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Here is everything you ever wanted to know (and then some) about my background and writing career. If you cannot find what you are looking for here, try the link called Frequently Asked Questions, which answers the most popular questions asked by students. This is a long biography, so I've divided it into four sections that you can go to by clicking on a button below:

cc_orng Growing Up
cc_orng Education
cc_orng Meeting Interesting People
cc_orng Becoming an Author

WARNING! Copyrighted material. Photographs may not be reproduced without prior permission from me.


Longhorn in the bluebonnets

I am a fifth generation Texan, born in the Rio Grande Valley, near the border of Mexico. I am the youngest of nine children. My father was a "tenant" farmer who raised mostly cotton and vegetables. One day a killing freeze came unexpectedly early to the Valley and the vegetables all died. My father lost everything and gave up farming. He worked at many other jobs during his life, but I remember him mainly as a carpenter. He built his last house when he was seventy years old.

We left the Valley and for a while lived on a small dairy farm in Central Texas. I had my own pet pig, a pet calf, chickens, dogs, and twenty cats!

Courthouse in Weatherford, TX
When I was six, we moved to a small town of 10,000 (Weatherford, TX) that is famous as the birthplace of the actress, Mary Martin. Weatherford has a beautiful old courthouse located in the center of town. The "square" was where everything important was located -- movie houses, the drug store, shops, cafes, the 5 & 10 store -- and it was where the Christmas and Rodeo parades took place.

Both of my adult novels were set in this town.

I loved visiting my grandparents' farm -- feeding chickens, gathering eggs, petting the mule, watching my mother milk cows, picking blackberries, swinging from ropes, and swimming in the "cow tank" (a body of water where the cows drink). In the spring, the yard was blanketed with bluebonnets and wild phlox. With no running water, we had to use an "out house"instead of a bathroom and we drew buckets of drinking water from a well. My grandmother made her own lye soap and washed clothes in a big black cauldron in the back yard, just like the pioneers did. In addition to being a farmer, my grandfather was also a blacksmith. His tools were set up under a huge oak tree. The one-room school house where my mother attended school in the 1920s was about a mile from the farm. An old playground piece called a "Flying Ginny" was still there and we would hold onto handles and "fly" around a center pole, our feet far above the ground. Wheee!

Texas Wildflowers
When I was about 11 years old, my father build a little house for us on a mountain top at a place called Fisherman's Paradise. My uncle owned the land and my father built vacation cabins for folks who wanted to fish at a nearby lake. We lived there during the summers. I was a wild child of nature during those days. There were no other children around and only a few adults, mostly fishermen. I spent my days roaming the cedar covered rocky hills, creeks, and fields, finding birds' nests, climbing cliffs, picking wildflowers, wading in creeks, and creating a bevy of make-believe friends who shared fantastic adventures with me and our dog, Sergeant. My uncle owned a herd of donkeys that freely roamed the mountain. He gave one of them to me and I named her Caroline. He also had a herd of Angora goats, horses, peacocks, rabbits, raccoons and a pet skunk. My novel, Letters from the Mountain, is set there, though I changed the name of the places and people.

My family was very poor and we moved from one rental house to another. During my first fourteen years we moved twelve times! I was shy and didn't make friends easily. I always felt like an outsider and would rather spend the day alone in the woods than playing with other children. Most of the characters in my novels are like that child -- loners who love nature, who are shy or different, and don't fit in.
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2ndgrNew Second Grade Was Fun
Neither of my parents got past ninth grade -- both had to quit school to do farm work. But they encouraged their children to study hard, make good grades, and go to college so we would not end up as poor as they were.

I attended William B. Travis Elementary school. Every morning when I entered the main hallway I would see a famous painting of William Travis at the Alamo drawing a line in the sand with his sword. I think seeing that picture created an interest in the Alamo that never died. I now have three books that focus on the Alamo -- A Line in the Sand, Voices of the Alamo, and In the Shadow of the Alamo.

In 7th and 8th grades, the junior high building I attended was so old that when jet planes passed over and "broke" the sound barrier, making a big sonic boom, pieces of plaster would rain down on our heads. The whole third floor of the building was condemned. One of our biggest concerns back then was being nuked by the Russians with an Atomic Bomb and I was always worried about the old building falling down. When I was studying Texas history, the whole 7th grade marched to the town square to watch the famous movie, "The Alamo" starring John Wayne.

High School Graduation Day
We moved to Arlington, TX, when I was fourteen. It was the biggest city I had ever seen -- 30,000 people back then. Ninth grade was very traumatic to me because I knew no one.

