Posted by: ktzefr | December 30, 2009

About Me…

About me…Katie Pickard Fawcett

My first novel, To Come and Go Like Magic, was published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in February, 2010.

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. Growing up in my parents’ general store in Kentucky, I spent a lot of time daydreaming and writing.  In the summer I’d sit beneath the cherry tree in our front yard, sometimes lying against the soft, round tummy of Bessie the calf (she was quite the pet until she grew into a cow and started acting like one).  On snowy winter days with the schools closed (those were delicious times!), I’d disappear amongst the stacks of White Lily flour and daydream of traveling to exotic places while snow blanketed the surrounding hills and sparks crackled in the coal stove.

My dad was Scots-Irish and French; my mom was German.  Our ancestors were among the first pioneers who headed west and decided to stop and put down roots once they made it through the Cumberland Gap.   Thousands settled in this area starting in the mid-eighteenth century when Kentucky was called “the dark and bloody ground.” The Cherokee and Shawnee tribes had been fighting for years over this wilderness so rich in plant and animal life.  Every year in October we celebrated the life of Daniel Boone, one of Kentucky’s first and foremost pioneers.  This autumn festival is still popular after more than 50 years.

The old saying, “variety is the spice of life,” pretty much fits my own.  Although I keep family, good friends, and special places close to heart, I like variety in work, play, books, food…and I love to travel.

I have been a social worker in Appalachia, written ads for Peace Corps and VISTA in Washington, DC, tutored students in Virginia, and written about development projects for an international organization. For thirteen years I volunteered in Fairfax County public schools doing all sorts of fun activities in classrooms from kindergarten through high school — tutoring, planning holiday parties, reading poetry, promoting theater, being a Great Books leader, setting up biology labs…you name it, I’ve done it.  But my favorite and most rewarding job is being a mom, and I love children and animals of all types — wild and tame!

Someone once said: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.” Such moments in my own life are a great source of inspiration and have influenced who I am, what I believe, and why I write…

I have stood…on the equator (yes, there’s a spot in South America that marks the equatorial line and you can straddle it — placing one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern — pretty cool), at the edge of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Baltic Seas, and crossed, traveled on, or flown over too many rivers to count — the Thames, Seine, Rhine, Rio Grande, Mississippi, Delaware….  A few, such as the Tortuguero in Costa Rica, are truly magical places – the stuff of dreams.

When I was growing up the Cumberland River was walking distance from my house. We fished and waded and watched its flood waters roar by us every spring, and I thought then that it was the mightiest river in the world.   Since those days I’ve enjoyed many boat rides on waters mightier than the Cumberland — in cruise ships and skiffs, sail boats and ferries and gondolas, kayaks in the Caribbean and pangas in the Galapagos Islands. I once rode a hovercraft across the English Channel and dived in a submarine off the coast of Mexico.

As a child I had a recurring dream of flying.  I would leap into the air but could never stay aloft.  As much as I wanted to soar like a bird, I kept falling back to earth with a plop — the way a less aerodynamic chicken might fly and fall.  Over the years I have flown many places in jets, taken a helicopter over the Virgin Islands, and ridden a single engine plane (with no working instruments — only a hand-held GPS system for guidance!) above the rainforests of Central America.

I love gardens and farmers’ markets — from formal gardens in England to bougainvillea growing wild in the tropics,  from town square markets in German villages to the big, noisy marketplace in Otavalo, Ecuador where you can buy anything from rugs and blankets and local art to pigs and chickens and local junk.  Two favorites: the smell of tortillas cooking at the marketplace in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and listening to a band of musicians play at the street market in Heredia, Costa Rica.  Still, when I water the tropical plants in my own home in the Washington, DC suburbs, the scent of wet earth reminds me of the Kentucky hills in spring time, of the woods after a rain, of the ground being turned for planting tomatoes, potatoes, and corn.

