1.Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
For about twenty years I was an elite runner, had US and world-rankings two years in a row: 8th fastest masters (over 40) in the US and 18th fastest in the world. I ran 63 marathons in my career, including Boston five times, New York City once and the 1988 Olympic Marathon Team Trials. I was 20th woman in Boston in 1987, third master in NYC in 1990 and was the woman’s winner of the Virginia Beach Marathon in 1986. I still workout six or seven days a week, but I would describe myself now as a jogger, not a runner. I can’t do without it though: running kept me sane through the years, helped keep me looking young and I made wonderful friendships with other runners from around the world.
2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
Yes, I was six or seven. I used to write stories sitting at my grandmother’s desk, stories I’d read to her once I’d finished. I remember the first one being about a princess who was also a rabbit, so I guess she was a rabbit princess, who took care of all of the other rabbits, and the occasional mouse, who lived in her kingdom.
3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
My novel is titled “Letting Go.” What inspired it? Ah, excellent question. I wish I had a definitive answer for that but I don’t. One of the characters in the book has Alzheimer’s, my father died from the disease so I know that how my brothers and I coped with his decline and eventual death figured into the narrative. Setting was very important to me in this book: place, if you will. I graduated from Grosse Ile High School, the island is in the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. I spent twenty years of my life in Michigan, graduated from Michigan State University but I have lived in California for twenty-two years. I knew when I started writing the story that both Michigan and California would be important.
4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
All total I suppose six months but there would be days that I wouldn’t write at all and then days where I’d write for a couple of hours. It’s really hard to nail down a determinate time but six months seems reasonable. I found, as I had read on more than one occasion, that the novel wrote itself. I knew when I began what the last sentence would be, which is why the last sentence in the first chapter mirrors the last sentence in the final chapter, with one significant change. Once I knew what those sentences were, it was simply a matter of filling in all the words in-between! I found writing this novel to be very easy. The words just flowed. And I came to know the characters so well that if I were to run into one of them in Starbucks or at the grocery store, I’d know who they were, even if they were masked!
5. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Well, I suppose if you consider that I don’t write first drafts, don’t write drafts at all…then I guess I do. I never wrote drafts of essays or term papers in college, I just sat down with all the information I needed and wrote the paper and turned it in. I pretty much did the same thing with this novel. I had a couple beta-readers who I would send chapters to as I had finished them. I would write in the evenings and then the next day would read what I had written the day before, make any changes I deemed necessary and then start writing the new material. Once the novel was finished, I went back and re-read it once and made some minor edits here and there…taking out a word or two that I didn’t think worked, replacing it with something better. And that was that. I was finished and didn’t feel at that point that it could get any better, it was as good as I believed it could be.
6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
In high school and then my first couple years of college I wanted to be an actor. I did some summer stock years ago, took a lot of drama classes and sometimes I think that I would like to get back into acting again but of course now with the virus, there aren’t any plays being produced, so I’m sticking to writing. I suppose I prefer writing anyway, because when you’re acting you’re bringing to life what someone else has written: being a writer I can create my own characters.
7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
One of the best books I’ve read about writing itself, the process if you will of writing, is titled “On Writing”, authored by Stephen King. Who has influenced me? Fitzgerald (but not everything, I tried to read “Tender is the Night” and gave it up about a quarter of the way through) but I love Gatsby: have read it several times. There is no better sentence ever written in the English language than the last line of “The Great Gatsby.” All writers should aspire to write something that perfect just once in their career. Vonnegut, and with him I love everything he wrote. I loved Dubus’ early works: “Townie” his collection of short stories and “House of Sand and Fog” took my breath away but I was disappointed in his latest novel. I’ve never been disappointed in anything by Haruki Murakami, Kate Atkinson, Jennifer Egan, Lauren Groff, Zadie Smith, Otessa Moshfegh, Rebecca Makkai, Jose Saramango, Michael Chabon and Alice Munro. Of course there’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez as well, what an imagination and isn’t that what writing is all about? One of the best books I’ve read in a very long time is “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”, I’ve never read anything quite like it and I doubt I ever will. The writing is exquisite. Other recent works I’ve enjoyed, and admired are “The Nickel Boys”, “We Cast a Shadow” and “The Vanishing Half.”
