The first 13 years of my life I lived in China. My parents were missionaries there, and I was an only child. Often I felt lonely and out of place. Writing for me became my private place, where no one could come.
While we lived in China, my parents often spoke fondly of their memories in the United States, and my father shared fascinating tales about American heroes. I began to form strong emotional bonds to the United States. I developed a homesickness that made me want to embrace not just a given part of America at a given time, but the whole of it.
My interest in writing about American history stemmed originally, I think, from a subconscious desire to find roots - I felt like a girl without a country. I have put down roots quite firmly by now, but in the process I have discovered the joys of research and am probably hooked.
The question I am most often asked, is how do I find my ideas? The answer is: I don't. Ideas find me. A character in history will suddenly step right out of the past and demand a book. Generally people don't bother to speak to me unless there's a good chance that I'll take them on. And throughout my forty years of writing, I have taken on plenty of people, starting with George Washington in The Cabin Faced West
As a biographer, I try to uncover the adventures and personalities behind each character I research. Once my character and I have reached an understanding, then I begin the detective work — reading old books, old letters, old newspapers, and visiting the places where my subject lived. Often I turn up surprises, and of course, I pass them on.