Saturday, October 30, 2010

Yahia Lababidi talks about Trial by Ink

I happen to love essays, and Yahia Lababidi's Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly Dancing, is a dazzling collection. Lababidi is the author of Signposts to Elsewhere, which was selected for Books of the Year in 2008 by The Independent. He's also been published in AGNI, Cimarron Review, World Literature Today, and several anthologies. Thank you, Yahia, for answering my pesky questions.

What made you write this particular book?

Trial by Ink was composed over a seven year period, so my reasons for writing changed over the years. At times, I just needed to get something off my chest, to unburden myself. Other pieces were me thinking through a subject to try and better understand it, or even discover how I truly felt about it. But, generally speaking, I'd like to think I wrote this book to communicate my enthusiasms, the things I care about in literature and culture, in the hopes that others would, too.

How does being Arab-American inform your work?

Well, a third of this book concerns itself directly with the Middle East and its contradictions bristling side by side: sex and celibacy, superstition and tradition, etc… I do think Art can be a form of cultural diplomacy, and would like to think that a more careful examination of another culture, from an insider’s point of view, might lead to a more sympathetic understanding of it.

Having made the US my home lately, I find that I am more engaged now with teasing out the truths and contradictions embedded within American culture and trying to inspect the national character at closer range. But, what informs my work most I believe are the books I’ve read, and most of those are neither Arab nor American, but more likely European (in English translation).

Your subjects in this collection of essays range from Michael Jackson to Ramadan TV, and it's been said that you entice the reader, who might prefer not to be here, but is persuaded otherwise by you. How do you think you do such alchemy?

Not quite for me to say… even I knew;) But, I’m certainly happy to hear it! I can say that if one is implicated in the story they are investigating, the reader picks up on that sense of involvement and discovery. In a sense, the essays in this book are all personal trials; whether I happen to be writing about pop culture or spirituality, I feel an intimacy for the subject matter and suspect I stand to learn something essential about myself. Also, I must say, I’ve been lucky in this undertaking - even in the few journalistic, commissioned pieces included here – that I have only written about what I wanted to reflect upon.

What's your writing life like?

More reading than writing, and more thinking than reading.oetry and essays express different aspects of myself, I suppose. Probably not the most wholesome practice to divide oneself thus, but I think the essays express my brain whereas the poetry is more a matter of the heart (in the sense that my prose is more concerned with the analytical and intellectual whereas in my poems I tend to more emotional issues). But, of course it’s not so cut and dry, and not entirely of my choosing either. I do believe in the secret life of ideas and words. And, by this I mean their ability to choose how to dress themselves –say, in poetry or prose - before they address the world.

You're also a respected poet as well as an essayist. Do you find that one informs the other? Is working on one very different for you than working on the other?

Poetry and essays express different aspects of myself, I suppose. Probably not the most wholesome practice to divide oneself thus, but I think the essays express my brain whereas the poetry is more a matter of the heart (in the sense that my prose is more concerned with the analytical and intellectual whereas in my poems I tend to more emotional issues). But, of course it’s not so cut and dry, and not entirely of my choosing either. I do believe in the secret life of ideas and words. And, by this I mean their ability to choose how to dress themselves –say, in poetry or prose - before they address the world.

What project are you working on now?

My next book will be poetry, either a chapbook or an full-length collection, whichever sees the light of day first.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Maggie Sefton talks about knitting and murder

As anyone who knows me knows, I'm almost always knitting something. So when I heard from a writer who combined knitting with mysteries...well, how could I resist? So while I cast on for a winter hat for my son, I'm turning over the blog to Maggie. Thank you, Maggie!


I want to thank Caroline for inviting me to post on her blog this week. The latest in my Berkley Prime Crime Knitting Mysteries (Eighth in the series), SKEIN OF THE CRIME, came out this past June, so it’s not really new. But I do have a new release coming out this November 2nd: a tradepaper edition of the first two mysteries in the series---KNIT ONE, KILL TWO & NEEDLED TO DEATH---entitled DOUBLE KNIT MURDERS.

The series is set in fictional Fort Connor, Colorado, and is based entirely on the charming college town an hour north of Denver---Fort Collins, where I have lived since 1988. We’re 5000+ feet above sea level (like Denver) and enjoy wonderful views of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, or foothills as the locals call them. We’ve also got weather to die for, which spoils us rotten for returning to the humid areas of the country where some of us grew up and lived. I love, love my “home” area of Northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, but the summer temps are deadly and the winter cold feels frigid to me now. Living with lower humidity is nice. . .very nice.

