Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
In a sense, I have never not written. There was a time in my life when I was a practicing attorney, which required an incredible amount of writing. I worked for a time for a nonprofit doing technical writing, and later, I owned a small business and was responsible for all of the written policies, procedures and other such communications required either by law or simply to make things run smoothly. With these types of writing, I developed excellent language skills, but it was not until I was in my sixties that I began seriously to explore “creative writing.”
What makes writing your passion?
The pure joy of self-expression.
How long have you been writing?
I began to write memoir, personal essays and fiction in about 2010, but not consistently.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Pure, unadulterated fear mostly, but also some pride and gratitude at having accomplished the task of writing a novel and learning so much in the process.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
As far as the characters in my novel go, I don’t feel like I chose them. It would be more accurate to say they chose me.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Because I am in my eighties and career pursuits are behind me now, I don’t view writing as a career. But what annoys me can be summed up in one word: marketing.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
Writer’s block in my experience is trying to write something I don’t really want to be writing. Sometimes I get into writing a piece and then realize there is no substance to it, or I dislike it for other reasons. If I force myself to continue instead of moving on to another project, well, that’s going to produce writer’s block.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Keep going under all circumstances, as Natalie Goldberg says. And another word of sage advice from Goldberg: Be willing to write the worst sh*t ever. In other words, moderate your expectations and don’t stop. Do I always live up to these principles? Not a chance.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
I would have talked myself out of become a registered nurse when I went to college. I would have studied the literary arts instead and not succumbed to the idea that one must be “practical.” “Go on,” I would have said. “Do it. See what you’ve got.” (My parents would have had a fit; they weren't that excited about me going to college in the first place.)
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Yes, I read all of the book reviews. I have been fortunate in that regard, and I so appreciate folks who take the time to post reviews. Early on, I got one editorial review that seemed to be a bit over the top on the “snark” scale, so I didn’t use it. If I ever were to get a review in the NYT, though, maybe I would not have the courage to read it!
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
I like it, of course. Usually, I feel pleased that the reviewer has gotten the message I was trying to convey. I particularly like reviews that comment on the strength of my character development.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Yes, and I will leave it at that.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
In my book, Somewhere Different Now, 14-year-old Annie is loosely based on me, and she’s the character with whom I most identify.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
Yes and no. The conventional wisdom in the publishing world is that since the cover presents readers with their first impression of the book, it is rightfully very important. This seems right to me, just from my own experience as a reader. On the other hand, no cover can compensate for a poorly executed product inside.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I have not been very successful connecting with a young adult audience. This is something I am struggling with.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
I am not a public figure by any means and glad of it. Praise tends to overwhelm me. Oddly enough, I tend to take criticism much better.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
I do not have only one favorite author. I just read the most wonderful book by Tony Morrison called Home, published in 2012. She is definitely at the top of my list, but so are others: Elizabeth Stout, Anne Lamott, several mystery writers, including Craig Johnson, who wrote the Longmire series. Nonfiction authors, too, such as Elizabeth Williamson and her absolutely wonderful book about Sandy Hook. I think my tastes are more genre-driven than author-driven.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
Get a solid foothold into readership for my current book, and write one more book before I check out. In that book, the main character will be an older woman.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
I would rewrite the memoir I wrote and published for friends and family in 2015.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
There is no point saying anything to the trolls. It won’t change them or what there are about. I do, however, support and reassure authors who have been targeted online in this way and are clearly hurt by that. Also post counter-reviews.
What would you say to your readers?
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I am the mother of three grown daughters, two by birth, one adopted. I was born in Wyoming and spend many summers with my grandparents at their remote cabin in the wilderness of that state, although my nuclear family moved to Colorado when I was three. As an adult, I lived in Florida for ten years but have spent most of my adult life living in northern California, first in the Bay Area and now in the Sierra foothills. I live alone, but love having a companionable dog to get me out of the house. I am a certified end-of-life doula, less active in that realm as I once was.
What is your day job if you have one?
My only day job now is trying to keep body and soul together.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I am a long-time meditator, spiritual seeker and life-long learner. I have a collection of Native American-style flutes and study with Christine Stevens online through the Shift Network. I would say that writing is also hobby, since I don’t view it as a job or career path.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Wanting to remember. Not wanting to remember.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
Yes, I do. I ghost wrote a dissertation for a friend who was working on a Ph.D. in psychology. Same with a book about a 1,000-mile bicycle trip my daughter and son-in-law took in 1998. I wrote a memoir focused on the suicide of a family member and published it for family and friends only. I am now working on completing a memoir for a close friend who died recently. Before his death, he commissioned me to finish it up for him. Like my own memoir, it will be published for his family and friends.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
We lack vision. Clearly, we have not achieved equality in educational opportunity, since the quality of education seems to be dependent upon the socioeconomic population a particular school is serving. I think the focus of education weighs too heavily on test scores in certain subject areas. More emphasis should be placed on civics and cultivating an understanding of the importance of history to prepare the next generation of young people to become responsible citizens of this very complex world we are now living in. Subjects that foster creativity and critical thinking (i.e., art, music, ethics, philosophy) are also being curtailed or eliminated from many unavailable in some school systems, and this further limits the horizons of young people. Book banning and similar tactics being used to inculcate certain ideas to the exclusion of others should absolutely STOP. Government interference with academic freedom and free speech in universities should absolutely STOP. There should be a greater range of alternative educational paths in technical and blue-collar occupations that promise a living wage for those who do not go to college.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
Equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities for all.
A society in which the rights of the many are not delivered at the hands of the few, including, but not limited to, a woman’s absolute right of self-determination where reproduction is concerned.
A robust, full-on commitment worldwide to addressing the climate crisis with all of the necessary resources brought to bear.
What is your favorite music?
Folk music, and, of course, Native American flute music.
Share a secret with us 🙂
I am estranged from my oldest daughter, and I can’t seem to do anything to change it. It is the greatest sadness of my life.