Thanks for stopping by my blog…on the day before your book’s release day! Let’s start with the basics: What part of the country do you live in? Who fills up your household?
I live on the high desert of Oregon. That means it’s pretty dry here in the foothills of the Cascade mountains. My husband and I have a couple of acres and two dogs: a wire-haired pointing griffon and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (who runs the show.)
Tell us about your new release: What inspired this particular story?
This Road we Traveled is based on the life of a 66 year old woman, her daughter and granddaughter. In 1846, Tabby’s family was heading to Oregon from Missouri but they didn’t think she could make the trek because of her age and because she was lame. One hundred 50 years later, she was named the “Mother of Oregon” by the state legislature. I’m always asking, “How did that happen?” I’d heard about this woman’s trek (yes, she hired her own driver and talked her 78 year old brother-in-law into going with her). At a book signing a woman came up to me and said “I’m with the Friends of Forest Grove and we think your next book should be about Tabbithat Moffat Brown.” Well, that set me researching!
When did you get bitten by the writing bug?
I always loved words even as a child. I thought “butterfly” was a pretty funny word because I lived on a dairy in Wisconsin and I knew butter didn’t fly! I wrote poems and little plays. In my mental health administrator role, I wrote letters to state and federal officials and I’d get replies and phone calls! So I knew that words had power.
After you started writing seriously, how long was it before you were published?
My husband and I made a decision to leave suburbia and “homestead” on 160 remote acres in Oregon. When I wondered what I’d do there, I felt a calling to write. So I took a couple of classes at the community college and my instructor said he thought I could sell some of the assignments. And I did selling a big four page spread in Private Pilot the week before we headed to our new homestead adventure. The early sales were non-fiction. My first book was published six years after the magazine articles sold. The first novel sold three years later and there has been a book (sometimes two) each year since for 25 years.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well?
Reading poetry. Knowing I have a deadline!
Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I usually write in my office that has a beautiful bookcase and a desk my husband built for me when I first said I wanted to be a writer. I look out on a lovely yard and a field of wildflowers with a labyrinth in the middle of it. Sometimes deer wander through in the morning and while I can see the houses across the road, I feel pretty private though not like when we lived on our ranch with the nearest neighbor seven miles away.
My writing life is sort of a rhythm. Because I have contracts to write books that are due each September, and I have a book coming out each September, how much I write each day varies. From September to December, I’m promoting a book that has just come out, responding and preparing editorial suggestions and researching the next book. I call that my “promoting, editing and researching mode” even though I’m always researching! In March, I start writing the book due in September so in “writing mode” I get up at 5:00AM and write until 8:00am when I have breakfast with my husband. Then I’m back at it from 9-noon; back again from 1-4:00. I read nonfiction books about the subject or period in the evening and treat myself to a good Suzanne Woods or Sandra Byrd book before falling asleep. I follow that routine for most of the spring and summer trying to finish by July so I have a few weeks to let the work sit and stew so I can see it afresh when I search for problems etc. My editor will see it and give me grand advice and then I’ll work on revisions and we are editing etc. until the book comes out the following year. And the cycle starts again. In between I’m teaching, speaking, and having a rich life at my church and my passion for the indigenous people of Burundi, Africa.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first-draft reader?
I have to say other writers have been the biggest help to me and as a result, I try to pass that one. Another writer taught that first writing class and gave me encouragement (Bob Welch was his name). At a writer’s conference, a writer took extra time with me during a lunch break to give me advice and tell me not to be discouraged. I read tons of books “about” writing and at a writer’s conference heard a writer say “don’t go to too many of these. Write instead” which made sense to me. Still another writer told me to make a list of markets when I finished my work and then send my piece out to the first one. When it came back, he said to read it once and then send it out to the second name on the list and so on. We do our best job at seeking a market when we feel good about the piece. And when we get the rejection, we tend to put the work away and never send it out again. Having a next step to take (the next market on the list) means keeping the piece in circulation. I never reached the 10th market before I sold my piece. Not because they were great pieces but because I kept trying. That was great advice.
Why do you write?
I can’t not write. I’ve thought about this a great deal though, especially since I’m not growing wealthy as a writer. I write to make a difference, to tell stories that would otherwise be lost that I think are important. They’re stories about women, strong women, powerful women who often didn’t see themselves that way. They were ordinary by most standards. Joyce Carol Oates said once that a good story needs three things: to create empathy for the character; to give voice to voices seldom heard; to memorialize. I try to do all three but ultimately I write because I feel compelled to.
