I was raised on literary fiction--the clear, beautiful language of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Antoine St. Exupery, Jane Austen, Mervyn Peake--and I'm still and forever enamored of the power of great prose techniques to make the page vanish and the fictional world rise up around the reader in three dimensions.
I was introduced to mysteries young through Agatha Christie, as they were the only books in the library of a small 1930s passenger ship on which my family crossed the Atlantic when I was twelve years old. I love the intellectual challenge of mysteries, the marvelous weaving of red herrings and clues, the ultimate surprise yet inevitability of how each story can end in only one way.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I don't use an e-reader. I'm old-fashioned. I read mostly second-hand (often out-of-print) mysteries of the early twentieth century. I love the quality of the storytelling and the marvelous smell of old pages.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word-of-mouth. When someone loves your book--really loves it--and tells all their friends about it, that's a little grassroots community of kindness that springs up spontaneously around your work. I am so extraordinarily grateful to readers who share their enthusiasm. They are the heart of everything I do.
Describe your desk
I love my desk. My husband made it for me. He built it originally to fit my office at our old house--8.5 x 11 feet, the proportions of a sheet of paper--but when we moved I had it disassembled and brought to our new house, where we lifted it piece-by-piece through a 3 x 3-foot hole into my office under our attic eaves. It's gold-colored oak and U-shaped and sits under windows that look out into the redwood forest on three sides. It has a very small inlaid heart in one corner.
You can see it on my blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn. My cat likes to sleep on it.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
When I was a child, my parents joined Peace Corps and took us to live in a remote Ecuadorian hacienda with no plumbing or electricity. The farmers plowed their fields with oxen while we played under a sky surrounded around the edges by massive white-capped mountain peaks. In the evenings we read by candlelight. It was incredibly peaceful. I read and wrote stories and poetry constantly, in a sort of dream world from another era.
Then we traveled throughout South America and Europe in a Land Rover for almost a year. There were six of us. It was very crowded. So reading became my escape.
Before we'd left the US, my mother had gone to a bookstore and said, "I have four children who will be isolated for three years, and this is how much money I have to spend. Tell me what to buy." She'd put the books into a trunk in two layers: one for the first year and one for the second. We read the early books in each series over and over again as we waited for the year to end so that we could get at that second layer.
It taught me to savor fiction, to study it, to yearn for it. And it taught me to memorize my favorite lines, to hypnotize myself with the joy of perfect language.
When did you first start writing?
Like most writers, I began young. I didn't know what I was doing or really why. I would sit down, and words would come out of me.
Later as a teenager, I typed stories, novels, poetry, and fragments of fiction on a gigantic high-back Royal typewriter with keys you had to hit with a sledgehammer. I became very fast. And very loud.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I could tell you, but it would soon no longer be my latest book. Right now I have six novels, four books of poetry, and two story collections in my desk drawers. I'm starting another novel and possibly another story collection.
I'm also still writing books for my series on the Art & Craft of Writing: Art & Craft of Writing Fiction: 1st Practitioner's Manual and Art & Craft of Writing Stories: 2nd Practitioner's Manual. (We're republishing these two with slightly different titles to incorporate the word 'writing,' so if you've already bought them they are not changing.) Soon I intend to have the last in that trilogy, the Art & Craft of Writing Prose: 3rd Practitioner's Manual. I also have two shorter books of my best blog posts on fiction. And I have any number of books planned on the Art & Craft of Writing the individual genres.
I write all the time.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wanted my own covers and interior design. And I'm lazy. I could have queried agents and publishers with my books on the Art & Craft of Writing. But it would have taken forever, and I'd have had to cope with a lot of rejections. It was quicker and easier to just publish them myself.
Then last week--April 2015--I met Michael Larsen of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency to talk about teaching fiction through the San Francisco Writers Conference. He strongly urged me to send my books to Writer's Digest, which publishes his own book on book proposals. When I waffled, he even offered to act as my agent. I don't know if I'll do it. I might give them one of my books and see what happens Or I might not.
Self-publishing is such an amazing gift to those of us who have spent the last few decades struggling with the changing publishing industry. It's brought the fun back to being a author.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Oh, what isn't?
I love the Brainstorming Phase, in which you spend hours scribbling all over your notebooks exploring possibilities. And I love the Blithering Phase, in which you sit down and let the words pour through your fingers onto the page. And I love the Revision Phase, in which you take your material in both hands and work with it, analyze it, learn from it, and eventually polish it until you've created something that even you are moved by--in spite of the Self-Loathing Phase!--without knowing how or why.
It's all magic, the magic of the written word.
What do your fans mean to you?
I began teaching fiction and storytelling because it is my great love, and it makes sense to do what you love. But I was not at all prepared for the utter joy of meeting aspiring writers who love it as much as I do. Now I can't approach a reader or a manuscript or a book without profound gratitude for the writer's own passion for this work we both love. My world is vastly enriched by the friends I have made among my clients and the readers who write to me about my books. Exponentially enriched. Cosmologically enriched.
This is our world, and this is our love, and this is our life: storytelling. It just doesn't get any better.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
With my family.
I have a brilliant, hilarious, charismatic son who makes every day a delight. I have a husband who fills my life with his intelligence and humor and compassion and love. We are all very close. Whether we're traveling together, or off working on our different projects around the house, or just making each other laugh over the dinner table, I never forget that I could--if I had to--live happily without fiction, but I don't think I could live happily without them.
My life is our life. We are just so incredibly blessed to have each other.
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