What do you like to write about?

This question stands in for the more commonly asked, Where do you get your ideas?, but I don’t have a very good answer to that one.  Getting ideas is a mysterious, hard-to-describe process that involves spending a lot of time alone, taking walks, listening to old R ‘n B, sighing, staring out the window, and playing Mahjong Titans on my laptop until, weirdly and miraculously, an idea presents itself.  It’s great when it finally happens, but it doesn’t make for very interesting reading.

I get lots of ideas.  Everybody does.  Ideas pop into my head all day long.  Like, who invented soup?  What would I do if someone offered me a million dollars to go skydiving?  Is it true that when I cut someone off in traffic, I am almost always myself cut off within the next fifteen minutes, or am I just imagining it?  How dangerous is it to eat unwashed produce, really?

None of these ideas would make it into a book.  Ultimately, they are just random thoughts that I wonder about and quickly forget.  The ideas that stick are the ones that allow me to write about people.  I am interested in what makes a little girl brave, what causes a bully do something unexpectedly kind, how a child perceives a mother who is both loving and distant.  I am endlessly fascinated by people, which explains why one of my favorite things to do is sit idly in airports.  Who is that lady in the wheelchair with the matched Louis Vuitton luggage and the shabby coat?  Does that porter unloading baggage fantasize about being a drummer in a power trio?  Is the grandmother kissing her grandson secretly angry at her daughter for moving far away? 

(Of course, I could wonder about these things while sitting in an actual airplane and going somewhere with sand and palm trees and balmy breezes.  But then I would be too busy hyperventilating and concentrating on helping the pilot keep the plane aloft.)

Why do you write for children?

Contrary to what many people think, I don’t write for children because I love them.  I do like children, especially if they are likeable children, which is to say likeable people.  I wouldn’t like an adult who thought it was funny to tie a jump rope around someone’s neck and drag him across the playground, and I don’t like kids who do it, either.

One of the things I like about writing for children is the chance to write about children.  Children are in the process of becoming themselves, which makes them interesting.  They are not yet world-weary.  Everything matters.  They are at the mercy of well-meaning parents, cantankerous teachers, ax-grinding siblings, popular girls, overbearing coaches, distracted shopkeepers.  Every interaction may be life-altering.  They are supremely vulnerable, and yet somehow they manage to find their way.  Children are the ultimate heroes, which makes them fascinating and inspiring protagonists.

Do you have any pets?

No, but I have a roomba ™!  For those of you who don’t know, a roomba ™ is a robotic vacuum cleaner.  It is disc-shaped, low to the ground, and, when fully charged, will roam unattended through the rooms of your house, picking up dirt and dust.  We have named ours Reggie, and I tend to think of him as a living, breathing creature.  Sometimes I talk to him as he bustles busily under my chair.  When I exit a room in which he is working, I have to fight the impulse to leave a light on for him.

I have had several dogs over the years.  Henry, the standard poodle in THE HARD KIND OF PROMISE, is based on my dog Henry, who died last year at the age of 13.  My ex-husband and I really did give him an IQ test when he was a puppy, and he really did pee on his own face when it was over.  The real Henry was a wonderful dog who ingested everything in sight, including chocolate (very bad for dogs), tin foil, beer, and garbage bags.  I miss him very much, although it is nice not to have a child-safety lock on the refrigerator anymore.

How much money do you make writing books?

A long time ago, I was asked this question by a fourth-grader at a book signing.  I told him that if my book sold for fifteen dollars, I would make about seventy cents.  “Boy,” he said, “you’re getting screwed.”
Be that as it may, I love being a writer.  I don’t write books to make money (although it’s nice when I do).  I write for the joy I feel when I finish typing the last sentence.  I love thinking that a book I’ve written matters to someone as much as the books I’ve read and loved matter to me.

Do you like writing books?

Some writers say that they love the actual process of writing a book.  They sit down at the computer and words fly from their heads out through their fingers and onto the screen.  They can barely type fast enough to keep up with their own thoughts.

I am not like this.  I find the act of writing arduous.  I sit for hours, rereading the same sentence, changing a ‘the’ to an ‘a,’ taking my glasses on and off, making tea, wondering if I have any number of serious diseases, and debating with myself the advisability of putting off roof repairs another year.  I waste a phenomenal amount of time.

When I am in the middle of writing a book, I am satisfied to finish two pages each day. 

What about rewriting?

Rewriting is somewhat easier for me because usually, by the time I do it, I know how the book is going to end, which is a huge relief.  But the process is still difficult, still tedious.  I get through it by reminding myself that it’s the only way to end up with a really good book that people will want to read.  Almost no one gets it right on the first go-‘round.

Do you write for adults?

I have written for adults.  I have written articles for magazines such as Cosmopolitan Living and Country Living.  And I have written short stories for adults that appeared in such literary journals as Pleiades, Berkeley Fiction Review, South Carolina Review, and Whetstone.

What else should we know about you?

I was once on a TV show, “Ron Hazelton’s House Calls.”  Ron and his crew helped me build glass-fronted kitchen cabinets for my old house.  I learned how to use an electric drill.

I have pretty severe asthma, which acts up from time to time.  I hate having it.  Hate it.

My dad died when I was nineteen.  Even though I was almost an adult, I felt like a little girl on the morning my mother called me at college to tell me that he had died.  My dad was a surgeon, and he thought I might like to be an anesthesiologist one day.  (An anesthesiologist is a doctor who specializes in administering anesthesia and taking care of patients before, during, and after surgery.)  I thought I might like it, too, until I watched him perform an appendectomy when I was fifteen and passed out three times in the operating room.  I think my dad would be happy to know that I became a writer instead of a doctor.

My dad liked to read to me when he came home from work.

With my mother and my cat Hubert. 
I wanted to get back to my book.

As of this writing, my mother is eighty-nine.  She likes to take walks, make me tuna sandwiches when I come to visit, and swear at bad drivers.  She still reminds me to bring a sweater.

Both of my parents were instrumental in my decision to become a writer.  I am very lucky to have been born their daughter.

I am divorced.  Getting divorced ten years ago served to remind me what it is like to experience great loss, which is something of which a writer should be reminded, from time to time.   It is a terribly painful event for any family.  I have written about it, which is one of the ways I have tried to cope with it.  As painful as it was for me, I was an adult.  I think children of divorced parents endure a particular kind of hell, and I try to be mindful of that when I write about them.

Being divorced has also allowed me to make a new life for myself with Robert.  We love to walk on the beach near our house, take trips (to Edinburgh, Paris, and Alabama), eat French food, and ride our bikes.  Robert is my personal reminder that sometimes, great pain can result in great joy.  He also makes excellent salad dressing.

I have two children: a son and a daughter, both now grown.  It is my greatest joy and privilege to be their mother.  I don’t remind them to bring a sweater, but it’s hard.

I have a tattoo.  It is very, very small, and very, very tasteful, and it mortifies my kids.