I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on July 24th, 1961. New Orleans was a great place to grow up in then—still family-friendly but with a ready acceptance of eccentricity and the darker side of life. We lived in a little house on a little street, but our yard seemed huge, and my brother and I were given a big chunk of it in the back, where we could dig holes or do whatever we wanted. So we built little huts and roofed them with huge banana tree leaves, and when it rained we stood under elephant ears so big that two kids could stand under one and not get wet. We dug enormous holes and filled them with water and jumped into them. We climbed trees and jumped off the roof of our garage.
I remember spending a lot of time by myself, just playing complicated imagination games. Our TV was black and white and there were only three stations, so we didn’t spend too much time in front of it. In my neighborhood there were only one or two other girls, so I played mostly with my brother and some of the boys next door. I was an excellent tomboy, and did well at games like “Behind the German Line” and “Paratrooper.”
Even when I was little, I knew that New Orleans was a special place. The cemeteries were wonderful, and we explored the ones we could walk to. I still love cemeteries, and try to visit them when I’m traveling. Mardi Gras was a huge event every year, and my mother made us terrific costumes. My parents had interesting friends who were artists and potters and writers, and we would visit them in the French Quarter.
My high school was a public school called Ben Franklin, and back then it was housed in an old former courthouse not far from the Mississippi River. The high school that Morgan Rowlands (in Sweep) goes to is based on that building. I also went to a performing arts high school half a day for three years; two years for visual art and one year for writing. There was no air conditioning, only big fans and open windows, and the heat was stifling sometimes. It was almost impossible to stay awake after lunch on hot days.
I enjoyed college because I could choose what I wanted to study, and the classes were at different times on different days. It felt more flexible and catered to how I wanted to learn. I went to New York University and studied writing and Russian language and literature. I had some terrific teachers, but I just never really got what they were talking about, the whole “how to write” thing. And I was never able to write anything longer than three pages. But one of my teachers wrote on one of my papers that I had a genuine stylistic gift (despite all my other shortcomings as a writer), and I still think of those words with pleasure.
I finally graduated from Loyola University, in New Orleans, with a degree in Russian. In my mid-twenties I moved back to New York and got a job as an assistant at Random House. I worked for the head of the Juvenile Audio and Video department, and was surrounded by children’s books and editors and people who read as much as I did. I learned so much, and decided I could write a children’s book too. So I locked the door of my office (somehow I had an actual office, which was unusual) every day for an hour at lunch, for ten days, and I wrote a book.
And I sold it and it got published.
I did all sorts of chapter books and middle-grade books under different names, and ghost-wrote for some popular series. They were all learning experiences. Eventually I moved back down to New Orleans because I wanted my children to be born there. While I lived down there, a friend of mine who was an editor contacted me to write Sweep. She gave me a one-page description of the series, which basically said, “Teenage girl discovers she’s a witch.” It was such an amazing, brilliant idea, and it sparked an entire new universe inside me that I tried to put down on paper. My books always describe how I wish the world was, how I wish reality was.
I was crushed when Sweep ended, but by then I was already developing Balefire, and that was a whole new seductive universe. I set it in New Orleans so I could describe the beauty and otherworldliness of the city, and I put in my old hangouts and had the characters do some of the things I’d done as a teenager. Katrina hit while I was in the middle of writing the fourth book of Balefire, and I watched the news on TV and knew that my hometown would never be the same. The fourth book described the city as it was before the flood, and I sat there and cried for days as I wrote about things that no longer existed.
Now there’s the Immortal Beloved trilogy from Little, Brown. In some ways it’s a combination of all my favorite things about Sweep and Balefire—the notion of love that lasts for hundreds of years, a world filled with magick and possibilities. It’s been my biggest challenge, but I believe I did Nastasya’s story justice. I hope you think so too.
Nowadays I live in North Carolina with my daughters and husband and stepsons. Our house is surrounded by land and woods and it feels like we’re in the country. We have dogs and cats and lots of stuff going on all the time. It’s a good life.