Official biographies are all well and good, but when I’m out touring bookstores or visiting with reader groups, I’ve found that people are most interested in the everyday details of life that don’t fit well into a press release. You know what I mean, the same questions I’d want to ask you if we were sitting down over a cuppa and getting to know each other. The following game of “twenty questions” consists of the questions readers ask most and my answers to them. Don’t see your question listed here? Send me an email and I’ll do my best to answer.
By the way, if you’re interested in topics specifically related to writers, writing, and publishing, go to the “Advice for Writers” section. You’ll find lots of helpful information and links there.
What were your favorite books as a child?
There were so many! I was the kind of child who used to get into trouble for reading too much. My mother thought it wasn’t polite to read at the table (and she was right) so I’d read the cereal boxes during breakfast. However, my childhood favorites were JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by Roald Dahl, all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE books (I still go back and read those every couple of years), and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN by Jean Craighead George. As a child, I also had access to a library of spectacular antique books, the kind with the incredible illustrations you just don’t see today. I was a huge fan of the Horatio Alger series.
In fiction, the books I read again and again are A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith, THE GROUP by Mary McCarthy, THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald, THE KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara and anything written by Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope.
I also read a lot of non-fiction on all sorts of subjects from history to garden design to theology. C.S. Lewis is a perennial favorite. I read a lot of historical biographies. Some of my favorites of William Manchester’s THE LAST LION series, Scott Berg’s LINDBERGH, and pretty much anything by Ron Chernow.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Honestly, no. I always wrote, even as a child, but I never thought about writing as a profession. It wasn’t until I wandered into a writing workshop and was encouraged and ultimately mentored by the instructor, a man named David Milofsky for whom I shall always be grateful, that I began to write seriously. That was in my early thirties. After that, I wrote scores of short stories, attempting to hone my skills and find my own style. It was about ten years between the time I attended that workshop and the publication of my first novel, FIELDS OF GOLD. I was definitely a late bloomer.
What is your writing schedule like?
It depends on whether I’m at home or on the road, or what my family obligations are at the moment. Wherever I am, I’m always working – at home, in hotels, in airports, even under the dryer at the salon. No kidding! Just ask my stylist. Once, I almost missed a flight from Mexico City to New York because I was started writing, forgot where I was and why I was there, and completely missed the gate announcement. Fortunately I “came to” in the nick of time and, after a sprint through the airport, was in my seat with one minute to spare.
However, on the so-called and elusive “perfect day” I get up at five for breakfast and prayer, am at my desk by six and write until 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. Why so early? Because if I don’t the phone starts to ring and the emails come in and, next thing I know, my writing day gets hijacked. Once writing is done for the morning, I exercise, get dressed, and check in on social media, email, etc. The afternoon is devoted to the business side of my work, which is completely different than the artistic side, but also extremely important. If the day goes well, I try to wrap it up between five or six so I can spend the evening quilting, or reading, or watching a dvd. But, if I’m on deadline, I go back to work after dinner and write for as long as I can.
Where do you get your ideas for characters/plots?
Everywhere – from books, movies, people I see on the street, and just random thoughts that seep into my brain while I’m in the shower, or driving the car, or walking on the treadmill in my basement. I’m not trying to be smug because I know how blessed I am in this. Many writers struggle to find plots and characters, but for me they just seem to be lying on the ground like so many pebbles. When I get a new idea I write a single page synopsis and throw it in a file so I won’t be distracted from my current project. On further examination, I find some of the ideas are good and some are terrible but at least they are plentiful. I doubt I’ll live long enough to write all the books I’d like to.
How did you find an agent/publisher?
That is a pretty long story, but the bottom line is it took a lot of time and I endured many, many rejections along the way. If you don’t have a thick skin, you probably shouldn’t become a writer. If you want tips on how your can find an agent, pop over to the For Writers section. I’ve listed a few books and websites that might help you.
Which of your books is your favorite?
Not a fair question. It really is like asking which child is my favorite. However, I tend to be most excited by whatever I’m working on at the moment. That is, until it’s time to send it to my editor. From that point until it is actually in print, I’m riddled with doubt that everything I’ve written might be awful. I always want to take the manuscript back and go through it “one more time”. I am a production editor’s nightmare, wanting to make changes until the last possible second. However, once the book is in stores, I seem to be able to let it go. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that every time you type Chapter One it is possible that you’re about to write your best book ever.
Do you ever get writers block?
Not so far. Knock wood.
I loved the descriptions of quilting in FIELDS OF GOLD and your Cobbled Court Quilt series. Are you a quilter?
Yes. I’ve been quilting for about a quarter of a century. But even after all these years and even though I’ve designed a few quilts for magazines, I’m far from being an expert. There’s always so much more to learn! At the end of the day, would call myself a hobby quilter of enormous enthusiasm and moderate talent.
What do you do if you’re not in the mood to write?
Writing is my job. Before I became a writer, I held many different jobs and there were many days when I wasn’t in the mood to go to work, but of course, I did. Just like everyone else. Fortunately, I truly love writing. Most of the time, I can’t wait to get to the computer and get to work, though I do have some little rituals that must take place before I get going and am into the zone, but I get there. On those few days when I don’t feel like writing, I write anyway.
What kinds of quilting do you like to do?
All kinds really and every year I try to challenge myself to try a new technique or improve a particular skill. Most of my time is spent piecing traditional blocks but I like don’t follow pattern very often. Even when I do use a pattern, I tend to change it up, add my own little touches. I do like to do paper piecing on the machine and tend to gravitate toward very strong colors in my quilts. Many of my quilts use a lot of white or black backgrounds, leaving plenty of “empty space”. That gives me a nice spot to show off the quilting but the real reason I do it is because I like that clean look and I want the focus fabrics to take center stage.