People always want to know how I came to write a “knitting mystery.” Well, I hadn’t planned to. In 2002, I had just finished my first amateur sleuth mystery (set in the real Fort Collins) and had a real estate agent as the sleuth. DYING TO SELL went on to sell to Five Star Mysteries. However, in early 2003 I was doing some magazine articles for the first time and was interviewing people who’d lost their jobs during that earlier recession. I’d not done nonfiction before and was enjoying it. Most of my writing career (more than a decade) had been spent writing historical novels set in varying periods of history---medievals, 1890s America, American Frontier, French swashbuckler. I’d written more than a million words of historical fiction before I wrote the first mystery. In fact, I was first published with my western historical romance, ABILENE GAMBLE, in 1995.

So, the magazine articles were a departure for me. And while I didn’t sell any articles, they did open the door for the knitting mysteries. In May 2003, I had the chance to do an article which involved interviewing knitters. Now. . .I didn’t knit at all, but I had friends who did. When I interviewed them, they all said I had to visit the “wonderful” Fort Collins knit shop, LAMBSPUN. They described it in glowing terms. So, I called the shop and they said to drop by any Tuesday evening when there were bunches of knitters all around the table. So I did. But, when I walked into the foyer of the vintage beige stucco, red-tile roofed Spanish Colonial, something happened---

I fell right down the rabbit hole---just like Alice---into a Wonderland of color and texture and pure sensuality. I’d never seen fibers like that before. They had cotton candy hanging on the wall. I spent fifteen minutes touching everything in sight before going into the larger room where a long library table was surrounded by people knitting, crocheting, or spinning. Weavers worked their looms in adjoining rooms. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, I had no problem doing interviews. But what struck me was the atmosphere around that table, the warmth and camaraderie. It was seductive. So much so that I found myself returning every Tuesday evening because. . .it was so much fun.

After five months of enjoying the warmth of the Lambspun knitting table and learning to knit by the seat of my pants, Kelly Flynn “walked onstage” in my head. That’s how my characters have appeared ever since I was a kid. They just “show up.” And they bring their personalities and their stories with them. I recognized it as another amateur sleuth mystery and started writing the scenes that were spinning in front of my eyes.

Little did I know, those knitting mysteries would go on to become national bestsellers from the very first release of KNIT ONE, KILL TWO in June 2005. For that, I continue to thank the readers. They’re the ones who make you a bestseller. We novelists simply want to get our characters “out there” and pray that readers like them.

I hope you enjoy meeting Kelly & her friends (in their early 30s) as they kick back and relax and knit around the table. That’s where they talk about their jobs, their relationships, and. . .help Kelly find clues when she starts poking around in murders. “Sleuthing” her friends and other shop regulars (of all ages) call it. Not that the police ask for her help, mind you. They don’t. But that’s never stopped Kelly. And, she has a pretty good track record at solving crimes. So, grab a cup of coffee at Pete’s café in the back of the shop and drop by and say “hi” sometime.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Julie Klam talks about You Had Me At Woof

In doing an interview with Julie Klam, you tend to feel that you want to be at least half as witty as she is--but be forewarned, it's impossible. Julie Klam is hilarious, (all you have to do is read her to know that by the first line), kind (she encouraged me to get Timothy Hutton to follow me on twitter), and yes, according to all the rave reviews she's racking up for You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secret of Happiness, everyone agrees that she writes like a dream. Doing this interview with her was a blast--so thank you, Julie!

So tell us, what are the secrets of happiness? And what wisdom do you think dogs can give us?

The secrets of happiness are being rich and pretty and thin, right? Oh wait, no having dogs-- that’s what I meant.

Can you talk a bit about the rescue work you do with dogs? Do you instinctively know which dog is going to be right for which person?

My work with rescue involved doing home visits for prospective families, pulling dogs from shelters, helping transport dogs and fostering. It’s not so much an instinct as looking on paper at the needs of the dog and the lifestyle of the person. One thing we get from fostering is the foster family knows what the dogs issues are. If it’s a dog with terrible separation anxiety, you don’t want a person who’s going to leave it alone 10 hours a day. A senior dog shouldn’t go with a person in a 5th floor walk-up.

