I wrote my first book before I learned how to write. When I was four and a half years old I announced to my father one day that I wanted to write a book and since I couldn't yet write, he would be taking dictation. We began a nightly ritual of me staring off into space, imagining my story and him sitting, patiently writing it down as I told it. I could hardly wait for him to get home from work each evening so we could "work on the book." Our family left for vacation on Cape Cod, and there I could corner him any time of the day to say we had to get to work. I remember the two of us in front of the tiny prewar cottage, bits of grass on the lawn poking up through soil that was mostly sand, and Dad sitting in one of those wood and canvas folding beach chairs with a Cape Cod bay breeze threatening to blow the pages off his lap. I felt content that my story was not simply drifting away on the wind, but rather being preserved as a book.
When, after several weeks, the "book" was done, my mother typed it, I illustrated it, and I had my finished product. It gave me a wonderful feeling that I had created something solid from my imagination.
Between age four and a half and my early thirties, which is when I decided to write my second book, I had a few adventures. After graduating from high school I went to school in Italy for a while, lived among my many cousins over there, and learned to speak Italian since none of my cousins speaks a word of English. I actually got to help with the wine making, including smashing the grapes with my feet! (Note: Stomping grapes is a lot more difficult and tiring, and less romantic than one might think. Especially when you’re covered with sticky grape juice up to your thighs, and realize the town’s running water has already been turned off for the day!) I got married when I was still a teenager and had two wonderful children. I was always interested in music and dance, and spent time as a piano teacher, guitar teacher, dance teacher, and a professional dancer. (No, not disco – Appalachian Clogging) When my kids were a little older I finally got around to finishing college, then got a master's degree and taught college classes. There was one hint that should have given me a clue as to my life's work: from first grade on, I read children's novels whenever I could find the time.
These days I make my living as a writer. It's the best job I can think of. I use my imagination and then, by putting down on paper what I have imagined, I create a doorway that invites others to see what I have seen in my mind's eye. It leaves me with a sense of satisfaction that virtually nothing else in my life can give me.
For all of my books, especially the historical ones, I add research to the imaginative process. Usually my research involves reading books, articles, and original records, doing interviews, and visiting the sites where my stories take place. But the research gets really interesting when I decide to reenact some of the events in my characters’ lives. Whether that’s riding a train all night to Canada or trudging along the North Carolina beach during gale force winds, reenactment helps me truly understand what the people in my books must have experienced.
When I'm not writing, I'm usually out having adventures--climbing sheer rock cliffs, paddling white water rapids, or windsurfing high winds. During the winter I spend a couple of months cross country skiing before the climbing/paddling/windsurfing season starts again in the spring. Somehow, the intense physical exertion of the sports seems to balance out the mental exertion of writing. Also, the mental focus that is necessary during these activities trains my mind to focus at other times, like when I'm imagining a scene and need to make it come alive on paper.
Elisa Carbone was raised in Arlington, Virginia. She attended college at University of Maryland and also received two master’s degrees from University of Maryland, one in Speech Communication and the other in Education. She now lives part time in the Washington D.C. area and part time in the mountains of West Virginia.
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