I was born around noon, July 11, 1961 in Harlingin, Texas, where my father was stationed at an Air Force base which is no longer there. I was the second child. The family story behind the odd spelling of my name is that my grandparents got a dachsund named Penny at about the same time, and to tell us apart they spelled me funny. (My mom denies ever telling me this, but I've seen pictures of the dog.) My brother Jeff was born in Harlingin in 1960 and my sister Pegi was born in 1963 in San Antonio, when my father was stationed at Randolph AFB and we were living in the small satellite town of Converse. My very first memory is from this time and involves riding on my dad's back in a swimming pool.
Shortly after my sister was born we moved to Alaska, first to Anchorage - where we were in time for the 1964 Good Friday earthquake - and then to Elmendorf. My memories of the great quake are based mostly on slides of pictures my dad took afterward. We were living in a duplex in a newly developed part of town - we have a picture of a moose walking down the street where we lived - and my brother and I had been trained by my mother to lie down in an open doorway when the ground shook. Mom ran to get my little sister. The crib was on rollers and Pegi was standing up holding onto the bars, laughing as the crib rolled around the room. The worst damage in our part of town was that the only sidewalk in the neighborhood sank three inches, which I thought was only fair because the man who owned it wouldn't let me ride my tricycle on it.
After Anchorage we lived on base in Elmendorf for a little while, which is where I started school. The first word I ever read was "exit," on the first day of kindergarten. I looked up, saw the sign, and read it off. I didn't know what it meant, though. The summer after kindergarten we drove down the new Al-Can highway to the continental U.S. I chiefly remember mosquitoes and a trash can shaped like a litterbug. That was the year I had three birthdays, because I turned six in July and every relative we stopped with had a cake for me. We were going back to stay in my parents' home town of Panora, Iowa while my father was in Viet Nam. Shortly after we got there, my mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis, so we stayed with my father's parents while Mom went into the hospital. You'd expect this to be scary for us, as young as we were, and I know vaguely that it was, but what I mostly gained from that time was a sense of security. We had relatives coming out our ears in Guthrie County, Iowa. No matter what strange, arbitrary things the world did to our parents, we knew we'd be taken care of. Mom got better and we rented a parsonage, a block from Gramma and Grampa's and five blocks from my best friend, where we kept a vegetable garden and got a cat from Uncle Warren's farm. I learned to read properly here, and haven't stopped since.
I felt so comfortable in Iowa that I actively resisted our next move, after Dad got back from Nam. He was stationed at Andrews AFB, where he worked on Air Force One, and we lived in Maryland in a suburb of Washington DC. We all hated it. The weather was wrong and the food was wrong and we didn't know anybody. My mom was always very big on us getting to know our new homes by taking us to museums and reading up on local history, and we did all that; but the fact was, we were never comfortable on the east coast, and working on Air Force One meant my dad would come home at four in the morning. I made no friends and spent as much time as possible sitting behind a bush in the backyard, reading.
So after a year and a half Dad got a chance to transfer to Texas, and took it. We moved to San Angelo in 1971 and I stayed there until 1979. I resisted Texas for a long time - it wasn't Iowa! - but at least I made a few friends. I used to go for long walks after supper in the summertime; and I read a lot; and I wrote my own stories. Somewhere I read that you should write every day, so I did. My room had stacks of paper everywhere. Everyone knew I was going to be a writer. It was obvious. Few people in San Angelo really knew what that meant in practical terms, but no matter how bad I felt about myself in other areas (and I did, but I'm not going to talk about that), this was one thing I was confident about and that no one else ever questioned. I couldn't do math and I couldn't hit a ball and I didn't know the rules to all the games by instinct like everyone else seemed to, and not everyone thought a writer was a worthwhile thing to be, but it was who I was.
High school was terrible. I survived. A girl once walked up to me in gym class, took me by the upper arm, put her face next to mine, and informed me that she was going to beat me up. I said: "Go ahead. I can't stop you." She let go of my arm and walked away. Men I tell this story to don't believe it, but it's true, and I remember it whenever the going gets rough. My creative writing teacher was Fred Gipson's first wife, Tommie North, which made the writing life seem that much more possible. I dated a couple of guys but nobody in San Angelo was really what I needed, which was okay. You shouldn't meet your destiny too young.
