welcome to me :: a working writer tells all

May 11, 2016

To celebrate Family Tree, my first novel in the William Morrow imprint, we’ve remodeled my website. I’m grateful to the amazing design team at HarperCollins and, as always, to the lovely and talented Willa, who has been my web designer since the web was invented. Please take a look around and let me know what you think.

My blog has been integrated into the site, so here’s a post inspired by Catherine, the very bright daughter of one of my favorite writers and people, Robert Dugoni. She’s a sophomre in high school, but she asks the questions everyone wonders about when they talk to a writer.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What led you to want to be a novelist?

I have been a writer since I was two years old. I have proof in the form of an old church collection envelope on which I was writing my name at age 2. My mom was so startled to see me writing that she saved the envelope, and I still have it. By age 3, I was illustrating stories and having my mom write them down. (I have an awesome mom). In third grade I learned cursive writing and my teacher, Mrs. Marge Green, said I should write a book. I did, and I still have the book I wrote. You can see samples of my earliest work here.

Since I was a storyteller from birth, I can only think that what led me was the inner urge a human is born with to tell stories. That, and the fact that both of my parents were avid readers. They read all the time, and they read to their kids all the time. I’m sure they read to me as a baby, so I came to associate reading and stories with comfort, security and love. I wish the whole world could have parents like mine!

Here is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes: “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Was English always a strong suit in school, or did you struggle through it?

I was one of the lucky ones–the subject came naturally to me and it never felt like work. Straight As. 100% on every test. A standardized test or exam was a cakewalk for me in this area. I was a great speller. I actually liked diagramming sentences and parsing out the structure of a work. My fascination with language and story knows no bounds. So in this sense, English class was a vacation for the mind.

However, there are writers who did struggle with English and schoolwork and the like, yet they’re still incredible authors. A number of writers I know have dealt with learning disabilities. I am in awe of such writers. To struggle in this area, AND achieve success as a novelist, is phenomenal.

What did you study in school?

My undergraduate degrees are in math and French. I have a master’s degree in education. I was a teacher for eleven years, writing in the evenings, on weekends and throughout the summer. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, but I loved it.

During those years, I had three jobs–teacher, mom, and writer. In order to write, I gave up watching TV and a good amount of sleep. I devoted every evening after my daughter was in bed to writing. It wasn’t easy, but anything worth having is worth sacrificing for.

People who tell me, “I would love to write a book, but I don’t have time” simply don’t want it badly enough. You make time for what’s important to you, so if getting your book written is important, you’ll figure out how to fit it into your life. Get up an hour earlier. Stay up an hour later. Stay at your desk during lunch hour. A dedicated writer is resourceful with her time.

If someone wants to write novels, what should she study in school?

Anything and everything that interests you. Study whatever you want. We know writers who have studied law, medicine, library science, advertising. We know writers who have virtually no formal education at all. You could study literature, creative writing, dance, engineering–anything that trains your mind.

Read novels. Read essays and poetry. Read memoirs and history and nonfiction. Read EVERYTHING.

Write all the time, about anything and everything. Pay attention to the sound and sense of the written word. Let your natural voice come through.

Were you a big reader growing up? Do you still love to read?

Absolutely. I read a book a day and more as a kid. One summer, I read a biography from each letter of the alphabet, A to Z–Jane Addams to Zoroaster–just because. These days, I still read every day–fiction, thrillers, nonfiction, you name it. Reading is a part of my life the way breathing is a part of my life.

When you’re an avid reader, there are books that stay with you for the rest of your days. They become part of your blood and bone as a writer and person. I hope everyone has this collection close to her heart.

Thanks for stopping by. Check back in a couple of days for Part 2 of Catherine’s interview, and we’ll tackle the nitty gritty of what it takes to make a writing career.

Categories : books
  • Yes, your parents are amazing. They gave you a solid foundation for life which you gave to Elizabeth and she’s giving to Clara.

    My folks didn’t read to me. I had horrid English teachers. But, I worked in the local library which was my safe haven. I learned how to write in business school and learned from my Industrial Marketing professor in grad school that the clarity of our thinking come through in our writing. True.

    When I got my first job as a writer, I wanted to send a copy of my first check to my high school English teacher. It was a really big check. 🙂

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