Born in 1936 in Morristown, New Jersey, Sandra Scoppettone grew up in the New Jersey suburb of South Orange and attended Columbia High School, Maplewood. This experience directly and indirectly informs much of her writing for young adults. In addition, she has lived subsequently on Long Island and in New York City. After graduating from Columbia in 1954, Scoppettone began a career as a writer in New York. Initially she saw herself as a novelist and wrote a number of novels that were not published. Then in the 1960s she turned to drama and had play and television scripts performed off Broadway and on the television networks. Her career as a novelist resumed in the early 1970s when she used an experience directing teenagers in summer theater for her first young adult novel. From the late 1980s she has concentrated on the adult detective novel, publishing under own name and the pen name "Jack Early."
Unlike Playing Murder, which is a straightforward mystery novel involving heterosexual romance and sleuthing, much of her previous writing for young adults has aroused controversy because of its subject matter. Her first young adult novel Trying Hard to Hear You (1974) is based on her directing experience. It relates the effects of a homosexual relationship upon a group of teen-agers working on a summer musical production. Happy Endings Are All Alike (1978) recounts a lesbian relationship between teenagers and the crisis its discovery causes in their lives and those of their families. The Late Great Me (1976) focuses on a teen-age girl's experience with alcoholism, and its traumatic effect on her, her friends, and her family.
Many critics have praised Scoppettone's candor while others have protested the graphic descriptions and occasional violence. Scoppettone herself makes no apologies because she herself is a "recovered alcoholic" and "a lesbian who has lived with the writer Linda Crawford for twenty years." Thus, she writes "about important issues in my own life or in the lives of people I've known."