I grew up on a street called Salem Court, which probably explains something about my fascination with both the Salem Witch Trials (which started when I played Martha Corey in a school play in eighth grade) and writing about the character of Kendra. When I was five, my mom said that I should be an author. I guess I must have nodded or something because, from that point on she talked about “when” I became an author and sent poems I wrote in school to Highlights magazine. I was collecting rejection slips at age eight!
I learned to read early and often. But I compensated for this early proficiency by absolutely refusing to read the programmed readers required by the school system — workbooks where you read the story, then answered the questions. When the other kids were on Book 20, I was on Book 1! My teacher, Mrs. Zeiser, told my mother, “Alexandra marches to her own drummer.” I don’t think that was supposed to be a good thing. Fortunately, I passed first grade. My favorite authors were Frances Hodgson Burnett, Beverly Cleary, and Judy Blume. A prized childhood memory involves my second grade teacher, Dr. Gross (Yes, that was his name) handing me Ellen Tebbits and saying, “I think you’re ready for this.” I also loved fairy tales. One of the first books I remember owning was a beautiful book of fairy tales, illustrated by Tasha Tudor.
My family moved to Miami when I was in middle school. I believe this is actually the thing that made me a writer because it was the first time I was really miserable. I had a hard time making friends. Art is suffering, people! As it was, I spent a lot of time reading and writing, but I never finished writing a novel.
By high school, I’d made some friends and gotten involved in various “gifted and talented” performing arts programs. I studied opera in college (I’m a coloratura — the really loud, high-pitched sopranos.) and then went to law school.
It was law school that probably helped with my first novel. Breathing Underwater deals with the serious and all-too-common problem of dating violence. I based the book on my experiences interning with the State Attorney’s Office and volunteering with battered women. I thought this was a really important topic, as 27 % of teenage girls surveyed have been hit by a boyfriend. I’m happy that the book is so popular, and if you are reading this bio because the book was assigned for school, I’m happy about that too. You should be grateful you got such a short, easy book. I had to read Heart of Darkness. So please, don’t write to me, asking what the theme is.
I started writing an early (and laughable) version of Breathing Underwater in college (I was really bored on a car trip with my parents). I didn’t get back to it until I had my first daughter, Kat. I’m self-taught. I went to the library and took out books on writing. Then, I read a lot of young-adult novels by writers I admired. Being a good reader is the key to being a good writer. Learn the rules, then break them.
I write my first drafts longhand. Yes, in a notebook. It just feels right. At first, I did that because I didn’t own a computer.
Then, I borrowed a memory typewriter and finally purchased a computer three years after I began writing. A year later Breathing Underwater was finished then accepted. I write by hand because I get a lot of good editing and adding done when I retype. Why mess with what works?
I think I write for young-adults because I never quite got over being one. In my mind, I am still 13-years-old, running laps on the athletic field, wearing this really baggy white gymsuit. I’m continually amazed at the idea that I have a checking account and a mortgage. So I try to write books that gymsuit girl might enjoy. It’s a way of going back to being thirteen . . . knowing what I know now.
Right now, I live half a mile away from my old middle school, in Palmetto Bay, a suburb of Miami, with my husband, Gene, my daughters, Katherine and Meredith, and way too many pets.