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Tuesday, October 10, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Zoa Sherburne, Children's Author

One career is enough for most people. A few individuals can handle two careers for a short time.

For Zoa Sherburne, two was barely enough. After establishing herself as a successful author of novels for teenage girls while raising eight children, much of it as a single parent, Mrs. Sherburne went off to Western Washington University.

She had to clear a couple of hurdles first, though. At age 65, Mrs. Sherburne completed work for a general education development certificate.

Then "she learned to drive and bought herself a little car so she could get up there to Bellingham," recalls a daughter, Marie Brumble.

Mrs. Sherburne, 83, died Thursday of a heart attack.

Born in Seattle and reared in Ballard, she began writing while attending Whittier Elementary School and in early 1940 had progressed to the point that the weekly Ballard Tribune newspaper published a column of what she called light verse under the headline "The Gremlin's Say."

Then Mrs. Sherburne entered a radio program's limerick-writing contest and won a $250 first prize that was invested in a short-story-writing course. Over the next 15 years she had more than 300 short stories published in Women's Day, Seventeen, Collier's and other magazines.

"Then television began cutting into the magazines and her agent suggested she start writing books. She said she was afraid of having to use all those words," Brumble said.

But the love of writing took over - after the older children were sent off to school and the younger ones put down for naps.

The first of 13 full-length novels followed. "Verse flowed out of her like blood. We tried to get her to use a computer but she never would. She never learned to type. She said she was beyond that and that she composed as she typed. She . . . said she could hear the central character whispering in her ear," Brumble remembers.

All of Mrs. Sherburne's stories and novels dealt with young girls in some kind of crisis, "some kind of problem. One of them was about a girl whose mother was an alcoholic." That book, "Jennifer," eventually won an award from the Child Study Association of America.

Originally it was turned down by a publisher who said they could not publish anything like that. "Two years later they called Mom and asked, `Do you still have that book sitting around.' " Her books have been translated into 27 languages.

Another, "Stranger In The House," became a made-for-television movie starring Lindsay Wagner.

All this time she was a den mother for her four sons' Cub Scout packs and a Girl Scout leader, Brumble said. For much of that time she was a single parent because her husband of 30 years, Herbert, died when the younger children were small. Mrs. Sherburne did not remarry.

Other survivors include a sister, Mary Jo Sperduti, Alexandria, Va.; daughters Zoa Lynch, Seattle; Norene Perdue, Sequim, Clallam County, and Anne Sandberg, Moses Lake; and sons Thomas, Tacoma; Herbert, Seattle, and Philip, Auburn. Another son, Robert, died in 1986.

A funeral mass will be at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at St. Benedict Catholic Church, 1700 N. 49th St. The family suggests that remembrances be donated to the Tumor Institute at Swedish Hospital, P.O. Box 14999, Seattle, WA 98114.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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