Author Interview: Laura Kalpakian, American Cookery

My guest, Laura Kalpakian, is a multi-awarding-winning novelist from Northwest Washington. She has received a National Endowment of the Arts, a Pushcart Prize, thePacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, and the first Anahid Literary Award for an American Writer of Armenian descent. Her novels include Steps and Exes, The Memoir Club, Graced Land, Caveat, and These Latter Days. Her short fiction has been gathered in three collections, including Fair Augusto, which won the PEN/West Award for Best Short Fiction. She has published ten novels and three collections of short stories. Her newest novel is American Cookery.

american-cookery-coverThis is a fascinating blend of character, story, and the love of cooking. Whatinspired you to write this book?

One of the thematic canopies of the book is the notion of “Revel and Preserve.”Usually that’s an either/or proposition; one may revel or preserve, but not both. But writing down a recipe can achieve both. A recipe is also fluid and responds to the hand ( and eye and imagination and ingredients) of whoever uses it. In my own experience as a daughter and a mother, much of the history of my family can be gleaned from recipes. When my sons got their own apartments, I started to put together cookbooks for them, but found I was more interested in the stories behind these recipes, days, events, moments of our mutual past. So it came to me that perhaps I could write a memoir using recipes as a vehicle for the story. However, I didn’t want to be constrained by just one perspective (as a memoir is), and so from the beginning, the undertaking became a broad-canvas novel, to encompass the experience of many families of varied background, cultures and ethnic heritage, hence its title, American Cookery.

Is Eden Douglass (or any of the other characters) based on a real person, a relative of yours perhaps?

The early characters in the book, the Douglass family, are taken from my 1985novel These Latter Days. This novel has provided me with characters and a setting for two more novels, many stories, and pieces as yet unpublished. When I began to thinkabout writing American Cookery I realized I didn’t have to invent wholly new characters;I had this huge family, and their whole town of St. Elmo to draw on. In These Latter Days the last scene is Eden Douglass in 1940, leaving Idaho on a train bound East. So I started with her and went backwards into her family’s past, and the people I had already created. The Douglasses are a huge Mormon tribe, and in creating them, I used bits and pieces, some memories of my own relatives on my dad’s side. But some characters are totally products of my imagination, with perhaps bits and pieces of myself thrown in. Eden is one of those.

These Latter Days and American Cookery are not dependent on one another. Scenes from one do not repeat in the other, but many of the same characters, major and minor, are present in both. The latter part of American Cookery-the Second World War and after material, the March family, Greenwater ranch-all those characters were newly minted.

You incorporate wonderful cooking and recipe metaphors into the story. For example, “You take what’s on hand and apply to that a little imagination, a sense of timing, to make those ingredients yield what you want.” Good advice for cooking as well as for life. Are the recipes from your family?

The recipes in the novel are indeed all my own; I ascribe them to my characters. They have all been “tested” in my kitchen, feeding my friends and family for the past twenty-five years. ( I only started writing them down when I began to use the computer in 2000.) Choosing the recipes was difficult because they each had to fulfil certain criteria. In terms of execution, they could not have exotic, hard-to-find ingredients, nor require expensive equipment nor exacting techniques. They all, literally, had to be doable “by hand,” even if some of them are not likely to be duplicated, given the intensive work. But yes, I have actually pickled tomatoes, as Afton does, and they are great, but whew! What an undertaking!

In terms of assigning these recipes to characters, the ingredients, techniques etc. had to fit into the era where they were cast (as, say, Connie’s 7Up Salad is a staple of Fifties cookery). They had to fit the geographic and economic situations of the  characters. I wanted the book to live up to its title, to cover a wide swath of lives and contributions to American cooking. I wrote them up in a casual, often non-specific fashion, as your old auntie might write her recipe, not as Julia Child would write it. In that regard, these recipes are “elastic,” though the instructions are specific enough to assure success for anyone who tries them. I do think the quote you cited applies every bit as much to life as to good cooking.

