My favorite zoo animal is a giraffe.
I have many grandchildren.
I live in Kansas City.
I drove a wheat truck during Kansas harvests when I was a teenager.
I went to Vermont College to learn more about writing for children and young adults.
I want to Germany this summer with my granddaughter, where we saw the Schwangau Palace, the one Walt Disney liked and used in his films.
I used to be a music teacher.
I make ostkaka, a Swedish cheese cake pudding dessert.
My favorite comic strip is Zits.
My favorite picture book character is Madeline.
Who is Ann and why does she write?
Writing is like going to Grandma’s attic where nothing is connected and everything is covered with cobwebs. A pair of high-heeled satin-covered shoes sits next to a stack of baby chicken boxes—big holes on the sides, tall enough for one pullet. A broken-framed picture lies in a stray dresser drawer next to a huge wooden squeaky-wheeled push-chair.
When I look at those satin shoes, I wonder who might have worn them. Maybe my Auntie Franc squeezed her feet into them for a fancy party where she wanted to meet a nice young gentleman. Would it have been my Uncle Maurice, whom she married eventually? And what about the wooden wheel chair? My great-grandfather Carlson might have used it. Did he live with his son, my grandfather, in this house? The chicken boxes bring back memories, too. I recall cute tiny, fuzzy yellow birds and the tiny peep-peeps sounds they made when Grandma brought them home from the hatchery. Any of these random attic items have their own personal stories—fact or fiction—and are waiting to be connected to something in the present.
Just like random items in the attic, writers aren’t all the same either. Some are young while some are old. They can be tall or short, fat or skinny, bored or excited, or feeling sad, mad, or glad. I have been all those things—young, old, short, tall, fat, skinny, sad, mad, and glad. But what I have found is that writing helps me connect bored to excited and sad to glad. Writing makes me feel alive.
When I am ready to write, I go to the attic of my mind. There I find a newspaper article about the artist who bends and twists heated neon light sticks to make his designs, a story about a young girl who disguised herself as a boy to serve in the Civil War, and a 140-year-old cabin in northern Kansas that is being restored because the poet who wrote Home on the Range lived there. I dusted the cobwebs off of these memories and connected them to readers in the present. They became magazine articles.
I’ve always said that I couldn’t make up anything as fascinating as real life stories, so I’ve decided that I like non-fiction better than other kinds of writing. For a book about dreams, a fourth grader shared an image of a dress made of blueberries. A grandfather told me about roasting a pig in an underground pit for his troop’s dinner during World War II. And when a construction crew couldn’t get the first cable across Niagara Falls to build a suspension bridge, a fifteen-year-old boy flew the cable across with his kite. I cannot make up scenes more interesting than these.
Most of all, I like to write non-fiction to make connections about how and why real people do what they do. Gordon Parks refused to let prejudice beat him down, and Tex Winter became a successful basketball coach because he believed in the idea of team.
No matter what happens or what someone does, I look for the reason. Gordon Parks’s mother gave him a secret weapon to fight racism when she told him that if a white boy could do something, he could, too. Tex Winter’s father had died when Tex was eight, and his family survived only because they pulled together as a team to overcome The Great Depression’s grip. When I look long enough, deep enough, and ask enough questions, I find the reasons. Which is another part of why I like non-fiction. I spend time with people, get to know them in life or through research, uncover their stories, and watch the connection thread together who they are and why they do what they did.
Writing non-fiction becomes a way of looking at the world. Just as I want to make sense of the oddities in Grandma’s attic, I start to organize what people say or do. What comes first, second, last? Who lived in the Kansas cabin and why it is worth renovating now? Were the soldiers out of food when they roasted the pig in the ground? Why would Emma Edmonds call herself Franklin Thompson to serve for the Union side in the Civil War? For me, non-fiction writing is about loving people, being incurably curious about what they have done, and wanting to share my insights so others can enjoy and learn from them, too.