You talk about how humans sometimes see rescuing dogs as a way to rescue themselves. How does this work and does it ever misfire?

Well, in my case, there was something missing from my life and the work I do with the dogs definitely fills a hole. It’s different to care for a dog than a human.

I love the way you write that loving Otto made you grow up, and you became more open to loving a man. Are you suspicious of people who don’t like animals? (I know, I am.)

I have a very good friend who “hates” animals. I think it’s a little like having friends who are different political parties. We just don’t go there. I also think they haven’t met the right animal.

I have to ask, since you are a mom, too, what’s your feeling about childless people who say their pets are their children?

I have no problem with people referring to their pets as their children. Any way you want to look as it as long as it’s loving is okay with me.

You’ve had 17 family dogs, the section about the death of Moses was so moving—you couldn’t totally grieve because you had a young daughter but the rescue group became a support group. I loved it that you wrote so eloquently about the risk of loving another living thing, because there is always loss, and with animals, because of their life span, they “give you the end of their life.” Does it ever get easier? Are there ways we can better prepare for the end of our pets’ lives?

Oh, no. I don’t think it ever gets easier. Every dog, every animal is different and the relationship is different. Every dog I’ve lost has been a unique experience depending on so many things—how long I had them, how old they were, whether the death was accidental or not. I do think Otto’s death was the worst one I’ll ever go through because he was my first dog and only my dog.

Why do you think dogs are spiritually superior to humans? Do they really not have conditions for their love? I think their capacity for love and forgiveness is different. Dogs aren’t petty, they don’t hold grudges. To me they have all the best qualities, they’re the beings I aspire to be more like (except for the breath).

You write, you rescue dogs, you’re a wife and mother and dog owner—how on Earth do you manage to juggle your time and still be so funny and happy? I have a really good shrink. Just kidding. Sort of. I am extremely happy with my life, I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to write and be with the dogs and have a husband who supports my madness, and a wonderful sweet daughter. I live in my favorite city in the world, oh and I take a lot of drugs. Just kidding. Sort of.

I always ask, what’s obsessing you now? Clothes. I feel like when a new book comes out I should look nicer than I do in my going to the gym/dog walking/writing/dropping off at school life and I have zilcho in my closet so I’m trying to figure out what to get that will be really comfortable and attractive and dog friendly. Definitely nothing white or silk.

And—what question should I be mortified that I didn’t ask?

How I stay so young looking. Well, Caroline, let me tell you. I don’t.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lorna Suzuki Talks about Writing Outside the Box

Blog Tours are a fantastic way for writers to build an audience and promote their books. So I'm thrilled to be hosting a day for the wonderful Lorna Suzuki!

Writing Outside the Box

Thank you, Caroline, for hosting Day 6 of this blog tour to celebrate the release of The Broken Covenant, the final novel to complete the Imago Chronicles fantasy series as well as the launch of my first YA fantasy novel, The Magic Crystal (Book One of the Dream Merchant Saga).

As the author of nine adult epic fantasies, I often get a

surprised response from those who find out I write more than this particular genre. Some are quite stunned when they discover I also write biographies (my last one was aired on the Biography Channel) and I also write voice over scripts for a TV travel adventure series.

Many regard fiction and non-fiction as being on the opposite ends of the writing spectrum, and there have been times when I’ve been asked why not stick to one or the other. What has been my response? Writing non-fiction helps to pay the bills, but from a creative perspective, I believe it’s a good thing to branch out and diversify one’s writing. For me, from a creative point of view, it is the challenge of seeing if I’m able to make non-fiction as fascinating or engaging as my fantasy stories while writing fantasies that seem almost grounded in reality.

I believe whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, the author’s goal is to create a literary piece that will engage the readers, yes, even if it is an educational instruction guide. (I’ve written those, too!) To amaze, entertain and to allow the readers to step outside of their daily existence to escape into another world is a wonderful thing that we, as writers, are able to do.

With one of my latest novels scheduled for release on Oct. 23, I’ve expanded my writing wings again by creating a YA fantasy trilogy called The Dream Merchant Saga. The fantasy was not so much of a stretch for me; the true challenge was in creating a novel that was intended for a young adult audience, not to mention adopting a different writing style as this novel was written with a humorous slant.

