author q and a

festivalQ: What do you love most about writing?
A: I love eating popcorn at my desk, being able to ask anyone anything in the guise of research, and justifying daydreaming, even at the beach, as part of the creative process. And I love to be struck by random inspiration – as long as I have a notepad handy.

Q: What inspires you the most as a writer?
A: When I feel passionate in some way, either by happiness or anger or fear, I get the urge to speak up or to imagine the ‘what-if’ instead of going there in real life. I have a vivid imagination for the worst possible outcome in most situations, so I try to explore the what-if’s on the page. When my characters learn to appreciate what really matters, it helps me do that too. Life is so unpredictable that I like the control of creating a happy ending. 

Q: Do you have a favorite book or short story?
A: I was a bit of a bookworm in elementary school and fell in love with Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. I identified with misfit Meg and loved how she met all these eccentric witches and rode a unicorn with a cute boy to a dark planet to fight the evil forces of “It.” “It” was a brain that regulated life with a rhythm, right down to the kids bouncing balls on the street. I embarrassed both of my daughters when I read it to their elementary school classes, because I always sob when Meg breaks the spell of evil by crying out to her trapped little brother, “I Love You, Charles Wallace!” I still get goose bumps when I imagine that moment, and the power of her love.

My favorite short story is Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day,” which I read in middle school. It was only a few pages long, about how a girl from a sunny planet moves to Venus, where the children have only lived in rain. On the only day in years when there will be a few minutes of sunshine, they lock her in her locker as a prank – but forget about her. There is something magical and tragic about the silence when they remember and let her out. This really stuck in my memory for its subtle brilliance and the heavy emotion conveyed in such a short space. I have never been a short story writer, though -- went right from poetry to essays and nonfiction to screenplays to novels.

Q:  When do you know the story is finished?
A: I usually know how the story will end when I begin. But there are so many ways to get there, so many words and pieces of the puzzle to play with, that it’s never really finished until it’s in print and I can’t mess with it anymore. The more books I write, the slower I am, because I know so much more about how to make it better.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
A: Read! And when you are watching TV or a movie, think about it in story terms. How was it written? How would you have written it differently?

Q: What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting your writing career?
A: That it’s hard to make a living this way. You have to really enjoy the process. Fortunately, I do – I love playing with words and creating an entire world in my head. Also, the best part of being a writer is that you can work anytime. Unfortunately, that’s also the worst thing about being a writer. ‘Tgif’ has very little meaning.

Q: Did you always want to be a writer, or did you start off in a different career?
A: I always wrote, even published poems and essays when I was very young, but just for fun. I loved getting lost in the movies – so I wanted a career in the film business. I ran my high school TV station in Ohio, went to film school at USC, then worked in production until I realized the story was more important to me than the number of cameras we needed. I always had a half-written script in the drawer when I was on staff, then when I went freelance, I always wrote between projects. Having children with little access to decent daycare gave me the excuse to focus on writing full time. It also gave me something to write about.

Q: What are your favorite genres to read?
A: I love fiction written by women, because I like to hear kindred voices and emotional truths and see other points of view amidst all of our other challenges. It makes me feel less alone. It also makes me angry that we are often separated from mainstream fiction with labels like women’s fiction and chicklit, when men covering family drama are viewed as literary. I wish I started out by using my initials, just to see….

Q: How would you describe your writing style in one word?
A: True.

Q: What is the most challenging part of being a writer?
A: Getting the things in my head onto the page in a way that others understand exactly what I mean. Usually my women protagonists have an attitude or behave badly and are flawed, but are good people and their actions are justified. Yet they tend to come off as unlikable or bitchy so I’m often asked to add in friendly details. Then I worry they might sound boring. I want my fictional characters to say what I wouldn’t dare say and do what I wouldn’t dare do. But they need to be likable to readers who don’t know them as well as I do.