Join us again tomorrow as Laura talks about her writing process.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 7:45 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

author_photo_sml-cropMy author guest today is Carol Buchanan, descended from Montana pioneers and homesteaders. She is a longtime nonfiction writer and student of Montana history and has turned to historical fiction with her first novel God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana.

Carol, as a Montana native myself, I’ve always been fascinated by the Vigilante Justice era. What gave you the impetus to write about the Vigilantes?

When I was in junior high, my parents and I took a trip around Montana. We stayed in a motel (now defunct) in Virginia City, where much of the Vigilante activity took place. One evening after dinner I walked up the hill to the “Hangman’s Building” where the Vigilantes hanged five men at once. I went into the building, and as I stood there, I heard the ropes creak on the beam where the men were hanged. That moment is still with me. When we came home to Montana, I knew I had to write it.

What made you decide to write the book as fiction rather than nonfiction?

I needed more elbow room than a straight history would give me. I believe in historical fiction being as tight to the history as possible, but history doesn’t give a writer scope to imagine what it would feel like to put the noose around the neck of someone you knew. Wilbur Sanders, the actual Vigilante prosecutor and leader of the Bannack branch of the Vigilante organization, had been Henry Plummer’s guest at Thanksgiving dinner just six weeks before he helped to hang Plummer.

You’ve done a masterful job of building the characters, especially the protagonist, Dan Stark. I love how he carves as he thinks during difficult situations. Is this character closely modeled after a real person?

Dan Stark isn’t modeled after anyone in particular. He has Wilbur Sanders’s position with the Vigilantes because I don’t think it’s kosher to put thoughts in the heads of people who really lived. After all, how could I know 145 years later what they thought? It seems extremely disrespectful to do that. So I just elbowed Sanders aside and put Dan Stark there. And a former two-term County Attorney for Flathead County gave generously of his time and knowledge as a prosecutor to help with how an attorney might think and act during a trial. It was he who suggested the carving.

I know Henry Plummer was a real individual. How many of the book-cover_characters are based on real persons?

Either they are real people in the story or they are purely fictitious. The main fictitious characters are Martha and her family, Dan Stark, Jacob Himmelfarb, and Tobias Fitch. Others include Lydia Hudson, and Tabby and Albert Rose. Paris Pfouts was real and the Vigilante president. John Creighton was also real. He later went home to Omaha to build Creighton University, and eventually the Pope made him a Papal Count for his services to the Catholic Church.

These men were rough, crude individuals, yet with a spiritual side. Is that what you gleaned from research about them?

Yup. Walter Dance did kneel in the street to pray with and for the five as they were being led to their execution. While the sources give some of the comments, no one mentions the prayer, so I wrote one for Dance. Creighton was a devout Catholic.

You must have done an inordinate amount of research. How long did it take you to research and write this book?

Seven years.

Were you able to interview any of the Vigilantes’ descendents?

No. One wrote to me that his grandfather had burned a bunch of papers. Others mentioned that they were descended from Vigilantes, but I didn’t “interview” them. I did have plenty of reminiscences from some of the Vigilantes themselves, most never published and housed in the archives of the Montana Historical Society in Helena (our state capital).

Were they proud of their heritage?

They seemed to be.

The story includes quite accurate depictions of playing poker and characters who spoke German. Do you play poker? And speak German?

I studied German in Germany while I was in graduate school in 1969, and a lot of it has stayed with me, but I don’t speak it any more. The poker question is really funny, because I don’t even like card games and have never played poker although my father tried to teach me when I was a kid. My husband sought out a computer poker game that includes both 5-card and 7-card stud, and I learned to play from that. I thought of visiting casinos here in Montana, but my old red Jimmy is fairly noticeable and I could just imagine the talk there’d be in this small town if people saw it in casino parking lots. Besides, 5-card is almost never played any more, and 7-card is likewise an old game.

You were the winner of the Women Writing the West short story contest this year. Congratulations! Have you always been a writer?