It was satisfying to hear from the beta readers of The Magic Crystal that some of them were laughing so hard, I had them in tears. Now, this is truly a challenging thing: writing humor when one is not a particularly funny person! It was an exercise in writing that was probably more difficult than creating the battle/fight scenes that are so prevalent in the Imago series. As a martial arts practitioner/instructor, it was easy enough to write convincing fight scenes. However, it was a real battle to make my mind find humor in some of the hairy predicaments I placed my characters in. Of course, it becomes even more of a challenge to find humorous things to write about when I’m evolving into one of those finger-wagging, hermit-like grumpy, old coots who is constantly being put off by stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons (see… funny things do happen to me, but I’m not a funny person).

This is the beauty of what we do as writers. When we step outside of the genre we are so used to or write beyond our comfort zone, we are expanding our writing horizons. Not only does this challenge us from an artistic, creative perspective, it allows us to hone our writing skills on many levels, as well as immerse ourselves in these other brave, new worlds we would not venture into otherwise. And this can be a very good thing!

This blog tour concludes tomorrow with host Therese Walsh, author and co-founder of the Writer Unboxed website at Therese will be discussing the challenges of going indie and helping Lorna introduce her new YA fantasy, The Magic Crystal.

For more information about my book or to read excerpt, book reviews and more, please visit my website at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Let's hear it for bling!

Today, I went to Chelsea to meet a friend of mine from California, an enormously talented writer who was meeting with her agent and with an editor interested in her novel (Trust me, the novel is brilliant.)

Jennifer Gooch Hummer is also an uber talented jewelry designer and I am spending most of today staring at the new jewelry she gave me. The ring is crystal and it catches the light and the wrap-around bracelet actually has a tiny piece that proclaims, "A story saves a soul." I'm passionately in love with both these pieces.

Come on, you know you want some of these incredible pieces! Take a look at her website, please. Everything is fantastic!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sebastian Stuart talks about To The Manor Dead

I blame Stephen McCauley. He lives with the author Sebastian Stuart, and he sent me a copy of To the Manor Dead, and I was promptly enchanted. A deliciously funny mystery, it features a former psychologist who opens a collectibles shop and soon gets up to her elbows in mayhem. Thanks so much, Stuart for letting me irritate you with all my questions!

To the Manor Dead is a really witty charmer. So where did the idea spark? And where, especially did Janet come from?

When I was in my late twenties I bought a little cabin right at the foot of the eastern escarpment of the Catskills, where they meet the Hudson Valley. I just fell in love with the area -- it's gorgeous, diverse, full of history, and most important filled with fascinating, eccentric and bizarre people. I thought it would be a great place to set a mystery series.
Janet is sort of alter ego of mine; I'm a bit obsessed with psychology, families, the birth and blossoming of neurosis, psychoses, and pathologies. Janet gives me chance to explore all that, in a voice that I hope is fun.

Janet, an East Village psychotherapist, moves to a seemingly sleepy little town to sell antiques. So what makes an urbane guy attracted to small town life?

The town Janet moves to is a thinly-disguised Saugerties, New York, which is a Hudson River town. All the towns along the Hudson belie the traditional image of a small town -- because of the Hudson Valley's rich history and proximity to NYC, they're diverse and pretty sophisticated.You'll find ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities, lots of artists, druggies, lowlifes, aristocrats, farmers, you name it. It's a rich stew, perfect for cooking up murder.

What’s your writing day like? Are you an outliner or do you fly by the seat of your pants, and I have to ask, what is it like to live with another writer?

My typical writing day is a nightmare of procrastination, regret, and self-loathing. And those are the good days. I've tried everything short of a lobotomy to improve my discipline -- the only thing that works is a deadline that leads to a check. Terror and poverty are pretty good motivators.
I have an idea of where I'm going with my story, but if I just roll with it a lot of stuff happens that I hadn't planned. The trick for me is getting out of my own way.
Living with Steve McCauley is a dream come true -- and not only because he's a dreamboat. My great inspiration in life is Tom Sawyer and his fence-painting M.O.: "Gosh, Steve, writing this chapter is so much fun, all I need is one perfect phrase! You're so brilliant, can you think of one?"Pretty soon Steve is rewriting the entire chapter into something far wittier and more coherent than anything I could have come up with. I highly recommend this writing method.

