I was born Julie Agnes Polakowski on June 9, 1964, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When I turned six, my family moved across Lake Michigan on a ferry and then "up north", to Leelanau County, Michigan--if Michigan looks like a mitten, Leelanau is the pinky. It’s a beautiful rural lake-land area, my favorite place in the whole world.
Besides my mom and dad, I grew up with two older brothers and a younger sister and a grandma (much like the one in Going for the Record) who lived with us for many of those years. I also had tons of uncles and aunts and cousins with whom we celebrated every birthday, holiday, and special event--quite a clan.
I’ve always enjoyed writing. In elementary school I liked to write and illustrate stories and dreamt of getting them published. In jr. high, high school, and college, I got more into journal writing and poetry. I enjoy other forms of art as well--drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, woodworking.
My dad was a builder and I spent many hours making things with his scraps of wood--birdhouses, Tom Sawyer rafts, treehouses. I loved building forts. We built them out of whatever we could, wherever we could: stick lean-tos with thatched roofs, wigwams made of a circle of saplings with their tops tied together, dug-out underground forts. With the great amount of snow we got each winter, we were always left with giant snow piles to tunnel into and make snowforts in, and plenty of snow for sledding, skating, skiing, and snowball fights, which I also enjoyed.
I was the world’s biggest tomboy as a child. I hated being a girl! Back then, boys had so many more opportunities and freedoms, and the stereotype of what a girl was supposed to be was so much more restrictive. I felt I was being pushed into a fancy little mold that just wasn’t me! Although I was painfully shy and obedient, I was also stubborn and determined, with more than a streak of the dreamer in me. I fancied myself an inventor and was constantly making contraptions: attempts at perpetual motion machines, bionic arms, periscopes, space ships, wings that would make me fly… Few of my creations ever worked and I never did truly invent anything, but I had a great time. I also had a wonderful recurring flying dream (I still have it occasionally) that led me to believe I could fly, and I spent much of my time jumping from trees and sand dunes, trying to do just that. I don’t think I gave up until I was eleven or twelve!
We lived on a small lake just a half mile through the woods to Lake Michigan and except for coming in to eat lunch or dinner, we spent our summers almost entirely outside, swimming, fishing, catching any little creature we could find, camping, climbing trees, picking wild mushrooms and berries, playing in our forts. My two best friends were my younger sister Marie and cousin Jack, and I played pretend games with them until an embarrassingly old age!
I found it a blessing that I was a late-bloomer physically as well, because I did not want to grow up—it would only make it more obvious that I was indeed a female! That part of growing up was hard for me, and I fought it as best I could until I finally accepted the undeniable. Playing basketball and other sports helped my confidence and let me carve out my own identity.
Our high school basketball coach got me absolutely hooked on basketball. I practiced for hours on end each day. It paid off for me and my teammates who did likewise, and we had fairy tale high school careers, going undefeated and winning state championships both my junior and senior years.
I went on to play basketball at Michigan State, where I studied to become a math and science teacher. Upon graduating, I married my husband Steve and got a job teaching high school math and coaching a varsity girls’ basketball team. A few years later, when our first daughter was born, I stopped working to be at home with her and pursue one of my many other dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up—a writer.
We've bopped around the country, from Iowa to Vermont and New Hampshire, to California, and finally to Virginia, where we've lived in Charlottesville for the past 16 years. We have three children, two girls and a boy, ages 26, 23, and 19.