I’m thankful for the chance to participate in another interview as we gear up to promote “Dance For Me” to a whole new audience! Some of these questions were brand new to me–and fun to answer!
- When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing for, literally, as long as I can remember. There’s a picture of me no more than four years of age writing. I was in ninth grade when I attended a conference held by a publishing house to see the steps I needed to take to get published and created query letters and samples that I began sending out to publishers shortly thereafter. Still, it’s hard for me to equate writing with working because I so love the art of writing!
- Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
When I first began writing, it was “by the book”: I “couldn’t” write without an outline and a character summary. Each book started with a “Plot Summary” page which was “the big idea.” From that summary, I created a very detailed outline and I wrote in order, starting with the prologue and ending with an epilogue. It was my “formula” for writing. In 2008, though, something changed. I had this character shadowing me and I wrote the scene in my head, initially thinking it was going to be a short story. After that first scene was written, another scene came and I wrote it. Once all the scenes I saw in my head were written, I had a book. It wasn’t in order and it needed a little bit of transitioning work between chapters, but it became my “break-through” book, the one that was the best-selling for years.
Today, I don’t have a set way to write: if a scene comes to me, I write it. If the story seems complex or there are many main characters, I’ll jot down a rough outline, but it’s nowhere near as detailed or intense as they once were. While writing without an outline has its challenges, it also gives me a freedom I quite enjoy.
- Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
I love to read! My favorite authors are Jodi Picoult because her books always make me think outside of my comfort zone and examine parts of myself I might not otherwise want to look at, Markus Zusak, Ernest Hemingway, Anna Quindlen and, because every book she’s ever written has made me laugh and cry, Judith McNaught. My intense passion for reading was a direct result of Ann M. Martin’s “Baby-Sitter’s Club” books and so I will always have a soft spot for her work, too.
- Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?
Absolutely. One of the main reasons I love having my books published is because it allows me to connect with others and I feel indebted to people who have spent hard earned money just to read one of my books. I don’t necessarily respond to the reviews left on Amazon because there’s no easy way for me to do that, but if a reader comments on a blog post I’ve written or sends me an e-mail, I always respond back. I love getting letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What do you do in your free time?
I’m a mother to two young girls and I thrive when I’m spending time with them. I homeschool them, so I’m constantly busy coming up with curriculum plans, creative projects and also planning our next outing to the zoo or science center or day trip. I really believe in living life to the fullest and try hard to enjoy each day. Other than “mom-ing,” I also love horses, swimming, cooking and photography.
- Have any of your past loves inspired characters in your books?
Of course. The best stories are the truest ones. And I find I love those characters.
- Which character(s), created by you, do you consider as your masterpiece(s)?
What a question! There are a few that pop out. Ash is the one that consistently gets the most favorable comments from readers, and he is very, very special to me on a personal level. He’ll always take a top spot in my list of “Most Beloved Characters.” Still, I think I’m going to have to say Maelea, mainly because she underwent real change: she started out as a normal girl who became a terrified victim who then evolved to a wandering survivor. I was proud of the many layers involved in her story and her character.
- Do you blog?
Yes! As if it were a diary. My blog, with excerpts from the book and tons of personal entries, can be found at http://www.storiesthatmatterblog.com
- Why do you write?
When I was very young, I wrote because my characters were the only friends I really had. While I had an amazing support system with my mother and sister, my life was pretty chaotic: we moved every few months and I was abused by my father from an early age. Writing gave me a way to escape, it gave me a way to dream. My work is a blend between fiction and my personal testimony. Writing about really traumatizing things was a way to heal and it was a way to say things I couldn’t verbalize. Today, I write because it’s very important to me to advocate for children who are being abused and for the adult survivors who think no one understands. Ultimately, though, I write because it’s the gift I was given; we all have a talent, a special gift that makes us really, really happy. Writing is mine.
- How many books have you written?
I have 9 published but I’ve written about 139 including children’s, teens
and full-length novels that exceed 2,000 hand-written pages!
- What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?
Nowadays, I use a computer but this has been fairly recent. Most of my books are hand-written in notebooks and are between 1 and 2,000 pages. But typing on a computer is sooooo much more convenient—-and takes up so much less space!
- Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
I can’t speak for other writers but, personally, I’d have to say that’s probably a fair depiction of me. It’s not that I don’t like being around other people, I just am not nearly as comfortable in groups as I am with my imaginary characters!
- Were you a troublemaker as a child?
