when did you begin writing?
I began writing at age six because I loved stories and I loved the way the letters looked on the page. Besides, I secretly wanted to be a hero, and writing heroic stories seemed to be the closest I could get. I wrote on and off for all those years of school, medical school, and doctoring, and then published my first book in my fifties.
What is your writing schedule?
I wish I had a schedule. I have a crazy fragmented life of education-related work, family, publicizing my first book, volunteering, and coming up with too many ideas. Nevertheless, I write best when I can have two or three concentrated quiet hours in the morning with no telephone and no checking email.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
Right now, I am helping launch a new venture combining science biographies and science kits. We will also have online supports to help kids and adults working with the kits. I am also working on a heroic coming-of-age fantasy for older kids called The Beechwood Flute. However, my highest priority is continuing to explore the land of Lexicon with my readers.
For educators, I have edited a book about assessment coming out this fall from the Harvard Education Press, called New Frontiers in Formative Assessment.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
Learn, learn, and learn. Write the stories inside you, the stories that mean something to you, not the ones you think the market is seeking. Seek honest criticism and learn to critique others well, because that way you will learn to see your own work clearly. Keep a sense of humor. Remember, as Chaucer says, “the art is long.” You do not learn to be a writer overnight.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
I find it very helpful to write for a particular audience, for someone I love.
What do you do when you visit schools and talk to readers?
|The Mistress of Metaphor|
stirring her metaphor pot.
Taking Lexicon to kids and families is the most fun thing I do. I run a “Lexicon Villages Event” where I set up stations representing all the villages of Lexicon. Volunteers staff the tables, and kids alone or kids and parents together go from village to village to wrestle with challenging or foolish activities. They build words from Greek and Latin roots, do a maze looking only in the mirror, feed synonyms to a thesaurus, find pi by measuring, create flower sentences, and construct Tangram challenges, among others. Schools or libraries can also download the guide and materials directly from the Lexicon website and run the event themselves.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
Some of the best days have been watching the snowfall in a forest at dusk, walking across a high mountain plateau in Maine, skiing down a glacier in the Canadian Rockies, and flying in a balloon over the wildebeest migration in Africa. Other great days have been seeing a heart attack patient safely through the night, holding my newborn children in my arms, seeing my son David off to college, and opening the first box of my very own books.
http://www.lostinlexicon.com/. The website has a map, pictures of the characters, questions, games, news and more.
http://windowviewblog.blogspot.com/. Here I blog for adults about education, books, family, and anything else that catches my fancy.
http://ivansnumberblog.tumblr.com/. Ivan presents weird number facts and cool problems.
http://daphneswordblog.tumblr.com/. Daphne writes about words, their sounds and origins.