Every morning at 4, "Amy Littlesugar" starts the day at her computer with a surge of adrenalin, picking up the thread of the children's stories she writes about such subjects as Native Americans, famous artists and an old rag doll.
By 8 a.m., the words on the computer screen disappear along with the Columbia writer's pseudonym and she becomes Amy Zuccarini, a 42-year-old wife and mother of three children, ages 16, 10 and 5, who needs to wake her family and begin their day.
"It's with great reluctance that I turn the computer off -- I'm no supermom," said the writer, who has sold six children's books in three years to four publishers -- Simon & Schuster, Grosset/Putnam and Pippin Press, all in New York City, and Chicago-based Albert Whitman & Co.
Three years ago, Mrs. Zuccarini -- who received her bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Maryland in 1975 -- wrote a children's story and read it aloud to a small group of unpublished writers.
"I wanted to write a book about autism," said Mrs. Zuccarini, whose 10-year-old son, Ethan, is autistic. "I wanted to let children know about disabilities, and I wanted my children to understand more about why we are blessed this way.
"I read it to the group, and all of them were sobbing," she said of the story, which was never published. "They told me, 'This is not a book for children.' "
After hearing a nonfiction author speak during a seminar for writers, Mrs. Zuccarini was inspired to write historical fiction for children.
"I thought I might as well write about what I like. I love antiques. . . . My husband and I have been collecting for many years. There are stories in each piece, and I want to tell them."
She adopted the pen name Littlesugar because that is what her surname means in Italian and because she felt the letter "L" was a little easier to find than "Z" on a bookshelf.
Mrs. Zuccarini's first published book was "The Spinner's Daughter," a fictional account of a Puritan child who receives a corn-husk doll from an Indian boy and, consequently, is forbidden to play with it.
After about 18 months of "blood, sweat, and tears," Mrs. Zuccarini sent the book to two publishing houses, including Pippin Press, which published it in June a year ago. A division of Bantam Doubleday Dell is negotiating a contract for book club rights that will introduce "The Spinner's Daughter" into paperback.
Her second book, "Josiah True and the Art Maker" -- the story of an itinerant female artist in 1817 who paints a young boy's portrait -- was sent to several publishers, all of whom sent a standard rejection slip with a personal note of encouragement.
Ultimately, Mrs. Zuccarini acquired an agent who offered to send the book to 10 publishers. The writer received a call on her birthday -- March 8, 1993 -- informing her that Simon & Schuster was sending her a $5,000 advance for the book.
The agent also looked at the writer's other projects, which
include fictional stories about such artists as French painter Edgar Degas and American painters George Catlin and Winslow Homer.
Mrs. Zuccarini said each book required months of research for historical accuracy.
Another book was inspired simply by looking around her home and noticing the rag doll passed down from her grandmother. "Rag Baby" is to be published in about two years by Simon &
The results were contracts for all of the writer's stories. She has a book scheduled to be published each year until 2000.
"I am so appreciative," Mrs. Zuccarini said. "I'm doing what I love."
The "adrenalin" still seemed to flow one recent day as Mrs. Zuccarini juggled a doctor's visit, a phone call from an editor and welcoming a French student who would stay in her home for two weeks.
The writer said she gets a lot of support from her husband, David, an artist who works out of his home studio.
"He has been very encouraging as my stories began to go like wildfire," Mrs. Zuccarini said .
All of her books have been illustrated by artists commissioned by the publishers, but Mrs. Zuccarini and her husband hope their crafts can be combined on a current project in which the couple share a "passionate" interest -- and a reluctance to talk about.
In the meantime, the writer is staying focused on her young readers, generally 5 to 8 years old.
"Children need to know more about our past," she said. "A lot of history can be dry. I'm constantly trying to think of an interesting story that might lure a child away from the television set."