||Jeanne DuPrau has been a teacher,
an editor, and a technical writer. The People of Sparks is
her second novel and the sequel to the highly acclaimed The City
of Ember. Ms. DuPrau lives in Menlo Park, California, where she
keeps a big garden and a small dog.
People often ask me, “When did you decide
to be a writer?” Well, it was like this:
At about age 6, I wrote my first book, or at least the first
book of mine that survives to the present day. It’s called “Frosty
the Snowman.” It’s five pages long, illustrated with red and
green crayon, and bound with loops of yarn.
My next extant work dates, I think, from the seventh grade.
It’s a collection of stories handwritten on lined newsprint.
One is about a merry-go-round that mysteriously flies off into
the air. Another is about a girl who mysteriously disappears
while ice skating. A third is about a seashell that mysteriously
opens a door to an underwater world. It’s not hard to deduce
that mysterious happenings were what I loved best at the time–a
wardrobe door leading to Narnia, a rabbit hole leading to Wonderland,
a nanny who flew away when the wind changed.
A year or two later, I started reading Dickens. I loved the
world of Dickens’s novels, full of colorful characters and wildly
complicated plots. I decided to write Dickensian stories myself.
To prepare for this, I put together notebooks with headings
on each page for character names, settings, plot ideas, and
beginning sentences. I wrote pages and pages of great names
(Ophelia Gordonswaithe, Hester Hollyhock), lists of settings
(an insane asylum, a deserted railway station), and beginning
sentences (“A sharp laugh broke the heavy silence”). I didn’t
actually write very many stories, though. I think I wrote three
or four, but only one of them went all the way to the end. The
rest petered out after a couple of pages–or a couple of paragraphs.
But I kept at it. All through school, I wrote and wrote. Some
of this writing my teachers assigned–book reports, college essays,
my senior thesis. Some I assigned myself–stories, poems, journals,
letters. After I graduated from college (an English major, of
course), I did several different kinds of work, but they all
involved writing and reading in one way or another. I taught
high school English (and started a creative writing club for
my students). I worked as an editor in educational publishing
companies (and wrote stories for reading textbooks). I worked
for a computer company (and wrote about how to use computers).
At the same time, after work, on weekends, whenever I could
fit it in, I was doing my own writing. I wrote about people
I knew, experiences I’d had, books I’d read, ideas that had
occurred to me. I started sending these pieces of writing out
into the world, and quite often they were published. I wrote
a book, and then another book. The more I wrote, the more things
I thought of to write about.
So the answer to the question, “When did you decide to be a
writer?” is: Never. I never decided anything–I just wrote and
kept on writing, because writing was what I liked to do. What
could be more interesting than thinking of mysterious happenings,
finding the answers to intriguing questions, and making up new
worlds? Writers have a great job. I’m glad to be one.