About Me and My Writing Process
Practically everything. Some ideas come from my own experiences, or those of close friends or relatives. Some come from articles I’ve read. Some even come from dreams. Then there are times when I’m in a situation and think, “What if x had happened instead of y?” The best ideas get written down in my “Idea Book.” Some stay there forever, but others grab hold of me and keep rolling inside my head like a mini movie. That’s when I know I have to at least try to write them.
I read all sorts of genres such as classics, contemporary fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and biography, so I have several favorite authors. Mainly I like a story that feels real (even if it’s set in outer space). I like characters that are alive and familiar, making it seem as if you’re hanging out with friends and experiencing things along with them. I love a book that, when it ends, leaves you a bit sad even if it’s a happy ending because the characters are going away–at least for a while.
Because I live and grew up here and am therefore quite familiar with it; but also because it makes a great setting for novels. I love the outdoors (lakes, cedar-covered hills, natural springs, scrub desert), the indoors (hip eateries, cool clubs, colleges, funky stores), and the terrific mix of people (from rock musicians to well-dressed business types to peace-loving hippies to rodeo stars). Not everything I write will be set in Texas. It’s just that, so far, I couldn’t have imagined a better place for my stories.
Looking at all the characters in each of my books I can see that each one contains a tiny fragment of me. A personality trait or hobby or neurosis — anything from Daphne’s daydreaming to Carter’s tendency to make bad puns to Maggie’s irreverent inner voice and Lily’s avoidance of conflict. I think writers can’t help but make characters into their fictional counterparts, at least to a degree. Everything gets strained through our views of the world, and so much of our understanding of life is based on our personal histories. So even if I think I’m completely outside myself, relaying someone else’s tale, it’s inevitable that bits and pieces of my soul end up in the mix.
I just hope they enjoy them. If they learn something about themselves or the world at large, that’s a bonus.
About the Business of Writing
I’d love to! I’m always happy to discuss my trials and triumphs, participate in writing workshops, or do readings from my books. Please check out my “Author Visit” page, and then e-mail me via the “Contact” form for more details about my rates and schedules. There’s also a Reader’s Guide to How Not to Be Popular you may find useful ahead of a visit.
There are many approaches that schools may take to getting author visits funded. Having been an educator and nonprofit director, I understand limited budgets and always try to work within someone’s means. If my in-person appearances are beyond your reach, there is the possibility of Skype. Or you can “share” my travel expenses with another school and have me do presentations at each campus. In addition, you might consider booking a “two-for-one” for your festival or literacy event and invite both me and my husband, Chris Barton — which would lower hotel costs and other fees.
Scholastic Press has terrific suggestions on author bookings via their website article Get Started: Planning, Fundraising, & Tips for Success.
I’m afraid I can’t do that, sorry. I simply don’t have the time. I do occasionally provide paid editorial services through Yellow Bird Editors depending on my schedule, and you can inquire about my availability through their website. If you can’t pay for professional feedback at this time, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators provides a listing of regional chapters, many of which coordinate critique groups for their local members.
I have received valuable support and advice through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I urge you to join your local chapter. Other helpful resources include the latest edition of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, available at many bookstores, and the websites of Cynthia Leitich Smith and Harold Underdown.
Austin’s BookPeople often has signed copies in stock and available for shipping.
I often do, but typically only for organizations that I’m already personally affiliated with. If you think that your organization is one of these, please contact me.
Please direct all rights queries to my agent:
Erin Murphy Literary Agency
2700 Woodlands Village #300-458
Flagstaff, AZ 86001-7127
Who I Was – The Early Years
I was born in Temple, Texas, to a Mexican-American mother and little-bit-of-everything father. Soon after, my family moved to Anchorage, Alaska where I got a little sister, a little brother, a dangerous snowball throwing arm, and a passion for reading and writing. The following poem is one of my first completed pieces:
The Sun is hot.
The Sun is hot a lot.
If an astronaut
Should go to the Sun
He would get caught
In the hot.
Who I Was – Middle School and High School
We moved back to Texas when I was eight years old and I continued to write, focusing more on stories (some might say wisely) than on poetry. By sixth grade I had started filling up spiral notebooks with short stories, unfinished novels, comic strips, doodles, a few attempts at songwriting, a couple of dress designs, pages where I practiced signing my name, pages where I practiced signing my best friend’s name (yeah, I don’t know why either), and persuasive essays on topics like “Why Curfews Are Dumb” and “Who Is the Cutest Member of Duran Duran” (a favorite band of mine at the time).
I was only writing for fun and didn’t assume I was preparing for a career, but all that practice made writing feel comfortable, almost like a reflex (which, coincidentally, is a song by Duran Duran). I went on to college and got degrees in both Journalism and English, which also helped prepare me, but not as much as writing down my secret thoughts in those notebooks every day.
Who I Am Now
Now I make my living writing, talking about writing, editing other people’s writing, and teaching classes and workshops on writing.
I also married my favorite writer in the whole world, Chris Barton, who creates beloved, bestselling books such as Shark vs. Train and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. Together we live in Austin, Texas with our four kids (three sons and a daughter) and our dog, a Jack Russell terrier mix named Ernie.
When I’m not doing anything writing related, I like to read, go on long walks, do yoga, cook, eat, hang out with friends and family, and go camping or exploring. I also need plenty of time to daydream.