Welcome, Ann. Tell us
how much of yourself you write into your characters.
Many people have asked if STARS is autobiographical and if
Abby is me. People see the 10-year-old Abby in the 50+ year old me. I was born
the same year as Abby and I wanted to go “home” to my youth and it’s easier to
write about what you know. Birch Bay,
, two miles from my
grandparents’ farm, was my idyllic childhood vacation place. Various other characters
in my novels stem from my life experiences. For a character to have any degree
of believability he/she has to be based on someone or have some quality of someone
I believe in. I like to feel I know all my characters and could pick them out
off the street.
What is the quirkiest
thing you have ever done?
Not exactly quirky but I did a mini triathlon in my 20’s and
I was almost clawed under during the swimming portion, and the wheel almost fell
off my bike during the biking. I used to sing the National Anthem for the
Seattle Mariners in the Kingdome before it was blown up.
Cool on the National
Anthem. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
Very young. I was writing first person short stories in
elementary school as the life of a pencil. My dad thought of me as such a good storyteller
that he gave up his turn at the Toastmaster podium, and turned it over to his
elementary-aged daughter. I did some sort of three-point presentation on how grownups
ruin Christmas by trying to be too organized.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I enjoy non-fiction and memoirs (Brain on Fire, Boys in the Boat, Seabiscuit,
) to Christian fiction by Chris Fabry and Charles Martin, to women’s
literary fiction – saga, mother/daughter stories. Some favorites: To Kill
a Mockingbird, Cutting for Stone, The
Language of Flowers, Kite Runner, The Light Between Oceans, The Glass Castle.
I’ll read almost any genre if the book has a strong VOICE and it’s “readeemable.”
How do you keep your
sanity in our run, run, run world?
Do I? I have four jobs: voice teacher, musical theatre
director, substitute teacher, and author. The beauty of these jobs is that they
all give me freedom. I can say yes or no or change up my schedule. Right now,
there’s NOTHING I want to retire from! But I have learned that “No” is a really
important choice because it gives me margin. We all need margin. There was a three-month
period I had no margin and I turned down two friends who needed my help. I
hated that. My children are 20 and 22 and I loved raising them on a farm where
we can breathe even if we take in the aroma of sheep. It’s so difficult to “compete”
with this world’s fast pace and intensity and it’s just not healthy.
I so agree. How do
you choose your characters’ names?
That’s such a great question because in my novels, there is
usually significance to each character’s name and how they earned it and how
they feel about it. It has to resonate with me in a special way. After I’ve selected
it, I write with the name and then after I’ve lived with it, I either love it
or not. If I’m iffy, it goes. As a kid sitting in church, I would sketch out
big families and name every member. I’ve ALWAYS loved names. Writing and naming
people is a way to have a big family and the fun of naming them all!
What is the accomplishment
that you are most proud of?
It’s not my accomplishment, it’s God’s. My family. I love my
entire extended family and am so proud of the women of God my daughters have
become. One is a kind and gentle nurse and the other is studying International Relations/Arabic
so she can be a positive liaison for peace.
If you were an
animal, which one would you be, and why?
A puppy. Who doesn’t love a puppy? Pleasing everybody! You
get away with everything. Hahaha.
What is your favorite
All kinds of fruit. White pizza. Arugula. Tiramisu. Salted
Caramel, white chocolate. Butterscotch chip brownies.
What is the problem
with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Getting things right. Sometimes I feel stuck at the beginning
of research. If I am in a different time period, location, and I want
believability, I can be my worst critic. I’m currently working on Out of the Water
, a time-slip novel in 1919,
1931, and 1981. It covers Boston
, Deer Lodge, Montana
, and Seattle,
. I’m fascinated by Boston
during the war, pandemic, and even a molasses
flood, as well as a prison town in Montana
but these locales and time periods are unfamiliar. I wrote a Christmas novella
in a month this winter and it takes place in Loudoun County
, and Washington, DC
my stomping grounds. The research was delightfully easy! How do I overcome it?
I just have to put something on the page and then have someone read it for
accuracy later. If I wait for perfection, nothing will happen.
Tell us about the
Stars in the Grass was originally the short story “Seeing from
the Balcony.” It came out of my greatest fear. Ironically, the fear of losing a
child came before ever having a child. In the meantime, I did get married, raised
two little girls, and wrote three other books. Finally, I returned to the short
story and brought the characters to life with the novel. Originally 102,000
words, my book doctor said it should be 80,000. I tightened it to 85,000 and it
was a better book for the pruning. Someone asked me, “How do you know it’s
done?” I knew STARS was ready. There wasn’t anything more I wanted to add or delete,
and I had read it soooooo many times!
