As a child, I loved to dream away the days in an old cherry tree on my family’s pony farm. In my imagination, the tree became a beautiful Arabian stallion, a medieval castle and even a pirate ship. I got in trouble for making my bratty little sisters walk the plank, but hey, they never broke any bones. On rainy days, I headed for my fort in the hayloft. While the rain thudded on the cedar shingled roof, I read books, eventually trading Carolyn Keene for Georgette Heyer.
Today, I live on the family ranch in the Cascade foothills of Washington state in what was once a summer vacation cabin. It’s been modernized and even has indoor plumbing – woo-hoo! I share it with my three cats or maybe, they share it with me. I still read a lot. The TV only gets one channel, but the walls are lined with bookshelves and my favorite shopping trip is to Borders down in Everett.
I read everywhere. There are books on the kitchen table, by my rocking chair in the living-room, next to my bed and even in the bathroom. Often, I read more than one at a time, so it’s lucky that I can multi-task. However, when I write, I only do one project at a time, because I want to know everything about my characters and their lives.
I usually write at night after a long day on the ranch. Some days are longer and harder than others, so I’m happy when I manage five days of writing in a week. As a substitute school teacher, I love the summer break but I’m just as busy, since that’s when we do horse day-camp.
Often, I feel like the little girl in the commercial on TV, who wears a different color each day. I have a different horse for each task. My old Quarterhorse mare, Lucky Lady is my favorite – we’ve been together for 21 years and she can do it all. She could probably teach horse camp without me. She hurt her foot in June, so she’s recuperated all summer and I’ve been riding Luckenbach – yes, she’s named after the town in the song. A Belgian/Quarterhorse cross, Luke feels like a tank, and often forgets that she knows how to neck-rein. She’s big, broad and brave, unless a rabbit hops out of a brush pile. For fun, I ride SummerTime – he’s an Arab/Quarterhorse cross and the youngest of my trio. A retired show-horse, he can make even a novice look awesome and the biggest challenge I have is getting the students off him so I can ride him too.
With all the critters on the ranch, I don’t have time for a husband. As for kids, I have to give back the ones who come to learn how to ride at the end of each day. Now, I’m teaching the kids and grandkids of the ones I taught way back when we started. I’ve had a lot of adventures over the years – they number 50 – and in my next 50 years, I plan to write all about them. I hope you enjoy reading about them!
Q: What is your writing day like?
A: It depends on the time of year, but I’m up at 6 am most days and either on my way to school or in the barn by 7 am. I envy people who are awake at that hour – for me I’m either grabbing a mocha at my favorite espresso stand or else finishing the last swallow of coffee on my way out the door. Unless the teacher leaves me classroom assignments to grade during my prep period, I often edit or revise what I wrote the night before during that hour. I get home from school about 4 pm, change my clothes and head for the barn. While I muck stalls, water and feed the horses, I run through plot problems in my mind. After dinner, I head for the computer and start writing from about 8 pm to midnight. Some nights, I have a tough time getting on task, so I check out the email from my writer friends and see what their days were like.
Q: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
A: The best advice came from my grandmother. Like most writers, I draw on real-life experiences. Everything I see, taste, touch, smell, hear and feel ends up in a book or newspaper column or magazine article. My sisters complain bitterly since they have ended up in an article or two and one day, several years ago my grandmother overheard the youngest griping once again. Grandma looked up from the magazine article and asked, “Is this true? Did you really learn to coil up the garden hose because the pony stomped it into snake-size pieces?” My sister admitted the anecdote was factual, if embarrassing. Grandma turned to me and said, “Always write for yourself first. If it comes from your heart, somebody will pay you for it.”
Q: What is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
A: The worst piece of advice came from someone I considered a friend. Our friends always seem to know what buttons to push to break our hearts. At that point, I had written for years. I was originally published in young adult fiction 20+ years ago. My publisher folded shortly after my second book came out and even though I sold newspaper and magazine articles, nobody seemed interested in my books. I knew I needed to study my craft and improve my stories so they would entertain readers and be the best books possible. At one point, a close friend asked, “Why don’t you just quit? Nobody is beating down your door to buy your stuff.” I immediately answered, “Because it’d be easier to stop breathing than it would be to stop writing.”
Q: What is your workspace like?
A: My workspace can be as small as my office, a tiny room with bookshelves along one wall, bookcases and file cabinets and a desk for my computer. It can be as large as the 17 stall barn where I brainstorm most nights. One Saturday a month when I meet my friends at the Greater Seattle RWA chapter, it can be a table at a restaurant where we talk writing for hours. I work wherever I am, so the world becomes my workspace.
Q: Do you have a catch-phrase and what is it?
A: My catch-phrase for writing is “Get In Late, Get Out Early!” or “GIL, GOE.” Unfortunately, while this makes the story exciting, it doesn’t work for my “day-job.”
Q: How does a story first come to you?
A: The protagonist comes to me first and while she’s on stage, I begin to see the backdrop behind her. The story slowly evolves until I know enough to start the book. I’m a total “pantser” – I write by the seat of my pants and until the character shares her life, I have no idea where the story is going. Unfortunately, this means I usually have to write two or three drafts before I get to my final one and that’s the one the editor gets to see.
Q: Do you use any audio or visual aids when you write?
A: I use a poster board to create a collage of my protagonist’s life, what she likes, who is important to her and her motto for life. Then I hang that poster on the wall so I can see it from my computer. As for music, I love classic country and old time rock and roll. I often play records or CDs while I write.
Q: What’s your favorite book?
A: If it has words, I’ll read it, but I have to say that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is my all time favorite. Every summer I start with the first one and read my way through the last one. My hope is that by the time I finish, she’ll have a new one out.
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