I graduated in 1979. My graduation present was a six-week trip to Berlin (West Berlin still at that time) as part of a Trinity University program. We were a group of three students and one professor, staying in the top floor of an old folk's home, cooking for ourselves, holding classes on the lawn, taking the subway all over the place, and going to bars every night. This is when I found out for certain that I do not like beer. Beer is nasty. Berlin, however, was wonderful.
When I went to Trinity University proper, in San Antonio, the experience was more problematical. I liked being responsible for myself, but I had a hard time with roommates. Too many rich little girls went to Trinity; it was like rooming with Martians in designer genes. On the other hand, for the first time in my life I met people I could hang out with in groups, when I discovered fantasy role-playing games. I was queen of the geeks and proud of it. But I'd assumed that writers should be English majors, and I found out that being an English major doesn't teach what I needed to know in order to write. I didn't need to understand how to deconstruct someone else's work. I needed to practice writing, to learn how to sell what I wrote to publishers, how the economics of publishing works, and how a professional author behaves. None of this is covered in the standard English curriculum. The upshot of all this was that I dropped out of Trinity, started over as a German major at the University of Texas at San Antonio, dropped out of there, too, and worked temp jobs for awhile, living hand-to-mouth as I taught myself how to do the important job.
I met my husband through the Society for Creative Anachronism, a historical recreation group. He was in the Air Force at the time. When he got out, he and our best friend Michael and I pooled our resources and took a house together. I also got a fulltime job. That was in 1985. In 1986, I finally sold a short story. In 1987, Damon and I got married. In 1988, I sold a book - Otto from Otherwhere. In 1989, we moved into our present house, a Grecian revival that needs a lot of fixing, and I sold another book - A Dig in Time.
Since then it's been a succession of writing books and selling them or not, having jobs and losing them. Some of them have been very bad jobs indeed; but the bottom line is, they don't matter. I'm a writer, so I write. I sold 12 books that way, and on October 12, 2007 - Freedom Day! - I quit the day job grind forever. This I swear. The house is paid off, Damon's paycheck covers the bills, I'll sell more books and get more school visits and when disaster strikes again we'll deal. Disaster did strike in 2005 but I'm not giving details about that on the internet. Every life has disasters. Compared to the people who were in two hurricanes that year, I came out of mine pretty well, so why fuss more than I have?
My mother and father got divorced my senior year. Dad has remarried and had a second set of three children - triplets, Amy, Becky, and Christy, who are grown up now. My mother has not remarried, but went to school and became a Methodist minister. I'm an agnostic, but I'm proud of her for doing this. We don't have to agree on everything. Jeff is an electrician in Colorado. Pegi does social work in Hondo and has two stepdaughers and a daughter of her own, my niece Hannah Leigh. Mom's retired from the ministry and lives near her granddaughter now. My husband Damon works with computers for Bexar County. Our friend Michael married and moved across the street after 17 years of sharing space with us, and now has a kid, Michaela Bethia. A lot of my Iowa relatives have died, but we still have relatives coming out our ears up there.
I birdwatch, and read, and write, and garden, and do research, and talk to people online, about weird things and TV shows and books. I stopped eating meat because I don't like it, in 1998, and I've been healthier since then. I've had to start making my own clothes because I don't like what's available in stores. I managed without a driver's license for a long time, but during the Year of Disaster Damon was too sick to drive, so I learned. It still feels peculiar that I can drive. I try never to miss an election. I'm getting involved in Texas archeology on an amateur level - it's a science with plenty of room for amateurs, I'm happy to say.
Sometimes I look at other people's lives and think about ways I could have been more adventurous and done more by now, but basically I don't regret any of my decisions. They were the best decisions I knew how to make at the time, and they've served me well for the most part. The important thing is, I've published 12 books and will write and publish more.