Birdwatching is one of my favorite activities.  Some of the largest birds I’ve seen were Andean condors in Angochagua, Ecuador and the prettiest was a painted bunting I spotted last winter at an old hacienda on the Yucatan Peninsula.  Its bright colors (blue, red, yellow, green, orange!) against the dusty scrub jungle of that part of Mexico could easily have been mistaken for a toy or Christmas ornament.  It was hard to believe that something that pretty could be real!

I like to visit and take photographs of ancient churches and cathedrals.  Some pretty ones — St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Mark’s in Venice, the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany, the San Juan Cathedral (simple, but beautiful — a stark white against the blue skies of Puerto Rico).  But one of my favorites is the pink-stoned Parroquia, the parish church in the town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The first great cathedral I saw was the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  I stood in awe of its stunning architecture, so different from the one-room church houses I had known in Kentucky where the open room hummed with voices, each teacher trying to talk a little louder than the next so his/her voice could be heard.

Going to church was an important part of family life in Appalachia.   I attended, at various times, both the Baptist and Pentacostal churches, earned my degree from a Methodist college, and was married by an Episcopal priest in a nondenominational ceremony.  As an adult I joined the Presbyterian.  I’ve helped plan a baccalaureate service in a Catholic church and start a library at an orphanage run by nuns in the mountains of Mexico, and I’ve visited a Jewish synagogue and taken off my shoes and donned a scarf in order to enter an Islamic mosque.  One spring on a tiny island in the Caribbean I made friends with an old Buddhist  who wrote poetry and tended an orchard full of tropical fruit trees.  Every day he trekked up steep hillsides and climbed inside caves to study bats.  He talked about growing up poor in China and how it felt to be the only person left on an island during a hurricane, about watching the storm through a small slit of space in the boarded-up windows, about fear and faith and hope.   I’m amazed at and appreciative of the ways in which we are all alike…and different.

I’ve had breathtaking moments in places grandiose and humble, far and near, with others and alone — my first glimpse of a flame tree in full bloom in the Virgin Islands, blue clouds of jacaranda trees in Mexico’s bajio, acres of silvery-leafed eucalyptus growing along the green slopes of long-dormant volcanoes in South America…a blue Morpho butterfly crossing my path with its metallic wings glittering in the sun; being suspended 100 feet above the ground in the rainforest canopy…

…watching Arenal volcano erupt in the night sky over Costa Rica; riding horseback high in the Andes with the setting sun casting orange and yellow and purple streaks across the sky…swimming with sea lions and sting rays and through walls of tiny silver fish, hiking on mountain trails and steamy jungle paths and through strange underground lava tubes in the Galapagos archipelago… gazing at historic sites — the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Coliseum in Rome, the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, the white cliffs of Dover, and the stunning beauty of the  nation’s capital, my adopted city. But the place that continues to startle me with its beauty year after year is the US Virgin Islands National Park with its lush, green mountains, tropical blooms, and stretches of white sand and blue water…

Once in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador sitting 10,000 feet above sea level, I was awakened at daybreak by roosters. Surprised to hear roosters crowing in the middle of a big city, I opened a window to have a look.  I never did spot those birds, but I could reach out and touch the clouds!

The Kentucky hills, too, are often draped with a thick mist on early summer mornings, and it feels as if the whole valley is perched in some dreamy, otherworldly place.  Some days it takes all morning for the sun to break through enough to lift the last of the vapors and reveal the green meadow and the hills beyond the river.  Watching this simple dance of nature still takes my breath away.

Although it seems that I’ve always been a writer, filling notebooks with my own stories and thoughts and the quotes of others,  I became interested in writing for children when my son was little.  I spent countless hours reading to him and enjoying the many wonderful books we discovered.

My first novel, To Come and Go Like Magic, is set in the Kentucky hills, the Appalachia of the 1970s.  It was published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in February, 2010.  The paperback edition was published in March 2011.

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