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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.