I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the 20th of June. June 20th was also the birthday of my grandmother, Flora, and her twin sister, Florence, who was my great aunt. You can imagine the family celebrations when I was little! I loved sharing my special day with Nana and Aunt Florence, but I also remember wishing my birthday fell during the school year, so I could celebrate with my friends at Overlook Elementary School.
My father’s name was George J. Watts, Jr. He was a Philadelphia banker. He also was a great reader, and later in his life, he took up oil painting—just for fun—and even exhibited some of his art under the name of “Poppa George.” My mother, Ethel, stayed home to take care of our family, which consisted of my big brother, George III, and my baby sister, Kathleen, whom we all called Kathy. Everyone in my family loved to read-and Mother especially loved to write. Once we adopted a stray dog and my brother and I couldn't agree on a name for it. To settle the arguments, Mother organized a writing contest. We were to write poems about dogs, and whoever wrote the best poem could name the new dog. The contest was between George III, my mother, and me. Kathy, who was only two years old at the time, was too young to play. I guess my father was the judge, but I don't really remember. Anyway, my brother won, and he named the dog Topper. I wish I still had a copy of his poem. Even today, I remember it as being pretty good.
About this time, Mr. Wilson, my 6th grade teacher at Overlook, asked the class to spend some time writing poems. At first, I was worried about coming up with an idea. Then I remembered the snowman I had built the week before, who was now melting on my front lawn. I decided to write a poem about three snowmen who knew they would melt when spring arrived. Without telling me, Mr. Wilson entered A Tale of Woe in a contest and it won a prize and it was published. That was the first time I saw my name in print. It was a thrill to see “By Elaine Watts” in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city’s big newspaper, and for the first time, I wondered about becoming a writer when I grew up. But big changes were coming to my life, and I soon forgot about that little poem.
When I was eleven, a bank in Dallas, Texas wanted my father to come to work there. It was hard to leave Philadelphia and head for Texas, far away from Nana and Aunt Florence and those glorious birthday celebrations. All my Philadelphia friends thought I was moving to the land of stagecoaches and cowboys, and so did I. I remember buying a cap pistol right before we left, and I had a cowboy hat left over from some Halloween costume. I was ready. When we arrived I was a bit disappointed to find out that my father would drive his car to work, and the best chance I had of seeing a real cowboy would be at the Ft. Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo!
My family remained in Dallas (with frequent return visits to Philadelphia) and I finished high school and even went to college there at Southern Methodist University. While I was a student at SMU I met and married my husband, Parker. Eventually we had two daughters, Cindy and Susan. In 1971, our family moved to Houston, Texas, and when the girls were in elementary school, I began to think about writing again. At first, I wrote articles for adult magazines, but when I wrote my first children’s book, I stopped writing those articles. Writing for boys and girls was much more fun. Our daughters are grown now and no longer live in Houston. Parker and I have remained here since 1971—except for a period of time when we moved to Lagos, Nigeria in West Africa when the girls were both in college.
Throughout the years our family has welcomed an assortment of pets. There were guinea pigs, gerbils, and white mice, along with a parade of dogs and cats. The dogs' names were Puff, Delilah, and Moose and the cats were Sylvester, Ocho, Frances, Laverne, Shirley, and Troy. The last three cats, Laverne and Shirley and their stepbrother, Troy, live with us now. Troy once belonged to our daughter, Cindy, but she asked us to help take care of him, since she has to travel a lot in her job. I tell her she has lost custody of Troy now.
Someone once asked me to name the five books that most influenced my life. That was a real challenge! My earliest memories are caught up with sitting on my mother's lap and listening to her read aloud from Robert Louis Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses. I particularly liked "The Lamplighter" and "The Swing." By the time I was four, I could read for myself. I read easy books at first, but soon loved Grimm's Fairy Tales and the Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle. I also loved biographies, mysteries like the Nancy Drew series, and perhaps my all-time favorites as a child (and even as an adult), Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. My childhood copies of each of those titles sit on the mantel of the fireplace in my study. As a child, I also read Bible stories. As an adult I still read the Bible, because I find that the stories within its pages still teach me everything I ever needed to know about living life with joy and satisfaction.
Parker and I love to travel, visit our friends, read good books, eat any kind of seafood (preferably by the sea), attend our church, and be with our family. I am constantly grateful that there were people in my life who taught me the joy of reading, writing, studying, thinking, sharing, and celebrating the goodness of life. I am also grateful for all of you who read my books. A writer needs a reader, and I need you. -Elaine Scott