Thank goodness high school was much better. I attended Sam Houston High School in Arlington, TX, which was brand new. My class got to choose the school colors, name the school football team and mascot, name the year book and the newspaper. Everything was new and exciting and wonderful. I've always loved school and did very well. My favorite subjects were English and foreign languages. I worked in the library and also worked on the school newspaper.
Newlyweds -- Is that Elvis?
I attended The University of Texas at Arlington, working in the college library full time during the summers and part time during the school year to pay for my college expenses. I received a Bachelor's degree in French, with a minor in English. I also studied Portuguese and a little Spanish. In graduate school I majored in linguistics and English, and completed all the course work. I didn't complete my thesis, however, because I got married (a hippie wedding out under the pine trees) and moved away to College Station, TX where my husband was attending college. But that's another story.
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Houston Police Horse and Me

Three of my buddies wearing kung-fu costumes that I made.

Some backyard visitors.

My husband and I moved to Houston, TX in 1977. Houston is a wonderful, exciting place to live. It is the fourth largest city in the USA and has many different cultures. I wrote nearly all of my books while living in Houston. Some of my books, like Best Horse on the Force and Shadow of the Dragon, are set there.

After the Vietnam War, thousands of Vietnamese families moved into the Houston area, bringing with them their culture and customs. I befriended many families and helped them with problems unique to war refugees. I attended festivals, weddings, parties, family celebrations, and grew to love and respect the Vietnamese culture. I did lots of things with kids like fishing, camping, movies, kung-fu lessons, amusement parks, pizza parlors, and game arcades. Seven of my books were inspired because of my love for the Vietnamese culture. I even traveled there to see the beautiful country I had heard so much about.

After twenty-two years in Houston, we moved to central Texas. Now we live on two wooded acres with a creek in back. Every day I watch the birds (and pesky squirrels) at the feeders and every night I watch the raccoons and possums on the deck. Armadillos and rabbits also live here and lots of turtles, lizards, and snakes (Yikes!). I'm finally living in the woods again surrounded by wild life.
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Since my family was poor, we didn't have a lot of books in the house and I never heard the classic children's stories that most kids of today have heard. But I loved to make up stories to tell my mother. My favorite books were those with animals in them, especially horses. I loved the Black Stallion series the most. I didn't write much when I was a child; I was too busy climbing trees!

I finally got to see the Alamo!
In high school, I was placed in an honors English class and had the same wonderful teacher, Mary Galvan, for three years. She was a talented teacher who encouraged and inspired her students. We even read books during the summers and met to discuss them. When I was a senior, Mrs. Galvan made the whole class enter an essay contest. The title of the essay was "Why I Love Texas." [My essay began with the words "I've never seen the Alamo..." and my friends and relatives teased me about it for years.] Much to my amazement, I won first place. That little bit of fame (local TV, local newspapers) and little bit of fortune ($100) made me realize that I wanted to be an author. I thanked Mrs. Galvan on the dedication page of my book, Voices of the Alamo.

During college, I wrote poetry and short stories, but hid them under my mattress and never showed my work to anyone. I was afraid to attempt writing novels because to me, novels were written by literary giants like Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain, not by ordinary people like me who led dull lives.

Many years passed before I worked up the nerve to write a novel. I submitted the manuscript to several publishers, but it was turned down by every one of them. Then I wrote a second novel. It, too, was rejected by all the publishers. I joined some writers groups and learned everything I could about how to write. I attended writers' conferences and met editors. In 1982 I sold my first book, a novel for adults. Then I sold another novel in 1983. I used a pseudonym (made-up name) on both of those books. However, I wasn't making much money and became so discouraged that I stopped writing for several years.

Then, in 1988, I learned that an educational publisher was looking for someone to write a children's nonfiction book about Vietnam. I was so excited when I got the contract! It took me two years to do the research for that book, Vietnam: Rebuilding a Nation, but that was my big break. I started thinking up stories for children and teenagers and discovered that I enjoyed writing for young readers. In addition to seven books about Vietnam, I have also written about other cultures and several historical novels. I guess you can say I believe that although our clothes, language, and foods are different, inside our hearts, humans are the same everywhere -- and have been throughout all time.

Today, I continue to write about loners who are different but triumph over adversity. Whether my books are set in the mountains of Vietnam or the cotton fields of Texas, in modern cities or ancient villages, writing is satisfying to me -- it's like telling my mother a story.
For information about my books, click here: My Books.

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