Most of my quilts are made as gifts for others, so I actually have very few of my quilts in my own possession. I keep saying I’m going to make a quilt for me, but so far, it hasn’t happened.
What are your hobbies?
I play the piano, mostly hymns and Christmas music, but not well. Still, I can probably muddle through anything you want in the key of C, as long as it doesn’t have sixteenth notes.
Gardening used to be a favorite pastime but I’m finding gardening a bit of a challenge since we moved to Central Oregon. We shrunk from 5 lush acres in Connecticut to a quarter acre in a high desert region. The growing season is short and the deer population is determined to turn my planters into a salad bar. However, I grow a few herbs and vegetables in pots on the patio. It helps me scratch that gardening itch and the deer don’t seem to want to walk on the decking. So far.
I enjoy cooking but I’m better at traditional comfort foods than fancy fare. I love baking and am fairly accomplished there. However, as I’m getting older and have developed writer’s backside, I tend bake for friends rather than consume the goodies myself. I never considered myself much of an athlete but a few years ago I suddenly decided that I wanted to run a triathlon. I’ve completed two so far. I also enjoy a good hike through the woods. Our home in Central Oregon provides lots of opportunities for that.
While your books aren’t in the Christian fiction genre, many of your characters undergo a spiritual transformation. How important is faith in your life?
From an early age, I had a deep curiosity about God, and the world, and how they relate to one another. I still do. Over time, my curiosity led me to seek out answers and ultimately embrace the Christian faith. My personal faith is tightly woven into the fabric of my everyday life and so it’s natural that my characters reflect that. That doesn’t mean that all my characters ultimately choose God, or live perfect, holy lives. They question, they seek, some find, some accept, all make mistakes, some forgive, and some are forgiven – that’s what makes them real to me and, hopefully, to you.
Even so, I have stayed away from writing within the Christian fiction genre, preferring to write books that resonate with readers of every faith or none.
You’ve lived all over the country. Where was your favorite place to live?
You know, I’ve really found something to appreciate in every place I’ve lived. I’ve had homes in Oregon, Colorado, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Washington, Connecticut before coming full circle and returning to my home state of Oregon. And I spent almost five years in Mexico. Moving so frequently wasn’t always easy, but every one of those moves added to my experience and, I think, made me a better writer. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have skipped a single one. I met wonderful people with each move. At the end of the day, that is what makes a place interesting.
You’ve worked in so many different professions, everything from agriculture, to politics, to ministry, and now writing. Is there any career you haven’t had that you’d like to?
Yes. I’d love to be a singer in a New York cabaret with lots of candles on the tables, where couples dressed for a night on the town snuggle together in rounded leather booths while I sing standards from the Cole Porter songbook. However, I fear this is a ship that has sailed.
If you could meet any writer, living or deceased, who would it be?
Hard choice. Probably Edith Wharton. Not only do I admire her dialogue and the structure of her novels, I appreciate the fact that, like me, she didn’t start writing until later in life. That was a great encouragement to me. And I love that she often wrote in bed with a little dog or two tucked in next to her. That’s the way I’d do it if I could get away with it. However, I doubt Miss Wharton would have wanted to meet me. I suspect I wouldn’t be nearly fashionable enough or clever enough to interest her.
Who are the people who most helped you in your writing career?
That is a long, long list. People have this vision of writers as solitary beings and sometimes that is true. But I’ve learned that writing, particularly once you are published, is a team sport. My words would never have seen print without the encouragement and help of so many people including the man who first told me I was a writer and helped me become a better one, David Milofsky, my agent, Liza Dawson, my editor, Lucia Macro, my sister, Betty, who listens to the “daily rushes” of whatever I’m working on, and scores of other people from the teachers who made me love reading, to the booksellers who have recommended my books to their customers.
However, there are two people who deserve special mention. My mother, Margaret McCormick, and my husband, Brad. They are the two people who have made me feel most loved and have given me confidence. Writing is an audacious undertaking. I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t been blessed with people who believe in me.
How long does it take you to write a book?
For a full-length novel, about a year. The Christmas novellas I’ve written, which are shorter and have less complicated plots, take considerably less time – one to two months. Once I finish a manuscript, it goes off to my publisher’s for editing, typesetting, etc. That also takes a year so between what my work and the work of my publisher, the journey from idea to bookstore shelves takes a full two years.
I love the Cobbled Court Quilt novels! Will there be more books in this series? Please say, yes!
Thank you. I love them too. However, after writing six books in the Cobbled Court series, I think we are nearing the end of those books. I’m not saying I’ll never write another Cobbled Court novel but I’ve been excited about branching out and getting to know some new characters in new settings.
The way readers embraced Evelyn, Abigail and the rest of the Cobbled Court cast has warmed my heart but, if you give them a chance, I know you’ll come to love the characters in my other books just as much.
Do I have to the Cobbled Court Quilt series in order? And what is the order, anyway?
This isn’t a question about me but it’s the number one query I get from readers so it seems wise to answer it here. While the Cobbled Court Quilt books do build upon one another to a degree, you really don’t have to read them in order. I make sure that every book I write will stand on its own. This being said, about thirty percent of people find reading a series out of order as painful as chewing ice – it would literally make their teeth hurt. So, if you’re one of those people, here’s a listing of the Cobbled Court Quilt books in order…
And don’t forget to read my Too Much, Texas novels BETWEEN HEAVEN AND TEXAS and FROM HERE TO HOME, as well as my standalone novels, THE SECOND SISTER, THE PROMISE GIRLS, and HOPE ON THE INSIDE. I know you’ll enjoy them!