When and how did you start writing?
In elementary school I wrote my first epic poems about pirate kings and short stories about runaway boys on box car trains. Later, I wrote angst-ridden poetry by flashlight in my dorm room with the summer camp equivalent of The Dead Poet’s Society (all of which I eventually burned in a bonfire sacrifice to the goddess of ex-boyfriends and broken hearts). In college (a small liberal arts school), writing was at the core of every academic concentration. I majored in Psychology and flip-flops, and reflected on my authentic self. I wrote a lot back then.
I stopped writing after college. Got caught up in building a career and starting a family. Unwritten stories and high blood pressure both kept me awake at night, until my doctor said something that changed everything. He said ‘You are too young for your heart to stop beating’. He was right. It was a very Allison Reynolds/Breakfast Club moment. To realize I had grown up, and let my heart die. More than fifteen years had passed, but I started writing again.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
As a small child, my Uncle Bob read me faerie tales from an enchanting collection called Pepper and Salt or Seasoning for Young Folk by Howard Pyle. I don’t think this book is in print any longer, but I still have my copy, a later re-print bearing an original copyright date of 1885 by Harper & Row.
The first middle grade stories I fell in love with were THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN by Lloyd Alexander. And as a teenager, I discovered the works of S.E. Hinton and fell in love with storytellers who paint the darker, grittier underbelly of young adult issues by capturing them in a collection of beautiful moments. I rarely recall a story in its entirety (I have a horrible memory), but I come away from certain books with a handful of haunting or beautiful or gripping moments, and those unforgettable moments are what I strive to create in my own work.
Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?
I was at a conference for my former employer. We were doing an icebreaker and had to wander the room of a hundred real estate agents and share an interesting fact about ourselves. I came up with nothing. It was a light bulb moment when I realized that after twelve years, I was miserable in my career. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing with my life. I couldn’t ignore all the stories in my head that haunted my work days and kept me awake at night. So I announced to one hundred people that I was writing a novel, because the first step to achieving a goal is to say it out loud and become accountable for it.
That summer, I took an eight week sabbatical and wrote the first draft of DEAD BLUE. When it was finished, I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop. I told myself that if the agents, authors and editors hated my book, I would go back to my real estate job. Instead, they loved it. They coached me through the process of researching and selecting an agent. After long talks with my husband, I sold my car, we worked up a tight family budget, and I left my job to write full time. Two months later, I found The Greenhouse.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
Both my children are in school during the day, so I use that time to write. I treat it like a regular work day and try to avoid interruptions. The evenings and weekends are spent with my family. I worked nights and weekends for many years, so it is a rare treat to enjoy so much time with my husband and children. The kids and I also spend about 3-4 months a year living in a palapa (thatch roof open air house) in a small village on the Mayan Riviera. The sun and fresh air is good for my soul, and my process.
Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?
I am currently developing the sequel to DEAD BLUE. I’m thrilled to continue Nearly and Reece’s story. I’m also working on a stand-alone project I’m really excited about, called HOLDING SMOKE. The manuscript has been accepted into the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, and I am deeply honored to be working hand in hand with the extraordinary Ellen Hopkins on revisions. Beyond that, I am researching the early Maryland colonies for a historical thriller. And I’ll spend the Day of the Dead in Mexico this fall to research another thriller I’m developing.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Read. Read. Read.
Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. And read blogs too. There’s a wealth of information on craft, finding the right agent, self-promotion, and writing a saleable book! Submission guidelines and agent preferences are more accessible than ever. Read. Research. And most importantly, follow directions.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
1) Fearlessness: I’ve learned it’s okay to start over… from scratch. That cutting huge chunks of a manuscript only hurts as long as you wallow over the scraps on the floor. I’ve learned to move on, get back to work, and make it better.
2) Trust: I’ve learned to trust my prose. I am terribly guilty of overwriting, as most new authors are. I have to remind myself that sometimes less is more, and that strong pacing can depend on economy of words. It took practice (and a little superglue on my backspace key) to understand that I don’t need a lot of words, just the important ones.
3) Subtlety: I am still learning the fine art of nuance. Subtlety goes hand in hand with trust. In addition to trusting my prose, I’m trusting my readers to “get it” without feeling the need to shove their faces in every point. I’m learning that a lighter hand can often leave a deeper impact.
Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party?
WOW, this is hard. Okay, here’s the short list.
Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Carrie Ryan, Maggie Stiefvater, Kristin Cashore, Andrew Smith, Rachel Caine, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, JR Ward, and Diana Gabaldon. I am deeply in love with all of their books. I would be too nervous to do anything but squeak, but I’d fill their bellies with the world’s best pot roast and keep their cups overflowing with wine, because I am grateful for their stories.
What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
Cassel Sharpe from Holly Black’s CURSE WORKER series. The premise of this story is so unique. A mobster with the ability to wield curses! Sounds far out. But he’s relatable because he’s got the usual teen issues too… sibling rivalry, a mom with “issues”, a weird grandpa, family expectations that don’t jive with his own desires, societal prejudices, schoolwork, and a problematic relationship with a difficult girl he just can’t seem to get over. All around brilliant.