Born: March 26, 1955 in Long Beach, CA. I was adopted at birth by an older couple. Albert C. Wagner was 72 at the time; Valeria was 42. To put that into perspective, he was born in 1883 and she was born in 1912.
Grew up: in Palm Springs, CA, in a neighborhood with movie stars and entertainment icons, including Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas and Arnold Palmer. We were, however, the “poor rich.” My father made his money in the steel industry in WWII. I remember the day he had actually earned his million. As a poor immigrant child who was most definitely a self-made man with a 6th grade education, he couldn’t have been prouder.
Learned: from my father the value of hard work and honesty. From my mother, I learned a love of language and reading. She inhaled literature and read to me every day from the time I was a baby until I finally told her to quit already. She also had me reading chapter books before kindergarten.
Found: my birth mother, Toni Chandler, in the year 2000. One interesting side note is that she has written poetry her entire life. I have a half-sister, Fran, who I have connected with. She and Toni live in Michigan, so I don’t see them often, though I do try to drop in at least once a year. I did try to contact my birth father when my son, Jason, was born. He refused to acknowledge me or even that he’d had a relationship with Toni. However, they were roller skating pairs champs in high school together. (If you’re wondering, I’m a klutz on skates.)
Moved: to the Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, my 8th grade summer. The high school is relatively small and my parents thought it would be a more wholesome atmosphere. The valley is a “horsey” place and I did, in fact, own horses until I moved to the Tahoe area in 1985. I showed, jumped, ran gymkhana and barrel raced. As kids, we rode sans helmets, usually bareback, and often barefoot.
In school: I was a straight A student almost all the way through school. With an excellent private school background through 8th grade, it was fairly easy to maintain those grades all the way through high school, despite a certain renegade attitude (70s rebel and all that!). I was the type who could read a chapter in a book and pass a test, even without the classroom discussion necessary for some.
Started writing: From the time I knew how to put words on paper. I’ve always been writing something (especially poetry) ever since, although I didn’t start writing for money until around 1992.
Published: my first poem, a brilliant haiku (I’m pretty sure there were trees and springtime in it), when I was nine. I was always encouraged by my English teachers to write, and won pretty much every creative writing contest I ever entered all the way through high school.
Graduated: Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 1973. Went on to study journalism in college (Crafton Hills College and UCSB), but dropped out to get married and start a family.
Children: Had my first child, Jason, when I was just 21. He was born in 1976. Cristal followed two years later.
Divorced: When Cristal was still a baby in diapers. My ex moved to Albuquerque. I’m not going to disclose names, but he recently passed away due to a digestive condition exacerbated by alcoholism.
Rebound relationship: Met my daughter, Kelly’s, father on the rebound. He was very much a not-nice man. The relationship was physically abusive and lasted far longer than it should have. When I finally found the courage to make a break, he kidnapped Kelly against court orders and hid her for almost three years. Finally, his own grandmother helped us get her back. That’s a long story, too long to tell here. Maybe I’ll blog it one day.
Owned my own business: During this time, I was the owner of Valley Video, a video store before video got big. Sold out in 1984.
“Forever love”: ound me during this time. I met John Hopkins, and we moved to the Tahoe area in 1985. Wanting to be sure it would all work out, I insisted we wait to get married until October 19, 1991. We’ve survived good, bad, amazing, and horrible and come out stronger. He is still, and always, my best friend.
For the last time:We moved to northern Nevada, in a rural valley between Reno and Carson City, in 1990. We thought the move might be temporary, but we simply love it here. If you look in my photo albums online, you’ll find examples of why. It’s a different kind of beauty than the green of Washington, but the palette here—gold and auburn and sage and the deep blue of the Sierra–is unmatched.
During this time: I decided to try and write for a living. I started freelancing newspaper and magazine articles. Moved from there into children’s nonfiction, publishing twenty titles before I sold my first novel. I was always trying different things—picture books, early chapter books, etc., and I wrote an entire adult novel, which didn’t sell then. I also taught creative part time as an artist-in-residence; owned my own little publishing company, which did a newspaper for children; and was an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. And I did all those things simultaneously, searching for where I belonged as a writer.
The real story: behind Crank took place between the years 1995 and 2001. “Hunter,” aka Orion, was born in 1996. We took guardianship of him when he was just a baby and adopted him when he was not quite four years old. He is the light of our lives (as well as the biggest pain!) and a true gift. He knows the whole story, of course, but considers us his parents, and we consider him our son.
We lived: in the same modest home until 2008. Rather than move (we love our 1.25 acres on a hill overlooking Washoe Lake to the Sierra), we added on, and remodeled the old part of the house. Everything they say about remodeling/additions is true. The process had dust and some small delays. But it was sooooooooo worth it. We built exactly the house we thought we’d need for the rest of our lives.
- My parents were Republicans (he was a businessman, after all). But I knew from the time I did mock elections in 7th grade that I was a born Dem. Bobby Kennedy was my hero. His death, coupled with MLK’s death and the conflict in Viet Nam, forged my politics.
- And on that subject, I’m an active member of the Democratic party and served as a Nevada caucus chair in 2008. What an amazing experience!
- I am a certified Lutheran and when I’m home, do go to church regularly, and even sing [a mediocre alto] in the choir. However, over the years, my beliefs have morphed into some combination of Christian beliefs and spirituality. I do believe the energy that makes us “us” never dies and is more than just random electrical impulses in a hunk of gray matter.
- One of the things I love most about being home is gardening. I do veggies, and have created a sweet little high desert oasis here, with ponds and waterfalls and gorgeous perennial beds.
- I love to cook and often bake homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, etc. I also know how to can fruit and vegetables. Don’t often have time to do that anymore, though.
- Speaking of time, I’m traveling around 100 days a year, doing school and library visits, book signings and festivals, writers conferences, and other events. Please check out my events page to see if I might be somewhere near you.