Tuesday, December 01, 2009
I think all writers use at least a part of themselves in understanding their characters. The biggest challenge is not to give too much of yourself away—you don’t want your character acting just as you would, because often our lives are not exciting or desperate enough to be fictional. Well, my life is sometimes desperate, but my characters don’t want to be like me.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Oh boy. I once compared my life to a pair of pantyhose that doesn’t fit right—you know when they’re too short and they inch down between your legs? Unfortunately, when I described the ill-fitting hose, I blurted out the word that rhymes with “scotch” on national Christian radio. Fortunately, the radio hosts were good sports and believed me when I said I didn’t do it on purpose.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
In first grade I rewrote the lyrics to “The Farmer in the Dell,” so that the song was about Thanksgiving. The teacher loved it, I was a seven-year old super star. I had several more inspirational teachers, plus my mom would type up my stuff and submit to places like Highlights for Children. My first sale was a poem I wrote in high school about love being like a melted popsicle. The Denver Post paid me three dollars. I was hooked.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
A sickly child, I read classics such as Alice in Wonderland and the Oz books. Later I tried to fix my life by reading nonfiction. These days I read a lot of memoir, a lot of Oprah Book Club-type fiction. I’m just starting to read Christian fiction. And I can’t get enough Young Adult fiction.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I was so determined to get a book out there that I finagled my way into coauthoring Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them (Waterbrook, 2002) with Melody Carlson and Heather Kopp. Then I did two more nonfiction titles with Kristen Johnson Ingram: Revealed: Spirituality in a Makeover World (Revell 2003) and Making Peace with a Dangerous God (Revell 2005). I’ve contributed to many short story and essay collections such as Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort. I’ve also written two more novels still looking for a home, a memoir of my experiences in a 1960s era Shriner’s Hospital, and two nonfiction books on Christian Living.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
You think I’m sane? What a quaint idea. Actually, I’m a driven writer, so staying really busy is my idea of a good time. I also garden (great place to solve plot problems), play with my five cats and stay connected to God, Who saves me from the world and myself.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
One way I name characters is to read the obituaries. Sounds morbid, but I’ve come up with some good ones. I’ve also used newspaper ads, names of old classmates, and some of my four adult children’s odd-named friends. For instance, Aunt Lutie came from a magazine article about Hopi Indians that I saw in an old Arizona Highways.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
It’s close, but I’d have to say raising my four kids—I have a set of “surprise” twins who followed on the heels of my first two boys. I’m still getting over that one. Other than Mommying, I’m proud that I have been able to write about God in my life, despite the fact that people told me again and again that I’d be a great “ABA” secular novelist. God won and I’m glad.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I confess I’m nuts about cats. I have five of them presently. In the wild they’re meateaters, so I’d have to figure out a way not to kill anything.
What is your favorite food?
I’m a desert rat from Arizona, and I love good Mexican food—Sonoran style.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Did I mention the four kids? When I began to learn to write, I ran a full-time in-home daycare. Every afternoon, during rest time, I put my Selectric typewriter on the stovetop and typed standing up—easier to check on the kiddoes. You could say I wrote from Home on the Range. From the beginning, I wanted to write full-time, but like most writers, I had to earn money other ways. I no longer do daycare, but I teach, mentor and edit other writers.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
First, read a copy of Marge Piercy’s poem, “For the Young Who Want To,” and then decide if you are willing to be the laughing stock of your family (who think your writing is a cute hobby, like knitting) while you are learning to write. If the answer is yes, then write, write, write. Spend ten thousand hours or write a million words. Get busy. And read, read, read. You might start out with, ahem, my book, The Fence My Father Built.
Tell us about the featured book?
Please give us the first page of the book.
Sprawled across the bed, you slept face-down, wearing that red cowboy shirt and the velvet skirt you love. I stood by and watched your breathing. Your hair, so straight and black, reminded me of my people, our people, and I wondered what you dreamed. Years ago, the Nez Perce surrendered to broken treaties, broken dreams. I’m sorry, daughter, but I’m surrendering, too.
You’re only three, Muri, but you learn fast. In this Oregon desert, the sun beats down hot, and today our tan faces shone with sweat. We walked across the sagebrush and you held the corn snake we found. You held it gently, without fear. I felt proud as I ever have.
After sunset, we sat on the hill and looked up at the stars. When you got cold I draped my old coat around you and told you all about angels. On the way home, you didn’t ask for your mother, not once. It’s wrong, I know, but I was pleased.
I had big plans to be your daddy. I was going to read to you every day, teach you the names of all the Civil War battles. I’d teach you how to fish. You’d learn how to listen to the wind and how to skip a stone. Most of all, I’d teach you how to pray.
None of that will happen now.
After your mom called, I broke down and cried and I couldn’t stop. I’ve lost. Your mother doesn’t know our ways but she has the white man’s courts on her side. They call it full custody. I cry because I won’t see you on your first day of school or when you get your driver’s license.
I'm intrigued. How can readers find you on the Internet?
You can catch up with me on my blog, godsonggrace.blogspot or on Facebook.
Thank you, Linda, for spending this time with us.
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