1. Did you choose the writing profession or did it choose you?
I chose it. From my first fascination with books, about age eight, I could see myself as a writer. Living on an isolated ranch in Mount Shasta, California, a mile from our nearest neighbor, I discovered that books were the magic carpet that could transport you anywhere–and did. With Heidi I went to Switzerland, with Bambi I leaped through the meadows and forests, with my mother’s books I found countries I’d never known before. It soon became obvious that writing books would put me, as well, on the printed page.
2. What is your background? (education, work, etc)
I attended both Stanford and UCLA, getting both a BA from UCLA, and then a teaching credential. My educational years were liberally mixed with my mothering years; I was pregnant with my fourth boy when I began teaching Fifth Grade. Eventually, as the mother of five boys and a girl, I stayed home to play Cook, Taxi driver, and Referee. They were good, rambunctious years, raised to a new level of excitement when our flying-mad second son introduced the family to hang gliding. For five years I worked in the family’s hang gliding company, a role that faltered when our third son was killed in the sport, and terminated forever when we lost our oldest son-also to hang gliding.
Once my remaining children were grown and gone, I became a (mostly) full-time writer. I’ve published 12 books, including a book on writing: “Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead.” For the last 25 years I’ve also been teaching a weekly class in novel-writing and memoirs. My working days are roughly divided between teaching, writing new books, and promoting the books I’ve already written.
3. When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?
Long before I sold my first article, (about our sons’ adventures in hang gliding), I saw myself as a writer. As I collected 129 rejection slips for poems, essays, stories, and first-hand accounts, I wondered how many rejection slips it would take to sell something. In my mind it was always “when,” never “if.” Still, writing for money altered my title. Now I was an author. Before, I’d been a mother with a typewriter.
4. How would you describe your style of writing?
Straightforward. Vivid. Full of scenes and vignettes. Often humorous. A story-teller’s quest for the unusual, the humorous, the dramatic, the ironic. But securely anchored in the real world.
5. What is your writing process?
Except for publicity chores (which are all too time-consuming), I write whenever I can find the time. Sometimes I push things away to “make” time. When I’m deeply involved in a project, I let ordinary “living” go by the board. Laundry, shopping, cooking-they all wait. I have no schedule. Every stolen hour in front of the computer becomes my “schedule.”
6. What was your path to publication?
No special path. At first I simply sent things out (129 things), until United Airlines Mainliner magazine “bit.” From then on, every published book was achieved a different way. I was agented for my first nine books, yet for five of them the sale would not have occurred except for something I did myself. Even with an agent, you have to be part of the process.
7. What is your favorite self-marketing idea?
Speeches. There is no second choice. I have searched high and low for something that works as well as giving speeches, but have yet to find it.
8. What are the biggest surprises you’ve encountered as a writer?
How much a book-the same exact material-can be changed over time by endless, dogged polishing. I would not have believed that the same story could go from wholly unsaleable to a much-revered memoir simply by re-visiting it over and over, and finding new ways to “upgrade” the telling.
9. How do you inspire yourself? What are your sources of creativity?
A hundred events in my life can suggest themselves as topics for books-or stories within books. But I am most “inspired” when I sit down at the computer and begin writing. Inspiration grows as the page fills, until by the end of a session of writing, the material is almost writing itself. The only magical source of inspiration is a warm shower. Sometimes a “shower” becomes the final solution for a stubborn writing problem.
10. What is your proudest writer moment?
Easily, the night I found in my mailbox an editor’s offer to buy my book, “Higher Than Eagles.” After 14 years of writing, re-writing, and sending it out, I wondered if it would ever happen. By then I knew it was good (and a major editor had refused it with words of praise that could have been on the book jacket) -but when would an editor commit to publish it? Still, I was elated, but not terribly surprised, that the published book drew five movie options, an article in the Los Angeles Times (reprinted in 56 newspapers), and a visit from the newsmagazine 20/20. And I’m currently pleased, but not exactly astonished, that a Hollywood producer read it and has since guided me through the creation of a screen play. If this book is destined to become a movie, I hope it happens soon.
11. What’s the best advice you were given about writing?
That you must be able to summarize your book in one sentence. A book can’t be about “this and that.” If you can’t summarize it yourself, you won’t know where you’re going, and your book will constantly wander off track.
12. What is your most embarrassing (make that infuriating), writer moment?
The time an agent encouraged me, with rapt listening and intent expression to tell her about my unpublished memoir. Just as I thought she was mesmerized, she suddenly surprised me by saying, “You’ll never sell that book.” We got into a semi-polite argument, as I maintained my book was exactly the kind of book I, and others, always chose to read. She ended the discussion by saying, “People are sick of those disease-of-the-month books.” I stared at her, and inside my head I was screaming, “You’re wrong!” Her snippy words gave me fourteen years of the world’s strongest motivation. I can only fully get back at her if the book becomes a movie.
13. What business challenges have you faced as a writer?
The constant search for ways to sell books. I can’t be everywhere in the country, giving speeches and hand selling my books. I yearn to be famous enough so the outside world COMES TO ME for speeches instead of my squandering priceless writing time in the endless effort to nail them down. Everyone tells me the internet is a good way to sell. But when I pursue this resource further, I find it’s mainly another great sponge, soaking up the hours.
14. What is your writer life philosophy?
Getting published is a two-track effort. You can never stop making your material better. You can never stop sending it out. Most determined writers who stay on those two tracks will eventually get published.
15. When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?
I used to play a lot of tennis. Now I spend time with my husband, my friends, my kids, and grandkids. I love to play word games. My most entertaining hours are spent doing Crosswords, playing Boggle, Taboo, and Scrabble.
16. Who do you like to read?
I’m an eclectic reader, eager to devour all the books my trusted friends like-everything except science fiction, fantasy, and romance. My favorite books are the well-crafted memoirs: Loved “Angela’s Ashes,” Betty McDonald’s books, “The Glass Castle,” “The Color of Water.” Even the best authors are inconsistent; none of them are good all the time. The greatest authors fall below the line when they’re pushed by publishers to churn out too many books too fast. The best books are usually first books-works that have been lovingly, painstakingly polished over time.
17. What’s your advice for new writers?
Learn the craft from a writing class-and then from a critique group. Read all the books you can in the genre in which you hope to write. Don’t ever expect to get meaningful beginner’s help from agents or editors; they’re all too busy. They only help when you’re already a great writer.
18. What books have you written?
Damn the Rejections Full Speed Ahead
A Clown in the Trunk
A Circus Without Elephants
Higher Than Eagles
Fun Games For Great Parties