You’ve also done ghostwriting, plays and screenplays. Is it difficult to navigate from one form to another?
Nope, it's fun. It's also made easier by the fact that my brain is constructed like a sieve. Stuff goes in and then it goes out: nothing remains but blank space. So I'm all fresh and ready for my next gig.

What’s obsessing you now?
Finishing book two in the Janet's Planet series. Oh, and the impending end of civilization, of course.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alice Hoffman talks about The Red Garden

Alice Hoffman really needs no introduction, but I want to give her one anyway. A bestselling author for adults and young adults, a screenwriter, and humanitarian (she does great, great work for breast cancer), she's also beloved by her legions of readers AND she knows and loved NYC's City Bakery, renowned for the best hot chocolate on the planet. I took the arc of The Red Garden with me everywhere, from the NYC subways to a book convention in Michigan. I'm thrilled Alice agreed to answer my questions. Thank you so much, Alice!

What I really loved, beside the shimmering language, was how strong and powerful the women were, something that kept being passed down through the generations. Could you comment on that?

The Red Garden is very much about survival – in the natural world, in the world of loss and love. The women in the book all have the will to survive, even in the most extraordinary circumstances, and I think there is a sense of knowledge and experience being passed down throughout the history of the town.

The Red Garden had so much of a magical fairy tale quality to it, but by that, I mean The Brothers Grimm—the real, dark fairy tales that haunt you, rather than the happier Disneyfied versions. Would you agree? And where did that love of fairy tales come from?

I grew up reading fairy tales, and always felt they were the stories that didn’t talk down to me as a child-reader. The darkness inherent in Grimm’s’ Tales, and the Russian fairy tales my grandmother told me, seemed “true”. I think children understand that fairy tales are often journeys that chart growth – growing up, finding oneself or one’s true love. Real fairy tales are often brutal, and beautiful as well.

The Red Garden, explores the threads that link people and places and memories together from the 1700s to the present. You’ve explored before, in Blackbird House, how a place can become a character and a catalyst, and how the natural world can influence or impact our choices. Do you feel that we can ever escape our pasts or our places—and should we?

In Blackbird House the focus was a house, and the ways in which an old house can contain many stories, many lives. In The Red Garden I think the complications are more complex --- it’s the story of a town, but also of the complicated relationships and personal histories of the residents. I made a “family tree” after the book was completed and was surprised to find how inter-related everyone was, and how many secrets were never discovered.

I loved reading about Johnny Appleseed in The Red Garden, and truly, the novel is filled with history. I was wondering how much research you did or if you let your imagination take over?

I did quite a lot of research, and I was surprised at how my vision of Johnny Appleseed was formed by Disney. He was a truly remarkable character – a precursor to the hippie movement, a true believer. For each story, I researched the time period and my characters grew out of the time periods in which they lived.

I’ve been reading your work since Property Of. It seems to me that your earlier works feel and read differently than your later ones, which isn’t to say they all aren’t terrific. I’m wondering how much of this is organic or conscious or a little of both? Do you feel that as you yourself change, so does your writing?

I think most writers have themes or obsessions, but I agree that a writer’s work changes with life and work experience. What you write at a very young age reflects who you are as a writer in a particular moment in time. It makes sense that as you experience the world your vision evolves. Hopefully, we get smarter and are more compassionate as time goes by.

People talk about how difficult it is to translate good books into good films. Obviously the forms are different. It’s funny, but Independence Day (a wonderful film that you wrote), feels like an Alice Hoffman movie, but Practical Magic, though enjoyable, did not. Maybe it’s that word “based on a novel by”, which changes the story for filmic purposes. Or maybe it’s simply because you didn’t write the script. So, I’m curious. Had you ever envisioned Independence Day to be a novel or was it always a script, and do you think that’s why it felt like such an intrinsically Alice Hoffmanesque film? Is there a way to solve this problem of better translating a book onto the screen?

I wrote the screenplay of Independence Day so it was “mine” in a deeper way – I wasn’t the screenwriter or involved in the production of any of the films made of novels. Independence Day was never envisioned as a novel; it was always meant to be a film. I think a novel can make for a great film, but it has to be a unified vision. The practice of having three or four writers on a film is a mystery to me – how could there be a voice or a vision?

What is obsessing you now?

