I'm a very habitual person— if I make an activity a habit I can be very dedicated to it, but if I leave it to chance I never seem to get around to doing it. So I've had to make writing a habit. I write every weekday morning for at least two hours. The very first thing I do is open a new document and free write for ten minutes, without editing and without stopping. I always choose to free write about a character in my current project (i.e., the manuscript I'm working on), in order to stay focused on that story. Then I open the draft of my manuscript proper and get to work. Often I find there is something in the free write I can use either that day or another day. This helps me avoid writer's block!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I wrote a story about a group of kids who find a secret tunnel in their school. Where did the tunnel lead to? I don't remember. I read it to my father, who praised my use of dialogue.
How do you approach cover design?
I am visually challenged, so I hired a fabulous designer, Kit Foster, to design the cover of Thieving Forest.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Wow, this is hard. I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay because of its depth and the absolute pleasure I had reading it. I love Jane Austen, natch, for her humor. I love Patrick O'Brien's seafaring adventures because I can lose myself completely when reading them. I thought Ann Patchett's State of Wonder should have won many prizes. As for historical fiction, I love Tracy Chevalier, Geraldine Brooks, Andrea Barrett, E.L. Doctorow, and Margaret Foster. Jeffrey Eugenides is a master. I also loved Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven and The All True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton.
Okay, this is all about books, but what's your favorite movie?
I'd have to say Lord of the Rings. I've also watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice several times over—perfect if you're laid up in bed with a cold.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Describe your desk
Center stage: Laptop. Behind that, a lovely woodcut of my cover image, which the artist John Steins gave me. On the desk itself I have two index card containers with notes on 4x6 index cards ("Daily Life" "Steamboats" "Flatboats" "Theatre" "Acting" "Sewing" "Ohio River" etc.) and a mug of (now cold) coffee. My iPad. A notebook and several loose notecards (whatever I'm using that day). Six or seven reference books between heavy bookends. Various post-it notes, pencils, pens, and random pieces of paper I should really file. It's a mess!
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Ohio, and my latest book, THIEVING FOREST, takes place in Ohio in the early nineteenth century. When I first conceived of writing this story, I knew I wanted it to be a quest story and I knew I wanted to have a female heroine and I knew I wanted to set it sometime in the past. At first I thought it might involve an early (pioneer) journey to Oregon, but when I did some research I discovered something called The Great Black Swamp in northeast Ohio. The swamp is pretty much all drained now, but it once was the size of Connecticut. I was surprised because I was from Ohio and I'd never heard of it! It seemed like a fantastic place for a character to get lost in.
When did you first start writing?
I started off writing on the walls of our house growing up. I don't know why, but writing on wallpaper thrilled me, even though I got in lots of trouble for it.
The last time I wrote on a wall I was probably about seven. I wrote "Missie wrote this." That was my sister. But my parents weren't fooled. My mother gave me a notebook and I began writing poems and sketches for stories.
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