Biography

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About Me

I’ve always felt that I was fortunate to have been born the middle child of three.

My older sister, Helen, was very much like our mother: gentle, family-oriented, eager to please. Little brother Jon was the only boy and had interests that he shared with Dad; together they were always working on electric trains and erector sets; and later, when Jon was older, they always seemed to have their heads under the raised hood of a car. That left me in-between, and exactly where I wanted most to be: on my own. I was a solitary child who lived in the world of books and my own vivid imagination.

Because my father was a career military officer – an Army dentist – I lived all over the world. I was born in Hawaii , and moved from there to New York, where I began school . When the war began, Dad had to go overseas, and Mother took us back to the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she had grown up and where my grandparents lived. I finished elementary school there and during the summer following sixth grade we moved to Tokyo , where I went through seventh and eighth grades. I graduated from high school in New York city, but by the time I went to college, Brown University in Rhode Island, my family was living in Washington, D.C.

I married young . I had just turned nineteen – just finished my sophomore year in college – when I married a Naval officer and continued the odyssey that military life requires. California. Connecticut (a daughter born there). Florida (a son). South Carolina. Finally Cambridge, Massachusetts, when my husband left the service and entered Harvard Law School (another daughter; another son) and then to Maine – by now with four children under the age of five .

My children grew up in Maine. So did I. I returned to college at the University of Southern Maine, got my degree, went to graduate school, and finally began to write professionally, the thing I had dreamed of doing since those childhood years when I had endlessly scribbled stories and poems in notebooks.

After my marriage ended in 1977, when I was forty, I met Martin and we spent thirty happy years together, traveling the world but equally happy just sitting on the porch with the New York Times crossword puzzle ! Sadly, Martin died in the spring of 2011. I was in my mid-seventies then, so who would ever have guessed that romance would once again appear in my life? But it did, happily. Now Howard Corwin, a retired doctor, and I share our lives  (and so does a very shaggy Tibetan Terrier named Alfie ). A very happy part of my time is spent in Maine, partly in Portland and in summer in a 1768 farmhouse surrounded by meadows and flower gardens. In winter Howard and I get warm in Naples, Florida.

My books have varied in content and style. Yet it seems that all of them deal, essentially, with the same general theme: the importance of human connections. A Summer to Die, my first book, was a highly fictionalized retelling of the early death of my sister, and of the effect of such a loss on a family. Number the Stars, set in a different culture and era, tells the same story: that of the role that we humans play in the lives of our fellow beings.

The Giver, and the three books that follow it and make it a quartet, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, take place against the background of very different cultures and times. Though they are broader in scope than my earlier books, they nonetheless speak to the same concern: the vital need of people to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other, but with the world and its environment.

My older son was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force . His death in the cockpit of a warplane left a little girl fatherless and tore away a piece of my world. But it left me, too, with a wish to honor him by joining the many others trying to find a way to end conflict on this very fragile earth.

I am a grandmother now . For my own grandchildren – and for all those of their generation – I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another.

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Nadine’s Song

My granddaughter, Nadine, was not quite two years old when her father, my son Grey, was killed in a plane crash. So she doesn’t remember him.

When she was approaching her sixteenth birthday, I tried to think of a special gift. I commissioned singer/songwriter Carol Noonan to compose a song and record it for Nadine’s birthday. I gave her a photo of Nadine (showing her green eyes, which are mentioned in the song) and told her a few details. Carol did the rest, and here it is. The first time I heard it, I wept. I still do, every time.

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My sister Helen and I were six and nine, first and third grade, in this old photograph. The other photo shows her at age eleven. My sister and I were great buddies when we were young - sidekicks - though like all sisters we fought. The opening scene in A SUMMER TO DIE, when the older sister divides their bedroom with a chalk line, is a true incident from our lives. Like Meg in that book, I would go on to miss my sister, after she died young, for the rest of my life.

 

I was six when Jon was born so he was always the little brother, as Sam is in the Anastasia books. Here we are four and ten, headed off to a birthday party, from the looks of it. That's our dad's old Chevrolet parked in front of our Pennsylvania house. Later, in the other photo, it is probably forty years later, which would make us 44 and 50. Jon grew up to become a doctor and he is not a pest any more, the way he was when he was four. He is actually one of my best friends.