For the past five years I’ve been working on and researching a novel set in the distant past in the Middle East. I’m currently obsessed with the time period – finding out everything from how cheese was made, to what sort of snakes lived in the wilderness, to the habits of leopards.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jo-Ann Mapson talks about Solomon's Oak

Jo-Ann Mapson has been a kind of lifeline for me. I've known her for years, and she's held my hand through publishing trials and cheered me in publishing triumphs, and every time I see her, I'm thrilled. A prolific author, teacher, and owner of many interesting dogs, Jo-Ann also champions other writers, which puts her in Dante's highest level of heaven, to my mind. Her new novel, Solomon's Oak is a gritty, moving story of love, loss, and mystery. Thanks, Jo-Ann, for letting me pepper you with questions! And don't forget to take a look at Jo-Ann's book trailer!

I don't think I've ever seen a character so fully-realized and complex as Juniper, the 14-year-old who arrives on Glory's doorstep. Where did she come from in your mind? How did you find the voice, which to me, was pitch perfect?

Years ago when my son was living in Monterey, California, my husband and I visited him for a weekend. The newspapers were full of a tragic story. A local girl had taken her dog for a walk, and the dog returned without her, dragging his leash. She was twelve or thirteen years old, and had simply disappeared. Newspaper photos and fliers were plastered everywhere in this seaside town that was so beautiful it seemed nothing bad could ever happen there.

I thought about the incident for years. I’ve always been impressed at the way people move on (or don’t) after a loss that has no closure. What courage that takes. In my storyteller’s heart, I imagined the survivor guilt for the other kid in such a family. As kids we can be so cruel to our siblings. We make dreadful and dramatic wishes, but they’re a part of us. How would life be for Juniper, her when her family disintegrated? From that question it was a matter of research and filtering it through my own experiences of loss.

I tried to write this novel a couple of times, once from the mother’s POV, then the kidnapped child’s. Two publishers rejected it. Something was missing, and the story stayed with me while I wrote and published four other novels.

Then one autumn during the eight years we lived in Alaska, my husband caught the flu. Like many men, doesn’t take good care of himself. He was ill for a week, then developed pneumonia and was hospitalized for another week. As I sat by his bed, him on oxygen, with a fever so high he wasn’t making sense, I tried to imagine my life without him and it was horrible. We’ve been married thirty-six years and we operate like two halves of a scallop shell, nice by ourselves but together we make a life.

So my narrator, Glory, age 38 became recently widowed, and of course the first struggle in her life would have to be money. Because I try to feature at least one dog in every book, and I so admire dog rescue, I had Glory rehabilitate and re-home “last chance dogs.” I seized what was probably the biggest leap of faith in the novel by connecting Glory and Juniper through one of her dogs, that dog that came home without the girl. The outsider-looking-in structure turned out to be a rich vein to mine.

A character-driven novel is about piling on the pressure, so I made Juniper the same age her sister Casey was when she disappeared. Juniper had been abandoned, run away, taken advantage of, tattooed, pierced, and under her fury and bad behavior was simply this sister feeling guilty for surviving. I knew it would take a dog or a horse to reach her, and the character of my dog trainer, Glory, had both. Then it occurred to me that these two could help each other, so I put them together.

I learned from the foster system that parents sometimes abandon their children. The term for these kids is “throwaways.” They come home and the locks have changed and their parents have moved. Who can do that and live with herself? How does the child move past such rejection? I had to find out.

I know this is what every writer hopes, but I really did feel that this particular novel reached a new, deeper level for you. I've loved all your novels, but this one haunted me. Did you feel, as you were writing it, that you were engaging in new territory? Was this deliberate or just a "gift from the writing gods"?

The gifts the gods present don’t always look like gifts at first glance, do they? After The Owl & Moon Café, I turned in the first 100 pages of this book, and while the editor liked it, I was let go due to low sales (Insert plea for everyone who loves reading to please buy new books.). A blow, but now I had all the time in the world to write this book. Every book I’d sold since Hank & Chloewas on a partial manuscript. Not having a deadline hanging over my head was freeing. I had time to concentrate on a complicated story. In many ways it was like writing my first novel, just writingwritingwriting, a blessing in disguise. Because there was no hurry, I was able to emotionally reside in this book.

