Betsy Uhrig is the author of Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini and Welcome to Dweeb Club. She was born and raised in Greater Boston, where she lives now with her family and even more books than you are picturing. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in English and has worked in publishing ever since, mainly as a copy editor. She has also worked as a bookseller and an ice-cream scooper. She writes books for children instead of doing things that aren’t as fun.
Unofficial Biographical Information
Here are some possibly interesting things about me that wouldn’t fit in the official version above.
When I was very small, I thought that all cats were female and all dogs were male. This was based on the limited pet samples I had available at the time.
When I was a bit older, I believed in magic. Firmly. If a fairy had flitted onto my nose and told me I was needed in the Brambly Forest to help fight off an invasion of Tree Trolls, my response would have been simple: “My bag’s packed. Let’s go.”
I have always disliked cheese. Intensely. When we were about twelve, my best friend, who of course knew this, unwrapped a block of cheese and rubbed it on the arm of my sweater just to annoy me. The sweater was a ribbed knit, which made it so much worse.
I have had the same best friend, Lisa, since I was ten. The day we met, I accidentally punched her in the nose and made it bleed. About a year later, I claimed that there was no way her nose could have bled during this incident. So we reenacted it, and I made her nose bleed again. Yes, I have punched my best friend in the nose and made it bleed twice. This might help explain the cheese-sweater incident.
There was a time when I was a teenager that I worked at both the bookstore and the ice-cream shop on the same street in my town. A person could buy a book from me in the morning and an ice-cream cone from me that night. Customers at the bookstore approached one at a time, like civilized people, but the ice-cream customers resembled ravenous zombie hordes massing against the ice-cream counter. One night I was so cranky scooping brains ice cream for the demanding zombies customers that one of them called me “Happy Face” sarcastically. People who shopped at both places must have thought the nice young lady from the bookstore had an evil twin working at the ice-cream shop.
My known weaknesses, besides cheese aversion, include getting water up my nose really easily, a fear of sudden loud noises, and being unable to cross my eyes. My known strengths include highly legible printing, a great brownie recipe, and weirdly strong fingernails. Those Brambly Forest Tree Trolls don’t stand a chance.
An actual pile of books in my home. These belong to my husband, who sells books professionally, so they aren’t necessarily here to stay. Mine are tidily lined up on shelves, except for the ones piled on the floor next to the bed. And the ones under the desk. And the ones over there. If you ever visit my home, you will be asked to take some books with you when you leave. It would be rude to refuse.
Here is a picture of me when I was in fifth grade. These drab colors—almost actual camouflage—were typical of my outfits at the time. I tended to want to blend in, although, since I didn’t live in the jungle, I’m not sure these were the best color choices. My tastes haven’t changed much (clothing pun!) since then. I still consider a navy turtleneck flamboyant.
Some Early Writing Samples
I was lucky enough to attend elementary school during a time when kids were allowed to work on their own a lot, and learn by doing, and (if I’m any example) not learn math at all. So I spent a lot of time writing. Here are two stories from two different handwriting periods in my life. Note that both of them have the word scary in the title. (Technically one of them is scarry, but I meant scary.) The two stories aren’t related—in fact, one seems to be about me and the other about a groundhog. But both characters are having a scary (scarry) time of it. I guess I instinctively knew even then that a little danger can liven up any story.
Click photos to see enlarged.
All-Important Pet Section
I have two cats, brother and sister named Max and Ruby (after the Rosemary Wells characters). Here are some pictures of them being absurdly cute, which is their full-time occupation.
Click photos to see enlarged.
Max with Max
Ruby with Ruby
Ruby loves books
Max has a more complicated relationship with the written word
Here are some questions that no one has ever asked me, but maybe they’re just shy. (Click on a question to see the answer!)
I will read almost any novel with (A) a map, (B) a family tree, and/or (C) time travel. I also like reading about books and librarians. So if you hand me a book about a time-traveling librarian and there’s a family tree with the librarian’s ancestors and a map of the library, I will be all in.
By the way, I didn’t know this when I was a kid, and I wish I had: If you have a particular interest in books about, say, talking waffles who move to Hollywood and are only offered parts as breakfast foods but overcome the odds to win an Oscar as Joan of Arc, you can tell a bookseller or librarian and they can suggest titles for you. (I think you’re out of luck in the specific case above, but it never hurts to ask!)
I hope this won’t come as a surprise to those who know me, but I am a huge worrier. I have a tendency to imagine horrible results from almost any minor event. I could eat a slightly squishy grape and imagine that I am about to get Squishy-Grape Poisoning and end up in a hospital bed, surrounded by my loved ones, who look concerned but are actually thinking, “Why would she have eaten that squishy grape?”
So I decided I should send my overactive imagination outside for some fresh air instead of letting it fill my mind with worries all day. And writing books seemed like a productive use of its energy.
I made up the Gerald books. They don’t exist beyond the little plot descriptions in Double the Danger. But if you want to write a Gerald book or story, feel free! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Well, this is awkward. I wasn’t aware that zucchini read books, so what a surprise to hear from you! To answer your question: I have nothing against zucchini—in moderation. But sometimes you guys can come on a little strong, especially in late summer. Anyway, I picked zucchini because—and I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise—many kids don’t like it. On their plates, at least. In their books is another matter, and every kid will have to decide that individually. Thanks for writing!
I’ve gotten a few nasty papercuts, but other than that, books have been very kind to me. One time, though, a book almost ripped my tongue out. This was my fault, not the book’s.