I was born on the island of Oahu and my first memories are of flowers. Here my mother holds me in the garden behind our house in Wainae. My sister, standing beside us, is three-and-a-half. My grandparents and Great Aunt Mary arrived by ship for a visit and were encircled with leis in the Hawaiian tradition. Isn't it funny that my grandfather, on vacation on a tropical island, is wearing a suit and tie? But he was a banker. That was what he always wore.

This is Brooklyn, New York, actually, in 1941, where at ages 4 and 7 we were starting kindergarten and second grade at a school called Berkley Institute. Hair ribbons and little purses! Little did we know that within months we would be having air raid drills. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, people thought that New York might be attacked. My memories of that time are in the autobiographical novel Autumn Street.

My father was not only a dentist and an army officer, but also a very fine photographer. I remember that when World War II began, and he knew he would have to go off to the Pacific (he served on a hospital ship called HOPE, and later on the island of Tinian), he took this photograph of himself and went into the darkroom to develop and enlarge it. This has always been my favorite photograph of my father...because I remember his taking it, even though I was only four, and because I think it shows someone who knew what was about to happen to the world, and who felt sad about it, and worried for his family.

My great aunt Mary took this photograph of me on the terrace of her house in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. She was elderly by then, but she had actually been a photographer in New York in the early part of the century. When she died, she left me all of her old photographs and I used many of them in the book (and on its cover) The Silent Boy.

I went through junior high school in Tokyo. Of course, being an ordinary American kid, I wore ordinary American clothes most of the time. But this was Christmas Day - you can see the wreath on the door of our Tokyo house - in 1949, and so I was all dressed up in Japanese clothes. I was twelve years old. I loved Japan. I still do. A few years ago I went back and discovered that my house was gone, and there is now a park where it had been. It's a strange feeling when bits of your past disappear.

Wearing a white dress, I graduated from high school in New York when I was seventeen years old. Two years later, wearing a white dress, I got married in Washington DC when I was nineteen. It startles me now to look at this photograph and see how young I was. When I got married, I had never cooked a meal, written a check, or done a load of laundry. I had gotten my driver's license only shortly before my wedding. But I had finished two years of college.

I really did have four children in four-and-a-half years. They were all, as you can see, very blonde and very beautiful. They were also lively, smart, and funny kids. It didn't seem like a burden, at the time, having so many toddlers at once. But I was very young. I don't think I would like to do it today!

Here are my kids as adults, each one with Good Old Mom. There are only three of the four here. My son Grey died in 1995. There is more about him later in this bio.

This was at our house in Maine, on a summer Sunday morning. There is Alfie, at Martin’s feet, as always. I have many happy memories of my years with Martin and this scene is one, so typical, so ordinary. I bet we did two thousand NYT puzzles together over the years.

Alfie is getting old now. We had once had another dog, also a Tibetan terrier, who died when he was thirteen. After his death, we waited exactly four months, then looked at each other and said, "Let’s get another dog." But now Alfie is fourteen, quite deaf and sleeping most of the time. And I think when he’s gone, that will be the end of Us and Dogs.

For many years we had a country house in New Hampshire, surrounded by woods. Recently, to be closer to kids and grandkids, we bought this one, in Maine, which sits on top of a windy hill and looks out over mountains and lakes. It's very different. But still we have the same wild life: deer and birds and foxes - and recently a wild turkey practically looking in our windows! And, too, this house is an old one, built in 1768 before the United States existed. We've enjoyed patching it up and making it come back to life. Soon the little grandsons will be riding sleds down that long hill.

Grey was an F-15 pilot in the US Air Force. He was a wonderful pilot, a wonderful son, husband, and father. He died too young in a plane crash in Germany and we miss him terribly. His little daughter was only two at the time. She learned to repeat some of his favorite lines from Monty Python movies and we loved to hear that (“only a flesh wound!" she would say if she skinned her knee) and remember him that way, with a lot of laughter. Now Nadine is all grown up, with a masters’ degree and a boyfriend and a full life in Germany. He would be so very proud of her.

I have three grandsons and a granddaughter and they are all of them growing up MUCH TOO FAST!


These are my four grandchildren: three boys and a girl. It looks in these photographs as if they are all headed full-speed away from me! But that is the way it is, with kids. As they grow up, they strike out in their own directions. That's why I like these pictures.