Darice Bailer
Darice Bailer
Darice Bailer
(photo credit: Scott Fishman)
 
My Aunt Rosalind, Rappi Karp, and Mrs. Karp
My beloved Aunt Rosalind, Rabbi Karp, and Mrs. Karp
 
Puffin's Homecoming
 
First US weather satellite
(photo credit: NASA archives)
 
My father,
David Goldstein (1914-1996)
 
The Secret Garden

Cool fact:
When she was
a young girl, Lady Gaga went to camp
at Camp Hi-Rock!
She was a summer camper with my kids.
As an adult, Lady Gaga
has been very generous
to Camp Hi-Rock.

 
 
Q.   Whenever I talk with kids about writing, they want to know:  “Did you always want to be an author?”
A.   Beverly Cleary Henry and BeezusThe answer is, yes! I grew up in a large family in Pittsford, New York, a suburb of Rochester on the Erie Canal. I was the reader in my family. On summer days I’d ride my bike over the canal bridge and up to the town library. I loved the smell of books as I chose ones to read. One of my favorite authors was Beverly Cleary, and I adored her stories about Henry Huggins eating dog food and Ramona getting gum stuck in her hair.
    There was also a children’s book writer who often came to my synagogue and read. Her name was Sadie Rose Weilerstein, and Mrs. Weilerstein created Jewish tales about about K’tonton, a little boy no bigger than your thumb. I began writing some of my own stories and sharing them with Mrs. Weilerstein, who passed them on to the rabbi’s wife, a woman named Deborah Karp.
    I was about nine-years-old when I began writing, and I had a little autograph book at the time. I gave it to Mrs. Karp, and she handed it back to me with a very special note inside: “When you grow up and become a famous writer, I’ll tell everyone I knew you when you were a little girl.”
    I tore that page out of my autograph book and saved it for years! Later on, I wrote a thank you note to Mrs. Karp and mailed it to her with my books. I told her how much her words had meant to me. How I clung to them all those years. Mrs. Karp taught me that one person can give a child wings. That just a few words, and a belief in a child, can give that child the courage to fly. She made me want to write books, not only for myself, but for her. 
    Today, I try to be the Mrs. Karp in another young child’s life. And, one of my favorite things to do is to visit schools and talk to kids, to inspire them, and to teach them about writing. Whenever I do, they always ask me lots of questions!
Q.   When you first started writing, did your teachers help you?
A.   Yes! I was blessed with wonderful teachers who encouraged me to write. In seventh grade, my English teacher suggested I begin writing a book. In those days, another one of my favorite books was the classic Little Women. I set my book back in the same time period, in the middle of the 1800’s. I wrote a few chapters, and then stopped. I realized I needed to either write about what I knew, or do a lot of research about how people lived during the nineteenth century! 
Q. How did you get published? 
A.   In 1992, a friend of mine was vice president of a children’s book publisher named Soundprints and asked me if I would write a book for her about puffins.
    Puffin’s Homecoming won the 1993 Parents’ Choice Gold Award and gave me courage! Not long after, I had an idea for a sports book and found out the number of Random House Children’s Books. I then bravely called up one of the editors and left a message saying I wanted to do a book on Five Great Quarterbacks. To my surprise, the editor called me back! Touchdown! Great Quarterbacks in Football History was published in 1999.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book? 
A.   That depends on how soon my editors need it! I once wrote a book about dinosaurs in two weeks and a book about scuba diving in three (even though I knew NOTHING about scuba diving!)
I think I learned to write quickly from being a sports reporter. I was often asked to cover night basketball games that ended right before the paper’s deadline. I would write the game story as I watched the players run up and down court. Then, at the final buzzer, I dashed after the players to the post-game interviews … with just ten minutes to file my story!
Q. Where do you get your  ideas?
A. Ideas are always popping into my head! I owe that to my father, David Goldstein.
My father designed the camera lens that flew into space on the first U.S. weather satellite which hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He also helped design the first AT&T picture phone that appeared at the 1964 World’s Fair. My father was always dreaming of new ideas to help his customers. My father’s customers were his friends, and making them happy was his joy. I feel the same way about my editors! A job well done for them means so much to me
Now my granddaughter Abby is an inspiration for new books. My daughter Laura tells me stories about Abby and I hear the voice of a toddler and see what toddlers run to do. I hurriedly jot down what I see or hear and hope to use those notes in a story!
Q. Who were the writers you liked most as a kid?
A. I remember lying on my bed, enchantedly reading the beautifully illustrated editions of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The lovely story by Ms. Burnett and the illustrations by Tasha Tudor captured my heart. I whisked away like a robin to that hidden  garden with Mary and her sick little Colin, and I also felt Sara Crewe’s joy when her little attic room was magically transformed. There are so many books I loved as a child, beginning with the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and all the Aladdin Childhood of Famous American biographies. I read every one that was in my school library!
Q. What books do you enjoy writing the most?
A. That’s a tough question, because I enjoy everything! Every topic that comes my way is a chance to discover, and to find out every unbelievable fact I can and share it with kids. I visit museums, talk to experts, and devour books. And, the best reward for me is reading my book or manuscript to a class full of kids. Capturing their attention and seeing the excitement in their eyes is my biggest joy.
Q. Do you have any writing rituals?
A. Every year, my family goes up to Camp Hi-Rock, a family camp in the Berkshires in Great Barrington, MA. There’s an activity called the high ropes course, where you climb a very tall rope ladder up to a little square wooden platform attached to the trunk of a tree. That wooden perch is about two stories high. You then clip on a protective harness on that platform, and either zip down a line or walk over a tightrope or wooden plank bridge. I’m scared to death of heights! But that course is an inspiration to me as a writer. I am very much afraid of climbing up the wobbly rope ladder, especially when I’m looking far below me at the ground through the open ladder, swaying in the air. Yet I think to myself, “Just keep looking up. Keep your eyes on the next rung, and grab the next step.” That’s what I do as a writer. I hardly think myself as good or talented as so many award-winning authors out there, but I aim to learn from them and keep climbing. Reach. Just one more step… As for writing each day, and beginning a new book, it’s a little like that zip line high in the sky. You have to leap off the safety of that wooden platform and trust that you won’t fall. As a writer, let yourself fly!
Q. Is writing easy for you?
A. No! Not any more. I plunge in and tap away at my computer, knowing that what I’m writing is probably not very good. But I have to get some words and paragraphs down, anything down, and take it from there. It’s much harder to look at a blank screen on my laptop and begin writing. It’s far easier to print out a first draft and work with that, revising and editing until the pages slowly form a story I feel an editor—and readers—might like.
Q. Do you have any advice for kids who want to be writers?
A. Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t write, or that what you wrote isn’t good. You can listen and learn from criticism, but keep going. Keep reading award-winning authors and comparing your stories to theirs. What can you learn from these authors? What techniques do you see in their writing that you can adopt in your stories? Jot down notes about what you see and admire in their style. Then strive to emulate those writers. It’s like climbing my rope ladder at Camp Hi-Rock. It’s a long way up, but just focus on stretching your arms up and reaching up one step at a time. You will get better as a writer. I can promise you that. And then once you make it all the way up, that ride through the air on the zip line is pure joy!
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