Hi Folks! Here’s what I call About Me: The Extended Run. If you are wondering where I get some of my character’s embarrassing predicaments from…well, read on!
I was born in Flushing, New York under the name Marie Busterna, and spent from age 2 through high school living in Wyckoff, New Jersey. I attended Sicomac Elementary, where I was often marked down for talking in class, and was never picked for teams because I tended to catch balls with my nose rather than my hands. I discovered Edward Eager’s book Half Magic, and fell in love with novels and with anything magical. I tried to conjure my own magic, but it never ever worked. So I decided I would write books about magic instead. Also during this time, my dad, who is a wonderful artist, began to teach me beginning drawing skills.
Next, I went to Eisenhower Junior High. Awkward! In seventh grade, everyone had a purse, so I got one too. Since I didn’t have a clue what to put in it, I used to secretly carry around the Wyckoff phone book so it would look full. (Today, my purse is absolutely filled with crap that seems to grow in the dark. My, how times change.) Writing-wise, wonderful English teacher Mrs. Lester had me writing and doing pictures for the class paper. I also wrote the script for a humorous class play about our teachers, which was performed on stage in front of the whole 7th grade. I played the role of the Social Studies teacher, and my fly was down during most of the performance. Like I said. Awkward. Also, there was a particularly dreadful moment when I lost my retainer during lunch. It was spaghetti and meatballs day. (Thanks, Selina, for dumpster diving with me to find it so my mom wouldn’t chew me out!) I didn’t eat pasta for a long time after that.
Moving on, I next went to Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes, NJ. In high school I was a pretty good, though not perfect student. I loved English and Social Studies and Art. I simply could not do math or much in the sciences. I tried. Believe me. I tried.
I accidentally tried out for the fencing team (I thought it was a pep club meeting and was too embarrassed to leave) and made it. Turns out, even though I still couldn’t catch a ball, I could stab the heck out of people with a sword. I got elected Sophomore Class president (though I checked my zipper tons of times during my speech), beating out reigning class president Michael Kun. Mike is now a published author too. I also loved theater, but never got more than a chorus role, or understudy. One of my theater buddies at Ramapo was Michael Gallucio, who is yet another published author.
I continued with my art. Drawing. Doodling. Painting (though not very well). And I read a ton. I used to go through the stacks of the Wyckoff Library, pulling off 10 books at a time and devouring the ones that looked interesting, while chucking the ones that didn’t grab me. For a while, I was really into John Steinbeck books. The book that touched me the most, however, was The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. For the first time, I read something that made me laugh and cry hard, and that I ached with sorrow over finishing. I wanted to write books like that. Writing and illustrating. This was what I thought I wanted to do. I was pretty sure, anyway.
After this, I went to the University of Pennsylvania as an English major. And I invented a second major: Literary Art. This major let me take all the writing and fine arts classes I wanted. Heaven! I wrote a lot of short stories that had plenty of convincing dialog but not much plot. I found I couldn’t do much with color in my paintings, which was discouraging, but I was pretty good in black and white mediums like print making and drawing and pen and ink. Still, I began to think that I wasn’t good enough to be an illustrator. I hope to change my mind on this one day, since I really miss drawing. Who knows, maybe some day.
At Penn, I worked part-time in the university library. I’d go to find missing volumes, and disappear for hours in the fiction section. That’s how I discovered Ann Tyler! I first read her wonderful novel Searching for Caleb, and I’m still astounded by her quirkiness and beautiful imagery.
The first semester of my senior year, I studied in Cheltenham, England at the College of St. Paul and St. Mary (now renamed the University of Gloucestershire) through Brethren Colleges Abroad. BTW, I had no idea what a Brethren was.
I lived with a British family, almost starved to death on suspect English cafeteria food (the curry used to repeat on me so much, my friends there started calling me Curry, instead of Marie), and kept a journal of my writing and sketches (see one of my journal sketches to the left). I also traveled around the countryside having plenty of wacky adventures.
A particularly life-changing moment was when I visited the British Library in London and saw the handwritten works of geniuses like Kipling, Bronte, Joyce and Austen. These folks had tons of scratch outs. The works were written by human beings after-all. Perhaps even I could write a novel! Okay, so it might not sound like much to you, but to me it was a super-epiphany. Especially since my fiction teacher in Cheltenham was fond of telling everyone that they could never write as well as (fill in the blank).
I spent a terrifying and exhilarating month traveling through Europe with a backpack and a Eurailpass, visiting France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. It was the best. That’s all I can say. I sketched. I wrote. I photographed (see my photo to the right of Piccadilly Circus in London). I bought Swiss chocolate. I ate Swiss chocolate. Did I mention I am crazy about Swiss chocolate?
I returned home in January of my senior year to find that all of my credits from my study abroad had cleared and I was suddenly graduated! So, while my friends were still in college, I was working in my first job in a publishing firm and subletting an uber-cool studio apartment on Walnut Street in Philly! Very bizarre. I had a sweet job as Publisher’s Assistant, and wrote book jacket copy, press releases and edited books. It was great. For 4 months. Then everyone was suddenly laid off. My next job was at a small nutrition publisher where I was the Promotion Manager. I broke my leg. It turned out to be a lucky break.
I met my husband, Baldev Lamba, at a surprise cast-away party my friends threw for me the day my leg cast was removed. He’s a landscape architect, originally from India. After a year of dating, we went to India, where we got engaged, then moved to New Jersey, got married, and had two daughters.
Baldev teaches at Temple University, and is principal of Lamba Associates, Inc. In fall 2006, the First Ladies Water Garden, based on his design, was unveiled on the mall in Washington, DC, beside the National Botanic Garden next to the US Capitol. The ribbon cutting was done by First Lady Laura Bush, who spoke about Baldev in her speech. Talk about cool! If you are ever in DC, go check it out. You’ll see his Indian influence in the design.
I’ve been to India a bunch of times to visit family and travel. I’ve also done some photography there and written several articles about my experiences.
Writing wise, I started freelancing, writing travel, parenting and garden design articles. My pieces appeared in national publications including Writer’s Digest, Garden Design, Sports International, and Your Home. I also worked as a freelance editor and a public relations writer. But all I really wanted to do was fiction. So I wrote a novel called In and Out of Time, and worked on polishing it and selling it for nearly 10 years. During this time I got at least 40 rejections, ranging from form letters to a note that said, “This is a very good book. Someone will publish it. Not me.” No one ever did publish it though. Still, I didn’t give up on my dream of writing novels.
We moved to Pennsylvania. My biggest problem at this point was time. I was spending it all with the kids, or doing freelance articles. The kids I was stuck with (Kidding. Love you girls!), but the articles could go. So I quit freelancing and spent the next three years on fiction. Just fiction. I learned a lot about writing by editing my time travel novel. I helped form an amazing novelist’s writing group, The Rebel Writers. Then I started a new book: What I Meant…
I wrote What I Meant... in just 3 months. The book’s heroine Sang is bi-racial just like my own daughters. That was important to me.
So my dream of being a published novelist has finally come true. All I can say is I’m glad I never gave up because now I really am doing what I’ve dreamed of since elementary school. And all I can say to folks out there interested in writing is that success is a big unknown. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, it will never happen for you.