It was early elementary school, and my class was sitting in a circle, taking turns reading from a thick hardcover book of stories about some bland kids and their pets. We each had our own copy. It looked like it was going to be a while before my turn to read came up, so I started fiddling with my book. And you know how sometimes you forget that you’re in public and just do whatever crosses your mind? It occurred to me to stick my tongue in the book, like a bookmark, and then close it. So I did.
If you’re thinking this is no big deal, try it sometime. Once I’d closed the book, I couldn’t find the page where my tongue was. The book was heavy, so it was kind of pulling on my tongue. And now my turn to read was in sight, and I started to get increasingly frantic. I scrabbled through the pages desperately, and then, even more desperately, I tried to just yank my tongue out of the book. Never do this! It felt like I was going to rip my tongue out of my head. Then, before I was called on to read, I figured out that I would have to go in from the top—wedge my finger in right beside my tongue and pry the pages apart. This worked, which is why I still have a tongue.
PS: Many years later, when I was a full-grown adult, I questioned my memory of this incident. So I put my tongue in a book again! That time I learned my lesson for good.
Worse. It’s me. And even worse than that, I didn’t do it to myself. I did it to my younger sister. I’m still ashamed. Not of the bangs, which weren’t that bad at first. But of my panicked attempt to remove the evidence by cutting them all the way off. The cover-up is always worse than the crime!
If you’re interested, here’s what happened in more detail.
Our family went on vacation for a week one summer, and my sister and I decided it would be fun if, when we returned, we pretended to our friends across the street that we were a different family. Don’t overthink it—we certainly didn’t. So we needed a disguise for my sister. (I guess I thought my new vacation freckles were enough for me.) And that disguise involved giving her bangs. Which makes no sense, I know, except what about Superman? People don’t recognize him with just a pair of glasses. So maybe don’t judge.
I remember standing in our parents’ bedroom in front of the big mirror, wielding the Haircutting Scissors. I remember cutting my sister’s hair. I don’t think there was an actual stated rule against cutting our own hair. There didn’t need to be. It was just obvious that neither of us had clearance to be using the Haircutting Scissors on ourselves. Even cutting our dolls’ hair, which we did a lot (our bride doll had a crewcut, though she had the cheekbones for it), was frowned upon. So now I was going to be IN TROUBLE.
In that moment of panic, I made a snap decision. I decided that if I cut the bangs all the way off, no one would be able to tell what I had done. If you’re keeping count, this was the third bad decision in a rapid succession of them. Of course anyone could tell what I’d done. My sister wound up with a row of stubble across her forehead instead of some uneven but rescuable bangs.
Let’s just spare a thought for my sister here. School hadn’t started yet, so she had to begin a whole new year with the world’s weirdest haircut. I don’t remember much about the parental fallout, except that yes, I did get IN TROUBLE, more than my sister—the victim in my parents’ eyes—did. But when the bangs grew out a bit, they were actually pretty cute.
The idea for this book came from the past, actually.
I was writing a completely different book that was set at fictional Flounder Bay Upper School and included a guitar-playing girl named Lara. It also involved lots of time travel, the back-and-forth kind that I’m pretty sure only advanced physicists can write about without turning their brains into mush. I am not an advanced physicist, so the book got out of hand early on, and my brain got very mushy. I put it (the book, not my brain) aside, thinking I might come back to it later, when my brain had solidified a bit.
This never happened. Then, one day as I was cleaning up my computer files, I accidentally deleted the file for that book. Not the partial kind of deletion where you can still find it in the trash. The permanent kind where you have to be an advanced computer scientist to get it back. I am not an advanced computer scientist, so it was gone. And I wasn’t very upset about it, which is a good indication that I was never going to get back to working on it anyway.
Instead, I started a new book set at Flounder Bay Upper School where the time-travel element only went one way – the characters could peek at the future, but nothing they did could change what they saw. Although it would change their actual futures. So it’s still complicated! But not advanced-physicist complicated.
And that’s the story of how Welcome to Dweeb Club rose like a bedraggled phoenix from the ashes of a book I gave up on and then accidentally deleted. There are many morals to this story, and you are welcome to any of them that work for you.
You’ll be relieved to know that Alice is not based on a real person. I’ve never met anyone like Alice, and I hope you never do either. Alice sprang from some deep, dark part of my imagination, ready to attack as soon as she landed on the page. Poor Jason.
First, I would caution her against that haircut. She knows the one I’m talking about. At least until she has better control over her blow-dryer.
Second, I would advise against the shirt with the little lambs and the words “Lambie-Pie” printed all over it. I would tell her that Karen K. is going to call her Lambie-Pie well into high school, and cute as she might think that shirt is, it isn’t worth the aggravation.
Third, I would tell her that her cool, confident classmates are way less cool and confident than they appear. Everyone is a swirling mass of insecurities and self-doubt in seventh grade; they just have different ways of showing it. And some are better than others at not showing it. So she should stop worrying about the opinions of people she will literally never see again after high school and concentrate on her blow-dryer skills. Also on math.
I’m sorry to say I have never driven a golf cart, so I haven’t gotten to yell or even try to accomplish “Evasive maneuvers!” in one.
The fact is, I’ve only been on a golf course once. My family was on vacation, and my parents and my older brother wanted to play a round of golf. My parents had nowhere to stash my younger sister and me, so we were dragged along on the golf outing. As it turned out, I was coming down with a bad case of swimmer’s ear at the time, and I was grumpy, to put it mildly. At one point I remember lying down on a putting green. This is frowned upon in golf, I learned. Putting greens aren’t as soft as they look, by the way. In case you were curious.
That was the first and last time I was invited onto a golf course. And now that I’vemade my desire to careen across one in an out-of-control golf cart public, I doubt very much another invitation is in my future.