My Path to Becoming a Writer
I was born in Los Angeles, California, a fat happy baby with cheeks the size of soccer balls. As a child, I would ask the neighbors, “Do you want to know what happened in my house last night?” Then I’d tell them all my family secrets…that my father slept in just underpants, that my teddy bear drowned in the washing machine. (He didn’t really drown, but he did stay too long in the soak cycle and was soggy for six months!)
I believe those stories were the beginning of my writing career.
In first grade, I won a poetry contest with this poem.
My father goes out and works all day.
So the family can go and spend his pay.
My father treats me very good.
Especially when I do what I should.
Now that’s a prize winner, huh?
I grew up with my sister Pamela, and my mother always dressed us exactly alike. We hated that. As soon as I could, I dyed my hair green so I would look different. And most of her life, Pam had bright pink hair. But this is how we looked in elementary school. Same clothes. Ugh.
At Ulysses S. Grant High School, I was the editor-in-chief of our school newspaper. I tried out for cheerleader, too, but never was chosen. I did learn how to make my own pom pom’s, so the experience wasn’t all bad. This is what I looked like in high school. I haven’t worn pearls since!
I went to college at UCLA and UC Berkeley where I majored in English. I was a hippie. I wore black clothes and went to sit ins, love ins, peace marches, war protests and all night poetry readings.I’m glad I attended school when young people were speaking up about world politics and taking a role to shape our government and change our future.
After college, I taught high school for one semester. I was a terrible teacher. My students were out of control—everyone was tardy and talked out of turn, including me. So I quit and got a job writing educational books for children.
My writing partner was Steve Mooser. Neither one of us had ever written for children, so we decided to learn more about it by going to a conference. We couldn’t find one, so we threw one ourselves, forming the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in the process. This is me running the first ever SCBWI conference when I was 22 years old.
Today, the SCBWI has over 22,000 members! I love people who write and illustrate children’s books. They are child-loving, creative, unique, thoughtful people who celebrate their weirdness and accept others exactly as they are. Those are my favorite kind of people.
I also worked at Universal Studios for eleven years, became a Vice-President of the company, and developed many television shows. I wrote and produced such shows as Harry and the Hendersons where I worked with a ten foot tall Big Foot. Here is a picture of me and my favorite Bigfoot.
I still run my own production company called Lin Oliver Productions. I’ve written and produced a lot of television shows for families, such as Corduroy and Wayside School, and movies like Finding Buck McHenry and The Trumpet of the Swan. And of course, I write children’s books, often funny books because when I was growing up, those were the kind of books I always wanted to read. It’s a great feeling to be reading a book and find yourself laughing out loud, even if the people around you think you’re weird.
In 2002, Henry Winkler and I published our first book in the Hank Zipzer: World’s Best Underachiever series. We wanted to write the story of a kid with learning differences who was funny, resourceful and smart. Now there are 18 Hank books that have sold over 4 million copies and a new series for younger kids called Here’s Hank, about Hank in the second grade. I love writing about Hank because I believe we all have challenges in life and what defines us is how we deal with them with courage, honesty and self- acceptance. This is a picture of Henry Winkler and me writing one of our books together. We laugh a lot.
I’ve written several book series for young people, including WHO SHRUNK DANIEL FUNK? (about a boy who shrinks to the size of the fourth toe on his left food), ALMOST IDENTICAL (about twelve year old twin girls who have to sort out their own individual identities) and with my son Theo Baker, SOUND BENDER and THE SHADOW MASK (about a 13 year old boy who discovers that he has a mysterious power to hear the past). My newest book is a collaboration with the wonderful illustrator Tomie de Paola, called LITTLE POEMS FOR TINY EARS. It’s a collection of funny poems for very little ones. Here is a picture of Tomie and me—we’ve been friends most of our lives. What a treat!
My husband’s name is Alan. He’s pretty funny and an excellent photographer. He works at the University of Southern California as an associate dean at the School of Cinematic Arts.
We have three talented, unique, adorable sons. Theo is an author who loves music. Ollie is a city planner and real estate developer. Cole works in sports television and video gaming. Our family has travelled all over the world, even to Mongolia where I met this eagle with a very bad attitude.
And of course, there’s Dexter Duncan Baker, our shaggy, naughty dog. Don’t leave any food on the table, or he’ll gobble it up—bones, tin foil and all. He’s what you call a chow hound.