Please give us the
first page of the book.
This is a funny question. The novel opens with the Prologue.
The first chapter of my book is a few pages later. When at the Christy Awards,
they announce winners by reading the opening paragraph of the novel. When I
didn’t hear the Prologue, I thought I lost. But the words I was hearing didn’t
sound like it was a Holocaust Novel or anything in the Middle
. Suddenly, I recognized my own words. But when I turned to my
best friend and my publisher, and said I thought it was my book, they were
disbelieving. They, too, were waiting to hear the Prologue.
I’ll give you the Prologue—what I was
expecting to hear!
I spent the better part of my childhood sitting on a pew in
the balcony of Bethel Springs First Presbyterian Church, listening to my dad’s
long vowels as he preached on predestination. Sandwiched between my older
brother, Matt, and my little brother, Joel, I counted bald heads, doodled on
church bulletins, and studied the stained-glass Jesus.
Reverend McAndrews was godlike and mysterious. Definitely not
the same man who read to us from Dr. Seuss, ran through the sprinkler on steamy
or smiled as we played hide-and-go-seek in his Father’s House.
Though I can’t remember many of his three-point sermons, I
have other good memories. One Sunday during a hymn, Matt and I sang loudly,
changing the words to our liking, “Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear,” and crossing
our eyes for added effect. When we sat back down, I rested the hymnal on the
railing and fanned myself by riffling through the pages. Then it happened. Onto
one of the fifty-one shining bald heads below, I dropped the hymnal.
It clapped to the floor, and then in the congregational
hush, Mr. Ludema winced in surprised pain. I only looked down long enough to
see necks craning up toward the balcony and then turning toward my father and
then back to the balcony. Dad squinted to see Mrs. Ludema as she nursed her
husband’s head and then looked up at the cause of the disruption. Me.
Dad stared at me for fifteen seconds. I know because I
counted every one of them. I did not look away; instead I memorized his sandy thick
hair fringed with gray streaks. I couldn’t see his eyes because the sun was
reflecting on the lenses of his glasses. His mouth was closed, his thick jaw
tense. The congregation waited for the Reverend McAndrews, and so did I. At
last he said, with a nod to the balcony and a sigh, “And the Word has come down
from on high.”
During responsive reading, his voice rose and fell so
predictably, I was nearly lulled to sleep unless I pulled out a pencil to
sketch the hills and valleys. “‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gooood,’”
Reverend McAndrews read from Psalm 136. His voice grew louder and the pitch
higher until the word Lord, where he paused and let it fall off to a low, soft,
long, concluding gooood. We echoed, “‘For his steadfast love endures for ever.’”
After repeating it twenty-six times, what I thought everlasting was the psalm
I did not question the psalmist’s message until I was nine and
Matt was fifteen and we crossed a crevasse of pain. It took struggling through
that jagged blackness of doubt and fear for the girl in the balcony to finally
consider the words, and to really connect with the man in the pulpit and the
woman at the organ.
My mother looked just like Jackie Kennedy. I don’t know if
our former First Lady could play the organ, but my mother could not, despite
the expectations of the elders of BS Pres. (Such an unfortunate acronym, but
one this Preacher’s Kid enjoyed flaunting.) The organ faced forward, so my
mother’s back was toward the congregation, which could have been symbolic
considering her reluctance to play the role. Though my mother’s keyboard
technique lacked beauty and grace, her speech did not. My mother’s voice was
soft and gentle, full of intricate words she shared, always believing in
expanding her children’s vocabulary at every opportunity. Nothing about her
projected strength, but I would learn she had enough for all of us
The summer before I turned ten was idyllic—until August 3,
1970. At the time I didn’t know what that word meant, not having heard it in a
sermon or one of Mom’s vocabulary lessons. But it perfectly describes a time
when I thought the world was safe and good things lasted forever. What I couldn’t
know then, but try to remember now, is how fragile and delicate are the moments
we most treasure, and if they break into pieces, repairing means seeing anew.
How can readers find
you on the Internet?
Social media links:
Thank you, Ann, for
sharing this book with my readers and me.
Readers, here are links to the book.
Stars in the Grass
Stars in the Grass
- Amazon paperback
Stars in the Grass
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