Yes. I was writing stories and even a couple of novels before I got into high school, and got my first paid writing job for the local newspaper during high school. Later, after college and graduate school, and a recession or two, I joined a Seattle-based aerospace company as a technical writer and stayed with them until I retired in 2001. During the 1990s I wrote three nonfiction books, one of which, Wordsworth’s Gardens, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Awards in 2002.

What are you working on next?

The sequel to God’s Thunderbolt. It’s titled Gold Under Ice, and takes Dan back to New York where he gets involved in some heavy-duty gambling in gold futures.

Thank you, Carol. I’ll be looking forward to reading the sequel. Carol’s book can be purchased through See her website at

WILLA Winner: Tendering in the Storm

A Tendering in the Storm, the second in the “Change and Cherish” series has just been named a WILLA Award winner. This series is based on a true story of Emma Giesy, a strong-willed German-American who settled in Washington territory and later in Oregon.

You’ve been involved with Women Writing the West for 12 years and Chaired the 2007 WILLA contest as past president. Last year, A Clearing in the Wild was a finalist. How does this feel, receiving this award after looking in from the sidelines for so long? It’s a delight!  I’ve been fortunate in having a book to submit every year since the WILLA Literary Awards began. Last year, chairing the competition, I made sure the previous chair handled that category.  Not that I thought I’d win but I wanted to have the competition be unrelated to my role as chair.  I was stunned, truly, after all those years, to be a finalist.  This year, to be a winner, still has my jaw-dropped!

How did you come across Emma’s story, which you began in A Clearing in the Wild? Two different quilter groups have quilted their versions of two of my novel series.  I was deeply moved by their inventiveness and creativity and how stories come in all shapes and sizes.  Several joined me at a signing for the books and they “told their story.”  Later I was asked to tell stories to a quilter’s retreat offered by author and quilter Mary ByWater Cross.  I laughed because I’m not a quilter (though those quilters attending that retreat sat up with me until 2:00 AM to help me make a nine-patch that is now a pillow on my couch!)  Anyway, while there I read one of Mary’s books, Quilts of the Oregon Trail that included a picture of Emma’s quilt and the sentence that she was the only woman who with nine male scouts was sent west from their Bethel, Missouri religious community to find a new site in the Northwest.  Here was an artifact with the woman’s name still attached to it, lovingly cared for.  And the story of the only woman just intrigued me along with what was the religious community?  Why did they come west?  Did this woman want to come?  Was she sent? As I researched a bit I discovered when her first son was born and it meant she was pregnant when she began the journey.  What was that like?  What was the desire of this woman?  All kinds of unanswered questions.  The story took off from there.

Did you have letters or journals that gave you the gist of her journey? Census records gave me information about her husband, father, brother and sons which is often the case in researching historical women.  Virginia Woolf once wrote that women’s history
must be “invented, both uncovered and made up” because so much of their record is simply a reflection of the men they were connected to.  The Pacific County Historical Museum and The Aurora Colony Historical Museum had some documents, letters that the leader wrote back to Bethel after they joined the scouts some 18 months later, but I knew, for example, that she had four children, two girls and two boys, but the genealogy the museum had didn’t include the girls!  I included the girls in the first book and at a signing a woman introduced herself as a great-granddaughter of Emma.  She said she loved the book, but “you made up the part about Emma having girls, right?”  When I told her no, gave her their names, who they married etc., she was astonished and said she had only ever been told about the boys.   In the Aurora newsletter early on, they printed a picture of me researching there and I was contacted by a descendant who did have family letters.  Only one came from Emma but it was enough to give me solid information about who she was…along with the family stories and other historical records we uncovered in obscure places like divorce filings thirty years after she’d come to the region.