8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
Yes, my kitchen is rather busy these days: some things are still just simmering while others are starting to boil. I’m writing two novels but have come to the realization that one of them is going to be ready for serving much sooner than the other, and needs all of my attention. It’s titled “Telling Stories”. It’s the story of a woman in her mid-60s who has been forced out of her job as the editor of a magazine much like “The Atlantic” or “Harper’s” because of her age, who’s trying to come to grips with the fact that she has many years of her life left but she may live it alone and unfulfilled creatively. She’s been divorced for five years and is estranged from her two daughters. Shortly after her firing she answers an ad on Craigslist, written by a young man in his 30s who wants help writing his memoirs. Oh, and there’s a pandemic going on. I’m also working on a non-fiction book about senior care, specifically how we treat the most vulnerable in our society: senior citizens who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. The book will be based in large part on my personal experiences working in assisted living facilities, specifically with the residents who have a neurological disorder/dementia. In fact, I’m working full-time now in an assisted living/memory care facility.
9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
Yes, I think about my audience. I abhor the “women’s fiction” designation but I do believe that women may like my book more than men, although two of my beta-readers were male and they both enjoyed it. “Book club” fiction, yes I think that “Letting Go” is a novel that would be appreciated by readers who belong to book clubs, which of course goes back to the idea that it’s more of a book that women will like simply because most book clubs are made up of women.
10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Yes, don’t listen to any advice! Seriously, other than perhaps reading one or two books about writing, like the aforementioned King book, I don’t think that it behooves anyone to listen to all the advice that’s out there. Just write, write and read. Read the kinds of books that you want to write. Pay close attention to what you liked and didn’t like about the way the author wrote and then read some more and write some more and keep on doing that until your story is finished. I guess I just gave advice, didn’t I?
11. What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Well I suppose I’d have to go with the line attributed to Hemingway: “Write drunk and edit sober.”
12. How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I read two to three books a month, sometimes more. Usually I’m reading two at a time, fiction and a memoir or narrative non-fiction (Erik Larsen and Laura Hillenbrand are two of my favorite narrative non-fiction writers: “Devil in the White City” was remarkable, I’ve read it several times, same goes for “Unbroken” and “Seabiscuit”) Right now I’m reading a memoir: “Please Enjoy Your Happiness” by Paul Brinkley-Rogers and “The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals” by Becky Mandelbaum.
13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
What is most relevant about my writing? Hmmm, another good question. I’d say that I want readers to feel something when they read what I’ve written. I want the reader to remember what she or he read, to not just lay the book aside and move on to the next one but to have been moved in some way by what the characters experienced that she or he can relate to, can say: “yes, I know what that’s like, I’ve been there, I’ve felt that way, too.” “Letting Go” isn’t all tidied up neatly at the end, there are some characters who face tough times in the future, characters the reader has come to care about (I hope!) I always want some ambiguity in my stories, some things that are left unfinished, I want the reader to have a sense of being a bit unsure about the way things might turn out, even for the protagonist: because isn’t that the way life is?
14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
Since this is my first foray into the publishing world I don’t know that I can speak to that. I was very lucky that “Letting Go” was published. So far I have nothing but praise for the way I’ve been treated and my experience. I will say that one thing that makes me happy is that print books have not fallen out-of-favor: in fact they are as popular as ever. That pleases me greatly for entirely selfish reasons: I have never ever read a digital book and never intend to. I so enjoy the feel of an actual book, a physical real thing, something that I can touch and hold and if I really loved it, sit with it on my lap, savoring it’s presence after I’ve turned the last page.