Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in eastern Oregon (or Eastern Oregon, as we usually wrote it), right on the Idaho border, in what is called the Treasure Valley, down the interstate from Boise, Idaho. It's a semi-arid country, dependent on irrigation. It was fairly late getting settled, with not much until after the reservoirs were built. The area has quite a few families of Japanese ancestry, some of whom were put in internment camps during WWII. There are also many people who came from Mexico. When I was a child, most of those were migrant workers, but by the time I graduated from high school, we had a large Hispanic population who had settled there.
Some of my books are set more or less in the area I grew up. And some are my attempt to address the racism that some of my friends experienced, for being Japanese or Hispanic.
We moved a couple of times when I was a child, but most of my growing up years were lived on a small farm just outside of town. I had a pony and then a horse. Almost Hopeless Horse had some beginnings with a horse I owned, who just loved to get involved with what people were doing, and sometimes got in the way.
When did you first start writing?
After college, I became a newspaper reporter and columnist, thanks to my college advisor, who lined up the job for me. I hadn't thought to do anything of the sort. I spent about ten years doing that, and for all I know I'd still be doing that, except I got married and my job as a reporter meant I wasn't getting enough time with my husband to suit either one of us.
The newspaper job was both a blessing and a problem when I decided to try to write fiction. It was a blessing because it had exposed me to so many perspectives and people and situations that I hadn't known about, and also because it just got me used to writing whether I felt like it or not. On the downside, if you want a laugh, at first, I could not bring myself to write things within quotation marks that weren't actual quotes. Seriously. I tried to write fiction with no dialog in it, because it was ingrained in me to be very, very precise about anything that was put inside quotation marks. (Some of the other reporters, alas, weren't as careful about quoting people, but I probably fell off the horse in the other direction. Oh, well. I thought people deserved to be represented fairly, and that's one way that manifested itself.)
I started writing books after I was married, when my husband, who had been a fan of my newspaper columns, suggested that I write books.