The Mini, It Could (Almost) Fit on a Postcard, Author Bio:
Catherine Stier won a creative writing contest—in first grade. Since then she has authored eight children’s books and numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Stier has served as a newspaper columnist and freelance magazine writer, instructed writing classes, led a library Teen Writing Club and conducted academic research on children’s picture books. Her books have received honors from the International Reading Association, the Bank Street College of Education, and others. Stier holds a BA in Communication Arts and an MA in Reading and Literacy. Born in Michigan, Stier now lives in San Antonio, Texas.
A Writer’s Journey
(With Tips on What to Do If You Want to Be an Author, Too)
How What You’re Doing Right Now May Be the Perfect First Step to Becoming a Writer and Author
Ever since forever, I wondered about the big world out there.
I grew up in Michigan, the oldest (and bossiest) of five children.
My earliest memories are of a family driving trip to Florida. I was 3 years old. I found a pink flamingo feather! And I recall the singer Nancy Sinatra performing “These Boots are Made for Walking,” on the motel TV.
Also, I caught the travel bug.
When I was older, my family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. We discovered misty breezes on hazy mountaintops, woodsy-scented trails and wildlife — I caught a sight of a lumbering black bear there!
(Writing Tip #1: Remember when you write to include what is experienced through the senses!)
Also, I learned that there were National Parks all over the country. I wanted to visit them all.
At my library at Shadywood Elementary, I pored over big travel books, like AMERICA’S WONDERLANDS and SCENIC WONDERS OF AMERICA. I daydreamed about the places I might go someday.
Throughout my growing up years, I made other choices that turned me in the direction of travel and finding out about the world.
- I collected postcards of faraway places
- I wrote to pen pals from 3 different countries (England, Germany, Turkey)
- I wrote a pretend travel brochure, just for fun (one day I would write real travel brochures)
Also, when I was growing up, I discovered reading and writing. My mom brought us on regular excursions to the public library, because she loved reading, too.
(Writing Tip #2: If you want to be a writer, read a lot.)
It didn’t take long to figure out that reading and travelling had something in common – both offered a glimpse of how big, amazing, and varied the world is. And writing? Well for me, it allowed me to take all that stuff that I discovered on those trips, or happened at home or school, or that I learned from books or even imagined — and DO something with it, turn it into SOMETHING. I found that my experiences and imaginings were the raw materials with which I could form a story. An article. A pretend travel brochure.
(Writing Tip #3: Know that all the things you experience, learn about and imagine are the precious “stuff” that you can weave into your writing.)
I began to write stories when I was very young. In first grade, I won a class prize for my book, WHAT TO DO ON A RAINY DAY. I won two more school writing contests in later grades.
As I grew up, I kept writing. I wrote:
- in my diary
- for school writing contests
- for my high school newspaper
- for my community college newspaper
- for my university newspaper
(Writing tip #4: Look for opportunities everywhere to write, write, write. Write everyday if you can!)
I chose a college major that required lots of writing. And then my love of travel and of writing came together in an amazing summer internship – in the communications department of the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau. That’s where I first wrote a real travel brochure. And a travel article, too.
When I was in my 20s I got married, and my husband traveled together for his job. I began to write travel articles about the places we stayed. I also wrote short stories and children’s stories. I sent these stories out to magazine editors – and was thrilled when some were published.
That’s how I got my start at a professional writer. Later, I began writing children’s books. My first published book was IF I WERE PRESIDENT, inspired by my work in a preschool on Presidents’ Day.
So while this bio is about me, here’s what I want YOU to know. Those things that I chose to pursue for myself when I was young are, in part, the very things that pointed me in the direction of what I would do when I grew up. Many of my ideas for the things I write about come from what I experience in my own town and community. But as I continue to travel throughout my life, things that I would not have seen, learned about or experienced at home give me even more ideas that I often incorporate into articles or stories.
This applies to you, too. Consider what choices you have made about activities, collections, books you’ve read, lessons you’ve taken – what does all of this tell you about YOU and the stories you want to tell and the future you want for yourself? Because those bits that you choose for yourself when you are young can led you to the very things that may continue to be important to you, and may sustain you, may even turn out to be your job when you grow up. You can see one beautiful example of this in the children’s picture book ME…JANE written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. It is the story Jane Goodall, whose childhood interests in animals, especially chimpanzees, led her to observe, study, and advocate for these animals for her life’s work.
Finally, know this – all fields need writers and communicators. No matter what field or interests you ultimately pursue, you may find that these lead you to become a writer or even an author, too. If you become a teacher, you might write a book about teaching ideas someday. If you love science, you may blog about new breakthroughs in science. If you are interested in reading, you perform literary research that ends up in an academic journal.
So that’s what I wanted to share. I hope this overview of the path I followed, with a few tips tucked in along the way, offers something you can pack up and takeaway for your own writer’s journey.
Five “Terrible Secrets” Questions
In THE TERRIBLE SECRETS OF THE TELL-ALL CLUB (Albert Whitman & Company), the wily Kiley writes up questions that she tell her friends they must answer to be in her club. One friend answers seriously, one with anger, one with jokes. Since I made my characters answer these questions, it seems only fair I answer a few myself…
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER GAVE SOMEONE?
Well, I hope my writing tips in the “This Writer’s Journey” will help aspiring young writers!
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PIZZA TOPPINGS?
Veggies! Not too much cheese, and lots of red pizza sauce. Extra sauce, even, on the side (I like to dip the crust in sauce)
IF YOU HUNG UP A POSTER IN YOUR ROOM OR LOCKER, WHO OR WHAT WOULD BE ON THE POSTER?
Right now, I DO have three vintage-style travel posters hang in my writing room:
- The ship, The Queen Mary (important to me because my book WELCOME TO AMERICA, CHAMP! takes place on the Queen Mary)
- Mount Rushmore (important to me because I was invited to conduct a book signing event there)
- The Grand Canyon (important to me because I love this National Park and I hope to maybe write a book set there some day)
WHAT ONE THING ABOUT YOU WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE IF THE FOUND OUT ABOUT IT?
Maybe that I lived on a small island in the Caribbean Sea, called Curaçao, for four months. My son was just a baby then, and we visited the market, the aquarium and played in the sea. I learned how to say a few words in Papiamento, one of the languages spoken on the island.
WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU LATELY?
Well, despite the fact that I wrote answers to some of these questions for three different characters – I never expected to be writing answers for Kiley’s questions myself!