Not at all. In fact, I was the exact opposite. I honestly can’t remember getting in trouble much at all my entire childhood. I made it my life’s ambition to please the adults in my life.
- Which of your novels most closely resembles your autobiography?
“The Character” has a lot of personal stories in it and I also like the fact that it has a good ending for Anna. She becomes a writer, like me! Taya, in “Broken,” eerily reminds me of me. I was never as rebellious as Taya but I thought a lot like her when I was in high school.
- Is research important?
In some books, research is unspeakably important. “Dance For Me” is a prime example of this. Maelea told me she was from Cambodia. I knew nothing about Cambodia. In order to be true to my character and in order for the reader to be drawn into the story, I had to research the customs, traditions and geography of this country. I even researched folk tales that have been handed down generations because I wanted an idea of what sorts of things would have influenced Maelea and her parents. If you try to write a historical book without knowing your facts, reviewers will be unrelenting. In other books, though, research isn’t as critical. “Broken” and “The Character” are examples of this: in these books, I relied mostly on my own history and on the character’s internal struggle. Generally, though, it’s almost impossible to write an entire full-length novel without the need to research something.
- Where do you get your ideas?
This is going to sound like a cliché but I really do get my ideas from my characters. I have no idea where they come from. One day, I don’t have an idea for a book; the next, there’s this scene in my head that won’t go away. It literally haunts me until I write it down. Writing about social issues children face is what matters to me so most of my books revolve around children who are being traumatized. But I never force anything. I don’t write until a scene comes to my head or a character starts shadowing me. When I was younger, I did once write a book based on the title of a song I heard: “Pirate’s Cove” (it’s not published). I’ve also crafted an entire full-length novel based on the line that I knew was supposed to be the last line of the book.
17. Have you ever cried while reading a book?
Oy! Hasn’t everyone? The most memorable was when I was in the eighth grade. At the time, I had a major, full-blown crush on my Bible teacher (who was very, very cute and who fancied Mickey Mouse ties) and read “Stacey’s Big Crush” by Ann M. Martin. I laughed so hard I cried. I remember literally covering my head with a pillow because I was so embarrassed for Stacey, the imaginary character, who had hand-delivered a love note to her teacher. (She was so brave: I had the United States post office deliver my perfume-drenched declaration of undying love to Mr. D) Also, Judith McNaught. She’s perfectly capable of making me laugh hysterically on one page and cry as if my heart is breaking on the next. I also cried during Emma Donahue’s “Room,” Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and more.
18. What has been the most influential book you’ve ever read?
The Bible. It’s made me feel comforted when nothing else could and it’s helped me feel close to God. The promises within it have changed my life.
When I was a young teenager, I read “The Holocaust: A History of the European Jews” and that book changed my life. It inspired a deep respect for and love of the Jewish people and it made me delve deep into the Holocaust which, ultimately, provided me hope when I didn’t have much.
I also will always remember how much I loved “The Secret Garden.”
19. What did it feel like when you got your first payment for writing?
I cried. Each month, when money is deposited from the book sales, I am in awe. I believe very strongly that God provides each of us a gift that can help us when we are hurting, that can help others and can, ultimately, bring Him glory. All we have to do is nourish that talent, give it room to grow and to trust it. Dreams do come true: each payment I receive for writing is proof of that. I stand amazed.
20. How do you deal with negative reviews?
When I read a negative review, I first ask myself if what they’re saying has merit: is what they’re saying true about my work? I’m always open to becoming a better writer and you don’t grow by hearing nothing but praise. Constructive criticism can make me stronger as a writer and that helps my characters crystalize what they want to say. So, if the negative review has something constructive to say, I listen and try to remember the advice when I go back to edit a story. I ask myself: is that reviewer’s thoughts applicable to this story?
That being said, I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would not change my writing for anyone. It is impossible to please everyone. My first priority is to stay true to the character.
21. What was the hardest scene to write?
Ever? Wow, I’d have to really think about that one. The first one that comes to mind was the scene in which Maelea undergoes a cruel and traumatizing abortion without pain medication. I didn’t think I would be able to make it through that chapter. There were plenty of scenes in “Broken” and “The Character” that were personally draining.
22. Has writing taught you anything about life or about yourself?
Writing has helped me grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s taught me that hope exists and is tangible. It’s taught me to dream and that dreams come true. It’s taught me that talents aren’t something to be taken lightly because, if we nurture our talents, they can become part of what makes us strong.