What are you best known for … writing or otherwise?
I have terminal Pollyannaitis. My friends all look to me to find the good in every situation, to forgive quickly, to diplomatically tell the truth when it needs to be told. I hope my stories do that to now that you ask!
What book have you reread the most?
English Creek by Ivan Doig.
Right this moment, what does your office look like?
It’s trashed. I have stacks of folders on either side of my desktop. Books in the window sill. Manuscript copies on the floor. My beautiful bookcase is full and the front of books are stacked with piles of other books – reference, novels, gifts. I once had three fine young women come to help me clean my office. They were wonderful (and would be horrified to see that I didn’t keep up their good efforts). I found it hard to give things away that were gifts to me. One young mom said “It was given to you to bless you. It’s not blessing you now so give it away to someone so it can bless them.” That helped a lot so I also have a box that I occasionally put items in that I’m willing to let go, savoring the memory but not the item. But when I’m writing, I don’t notice any of the clutter. I’m in the 1850s when the wind is blowing, the snow is falling and my characters are trying to make it home. Clutter in my office is nothing compared to their problems!
Ever had a bad review? How did you handle it?
Oh yes. I’ve had to work on letting go of the word “appalling.” I read from the book Rotten Rejections about famous authors and their terrible reviews. They kept writing so I silence the harpies that would deter me and keep going. I have this phrase: It would be nice if everything went the way I wanted but it doesn’t. That’s what living looks like. One author said that at the first sign of a negative word in a review he throws the review away. He said he also throws away good reviews but he reads them all the way through first. I think that’s a very wise approach.
What are your biggest distractions?
Feeling guilty that I’m not spending more time with my husband and friends. And maybe my dogs who come up and bunt my hand on the computer begging me to go out. Hard not to pay attention to that.
What is the smartest writing advice you ever got?
It was really more promotional advice. I asked my brother, a successful salesman, what he wanted in a product that made it easy for him to sell. He took a few days then called me back. “Two things. You want to make sure it’s the best product around, top notch. Second, you want to have a story.” A Story? “Yes, because if it’s a great product they can buy it anywhere but if they have a story to go with it, then they’ll remember you and buy it from you.” Out of that advice came an understanding of the power of the story. It helps me promote my work because it isn’t about me, it’s about the characters and their stories and what they taught me while I wrote and what I hope they bring to readers. Focus on making it a fabulous story. That’s the advice.
Who’s your favorite character you’ve written so far? Explain:
Ha. The one I’m working on now! Each character had something to tell me, to encourage me, to frustrate me. But when I enter and live the story, that character is the one I care most about. Right now I’m working on a character named Jennie who overcame incredible odds to become one of the first women to graduate from a medical school in Oregon. I love her! I also love Tabby Brown from This Road we Traveled. She was such a pistol, outspoken, enduring, not taking no for an answer. And she never lived with any of her children as she got older. Hmmm, could she have been a bit of a pill to live with?
Are you an introvert? Extrovert? In-between?
I’m an introvert, needing quiet time to gather thoughts and ideas. I can spend hours in my office. When people say writing is a lonely profession I disagree. I never feel less alone than when I’m writing because I have all those characters and a rich imaginary life to entertain me. But I also do public speaking, keynote conferences, teach classes and then I’m very aware of people “out there” and gain energy from helping meet the needs and goals of others. On the Meyers Briggs Personality Inventory, my Introvert/extrovert are equal but I still think of myself as introverted because that’s where I draw my strength from.
My great adventure has been…
Giving up a profession to move with my husband to a remote piece of land seven miles from the mailbox and eleven miles from a paved road. It was the biggest risk of my life, our families thought we had gone off the deep end. It changed my life forever and taught me over and over how faithful God is. We stepped out on a cloud of faith and didn’t fall through. Out of that risk came many tragedies and challenges but also a new profession – writing – and a new family as I worked for 17 years on an Indian reservation, something I had longed to do but didn’t think could ever happen. Then one day, when financially we needed help the most, a letter arrived asking me to work with children with disabilities on the reservation. My first novel grew out of my life working with Native Americans. That never would have happened – nor the writing life – if we hadn’t chosen to trust God for our future and our present. So homesteading is the grand adventure of my life.
Best indulgence: chocolate
Anything new for you on the book horizon?
This Road We Traveled will release in September and I’m already working on the next one!
How can readers connect with you?
Thanks again, Jane, for taking time to drop in. Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of “This Road We Traveled!”