We’ve talked about shame. Let’s explore the opposite. What are you the proudest of about yourself?
I’m proudest of the fact that I have followed my dream, that despite not having become “rich and famous” I am a writer still, a dream that began when I was 12 and from which I’ve never wavered, and that I’ve found my way to discovering how to make a living and to keep producing stories and books. I’m also proud of my teaching, and I’m proud of the people I’ve had a hand in raising—stepchildren (4), nieces and nephews, and some students.
As a writer, what gives you the greatest joy?
My greatest joys come in those moments when I’m so deep inside a story, I am flowing, and I know I am onto something—it’s an indescribable sensation, but when I’m there, I know it, and it is, for me, the essence of joy and peace. That and going to the movies or for long walks with my husband who is the greatest imaginable partner and friend. And boogie boarding. I love boogie boarding and just about everything about the ocean.
You have adapted some marvelous tales in your “Tell Me a Story” column, based on folk tales, fairy tales, and mythological stories. What drew you to that project?
Oh, alas, that’s a long-ish story. But the short version is this. I was working at The Whig Standard in Kingston, Ontario as a columnist (had been for nearly eight years), and I had a terrifically wonderful editor who was always open to new ideas. My dad was a newspaper junkie, so I grew up on newspapers—and I decided our paper needed something for kids. I told my editor I thought so and he sent me off to figure out what that should be. A librarian at the Kingston public library led me to stashes of old folktales and fairytales and myths and legends that people were forgetting, and she also led me to an amazing illustrator. I proposed the idea to Neil, my editor. He said, “Go for it,” and within weeks Jillian (my illustrator) and I were producing a column six days a week (in those days I wrote one story a week and solicited and edited the other five, but Jill illustrated all six). Within three months, ten Canadian papers had picked up the column, and a year later Universal Press Syndicate came to us wanting to syndicate the column in the United States. We started in 1992 and last month published story #1086 (they run in papers around the world). Jillian is retiring, but I’m still going, with a new illustrator beginning in February 2013, Meredith Johnson. Onward, upward. It’s been fascinating, frustrating, and always inspiring (and I’ve produced three CD audiobooks of the stories as well).