While writing this novel, one of my MFA fiction students was murdered by a methamphetamine freak that went on a killing spree. Jason was in his twenties, a generous and funny kid everyone adored, and he was about to finish his thesis. You’re a teacher, so you know how it is you can sense a student just coming into his writing strengths? Jason was teetering on the precipice. He worked with the mentally challenged, organized a community softball team, and had a thousand friends.

Then the MFA program I teach in decided to change delivery format to a low-residency format, and I was one of three professors who had to write the curriculum. Because I no longer needed to maintain residency in Alaska full time, my husband and I sold our house and moved to New Mexico, where he wanted to retire. Jason’s death would not settle into the place we all carry inside us for such sorrows. His killer was caught and received a 498 year sentence, which should have helped, and one day I just got so flipping angry about it that I wanted to kick someone’s ass. I invited Jason into the writing. Every day I’d have a little conversation with him.

Frequently the hair on the back of my neck stood up, so I knew I was in new territory in this story.

lot of your novels deal with people who are broken, who find themselves a bit of glue because of relationships with other people. (I remember reading Bad Girl Creek and wanting there to be such a place.) Do you feel that, unlike Sartre ("Hell is other people"), that people, at least the right kind of people, can give us our salvations?

I think people just knock around the universe and when paths cross (like Joseph Vigil and Glory Solomon and Juniper McGuire) you make connections that elevate you, keep you going, and possibly even transform you. That is truly one of the joys of writing novels for me. In Bad Girl Creek, I created a blueprint for women who needed each other to survive, and hopefully in knowing each other to learned to once again enjoy life. I wanted to live at DeThomas Farms, too.Growing flowers and having crème brulee for breakfast? Sign me up.

I deeply admired the way these three lives, Juniper, Glory and the police officer Joseph intersected. While you were writing, did you know how things were going to work out with them? Are you an outliner or were you working by the seat of your pants?

Seat of the pants. Most of the time I write into the darkness and then later see what’s there, and how I can shape it. I love the alchemy that comes about as a result. The writer has to surrender, which is really difficult, but that is when the magic happens.

What's obsessing you now these days? Can you talk about what's next?

Teaching 60% versus 150% has allowed me to get in some wonderful reading time as well as writing time. I’m writing a new book set in New Mexico. I’m researching chicken breeds, ageing hippies, the ordinary struggles we all go through and New Mexico ghost stories. I am following the blinking cursor wherever it takes me.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Advice for new writers: If you desperately love the act of writing, write. If you don’t, love doing something else. Sometimes it takes years to get a story right. Write every day or you’ll lose the thread. Cultivate other interests, or else what are you going to write about? Be humble. Rewriting is a gift from the gods. Adopt shelter dogs and practice kindness in every breath. And please buy new books, from indie bookstores if you can, because sales figures really help.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Being seen: a writer reports.

Recently, I was at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Convention. I got my red cowboy boots (I'm calling this my Vintage Beaded Sweater and Red Cowboy Boots Tour) and a slinky black dress, and along with Algonquin's fantastic publicist and escort, Megan Fishmann (pictured below), I had an absolute blast. Algonquin made me this fabulous introductory printout that you can see at the top of the page (Pictures of Me), and I got to sign books, mingle with authors at an author dinner, sip wine at a cocktail party with booksellers, and do an author's feast, where at every course, I change tables and talk. Megan was fantastic and so much fun and she made everything so easy. I was escorted at the Author's Feast by Megan and by bookseller Charlie Boswell, who took me under his wing. And I got to hear this moving speech by this bookseller who is retiring to go work for the Peace Corps. He cried. The booksellers cried. I didn't know him, but the speech was so moving, I cried.

So besides having a blast, I started musing about what it means for authors to go out into the world, and in talking with a friend, I realized it has a lot to do with feeling seen. So much of what writers do is alone, in a room, and if anxiety were fuel, we could power the planet. But when we come into the open, having that appreciation, being able to be a public author, is astonishing. Being able to talk with a lot of booksellers is astonishing. (I told them I wanted to court them, buy them presents, give them my ring and marry them, because they help authors--and readers--so very much.)

So, I do feel seen now, and not just because it's difficult to miss me with these red cowboy boots.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I talk about drinking (actually, not drinking)

I'm pleased to be one of the interviews up on The Drinking Diaries today. Hope you'll take a look (and have a quarter of a glass of good red wine on me.)