TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Elizabeth Lenhard

Elizabeth Lenhard

Elizabeth Lenhard writes: “The first thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. As a kid I read constantly. I read my way through cross-country family road trips. I read in bed every night for hours, falling asleep with the lamp on and the book clutched in my hands until my dad stalked in and turned off the light, muttering about the electric bills. I even figured out how to prop a book on the outside handle of the glass shower door so I could read while I bathed. This led to super-long, very hot showers which made my dad mutter about the water bills.

I read my favorite books over and over and over: Anne of Green Gables and all the sequels, all the Judy Blumes, Katherine Patersons, and Roald Dahls, Little Women and Island of the Blue Dolphins and A Wrinkle in Time…

Because I loved to read, of course, I wanted to write. But here’s the thing—I didn’t.

I inscribed blank books with ambitious titles and got no further. The rest of the book would remain, to my shame, blank. For birthdays, I received cute, pink diaries that you could lock with a little brass key. Imagining Harriet the Spy’s precious notebook, I would ceremoniously touch pen to first page. But I always gave up after a few hackneyed entries.

And that was that. I gave up the dream without too much fuss and focused my energies on surviving high school. After graduation, I headed for the University of Michigan, which I chose because it was Up North. Having lived in a suburb of Atlanta for most of my life, I was ready to see some snow. I arrived in Ann Arbor, signed up for Psych 101 and announced that I was going to be a clinical psychologist. Why? Because I loved hearing people’s stories. When I wasn’t learning about the id and Freud and stuff, I took scads of literature courses. Noticing a trend?

Around my junior year, three important things happened. First, I took an English class taught by a brilliant woman named Lillian Back. Professor Back taught me how to write with this single sentence: “Writing is a process of discovery.” She released me from outlining my papers to death. She declared that I didn’t have to know exactly what I wanted to say when I started writing, or how the thing would end. Instead, the process of writing would show me the way. Voila—writing became fun.

Next, my roommate got a bunch of assignments from the University’s stellar newspaper, The Michigan Daily, some of which she foisted upon me. Turned out, I had a knack and I was as geeked by the whole newsroom vibe as a starry-eyed Rory Gilmore. I joined the Arts staff and spent my last two years of college slaving away there.

The third thing that happened was more of a non-happen—I was admitted into the undergraduate Creative Writing program where I wrote many a pretentious short story. They were bad. What can I say? At age 20, I was just Not Ready. Journalism, I decided, was where I was meant to be. Luckily, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution agreed. After graduation, they hired me to be a features reporter.

So back I was in the ATL, happily writing about whatever fun thing I fancied, from fashion models to mashed potatoes to modern dance, when I heard that a colleague was scrounging for fiction writers. He was moonlighting as a book packager and needed a few dozen scary chapter books, ASAP. On a whim, I volunteered and wrote a tale called Beware the Bog Girl, starring my niece, Julie, as I imagined she’d be at age ten. (She was only one at the time.) It was pure cheese and I loved it—so much that I sent it to a friend who worked at Simon & Schuster. She passed it around the office and the next thing I knew, I had my first big gig, to write Clueless: Bettypalooza.

Not only was I going to be paid up-front to write a YA book, but I was going to write about Cher Horowitz! Tscha!

Hopelessly hooked, I quit my newspaper job, sold my car, and left Atlanta for Chicago, where I loved being a single, urban chick with a bicycle and an L card. I wrote Charmed books and movie novelizations and ten quirky little Spy Kids Adventures. I also wrote food reviews for Chicago magazine which, trust me, if you’re a single, urban chick with little to your name besides a bicycle and an L card, is the best gig in the world.

Of course, I got the occasional snarky query, “Don’t you want to write about your own thing?”

Sure I did, but I was also having a fabulous time writing about witches and spy families and such. I was making a living as a writer (no mean feat, as any writer will tell you). And I was learning like crazy. Writing all those paperbacks helped me get that novel-writing thing in my bones. You crank out more than 30 books in a few years, and believe me, your bones will be achin’.

And hopefully, you’ll also be ready to move onto bigger stuff. I mean that literally. When I got the deal to write Chicks with Sticks, the first thing I thrilled about was its heft.

“If I drop my book on the floor,” I declared, “it’ll make a clunk instead of just a splat and a rustle. If I hit someone with it, it would hurt!”

I guess that’s a weird reason to be excited about your first hardcover.

The other thing I realized was that I could finally slow down, take a breath, and remember my old professor’s luxurious advice—write to discover.

So that’s what I’m doing now and I’m doing it from Atlanta. Yes, I’m down South again. Hello, I didn’t just write when I was doing the single, urban chick thing in Chicago. I was also on a mad-dash quest for love—which is precisely why I didn’t find it there. Instead, during a not-so-long-ago visit home, my friend Patti introduced me to her friend, Paul, a cute, wiry newspaper reporter with chunky black glasses and the sweetest smile ever. A year and a half later, we were married and settling into a little bungalow with a view of the skyline.

A couple years more and I’ve produced THREE Chicks with Sticks books and . . . a daughter. I can’t say these things are comparable, but they’ve all changed my life joyfully and immeasurably.

So what’s next? Hopefully books that cover new terrain, perhaps yet another family member . . . you just never know what new discoveries the writing will bring.”