She is part of a utopian religious community that moved from Bethel, MO in the 1856 to the Washington Territory initially. Some of her troubles come from resisting the patriarchal leadership of the colony. Is her strength and independence something that drew you to her story? Yes, though when I began research I didn’t know if she was a resister or someone who went comfortably along with the communal ways.  I only knew that her name was remembered, an artifact had been preserved that belonged to her and eventually also learned that a house built for her still stood as well.  So she had to have been someone of distinction if not influence.  And yet, it was a German-American society. Being of German descent myself I’m familiar with strong-willed women (sometimes called pushy or stubborn) who I like to describe as persevering.  As I learned of some of the trials Emma and her husband faced with the landscape and with the leader, I became more and more convinced of her fortitude and her wish to do what most 20th century women wish for:  to do the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process.  Her struggles represented contemporary issues of many faith communities wishing to sustain their own practices while still being relevant in the larger world.  Incidentally, the colony was communal in economics and property only, not in marital relationships.

You write about the German term Sehnsucht. Can you elaborate on that theme in Tendering? It’s a word that means a deep longing for something, almost like an addiction.  Perhaps it’s what the German poet Rilke refers to when he says that God is “the great homesickness we can never shake off.”  It is a deep passion to find meaning and to be spiritually engaged.  Emma had a great tragedy strike her and she witnessed this tragedy and after speaking with other of her descendants, that event really defined much of her life after that.  I came to believe that grief has many siblings – anger, disappointment, rejection of support, impulsive decision-making, guilt, etc.  I think what brought her through was her longing to make sense of that tragedy and find a way to move forward, living with uncertainty in life and a constant renewing of her faith.   This book is also told in part through the eyes of Louisa Keil, the wife of the religious leader and I hoped to show her struggle as well even though she never doubted or challenged her husband but still had a longing to be known for who she was.

Do you speak German or did you have to learn some of the words you used in the book?  I know a couple of little children’s poems that my father taught me and I can say potato in German!  Once years ago I visited a German lady who had three big German shepherd dogs staked along the walk way.  They pulled and barked at me and they only understood German!  I kept saying Kartofle to them because it was all I knew!  I had a wonderful German friend, Erhard Gross, who helped me immensely with all three books.  So much of German word choice is dependent on context so he would read the manuscript and make corrections.  Nouns are always capitalized too.  My computer often didn’t like that.  I did learn a few words but when I was in Germany earlier this year going through customs and the custom agent barked at me because I forgot to get my passport back from him, he scared away even my danke – that’s “thanks!”

In writing series, do you get so attached to your characters that you want to be “with them” awhile longer? I think that’s why I’m doing this quilt and craft book (Aurora…), so I can hang out with Emma and Matilda and Louisa and Aurora and others longer…they were real people and they became more real to me as I’ve spent the last three years with them.  It’s been a delight to be at the museum south of Portland when others who’ve read the books come to visit.  Last week four people from Ohio took a train to visit the Aurora Colony Museum, to see where Emma first came to the west (in Washington) and then to Aurora where Emma ended up.  I happened to be there and got to meet them.  Two couples.  I told the husbands that they were good men to come across the country just to walk where Emma walked.  But then that’s one of the purposes of fiction, right? to “move” people… in this instance, from Ohio to the Northwest for a week!

Tell us more about the quilt Emma’s descendents have donated to the Oregon Historical Society and the replica that is being made for the drawing. The Aurora Colony has about 80 original quilts, two of Emma’s. This wool quilt is called Running Squares on Point.  You can see a picture of it on my blog It’s done in a plaid of teal and red that was likely manufactured by the colonists either in Aurora or Bethel.  The setting (solid color) blocks are red and she’s hand-stitched and hand-quilted it using a wreath pattern that was common to many Aurora quilters.  She’s quilted using 10 stitches to the inch!  Imagine that!  One of the premier quilters stitched 15 inches to the inch.  I can’t even get one stitch to the inch.  Interestingly, Emma placed the initials CG in one corner.  Some thought it might be a laundry mark as they often washed communally but there are only four textiles in all the collection of the museum including quilts and hand-tailored shirts and dresses that bear any kind of initial.  And besides, it’s such a distinctive quilt I doubt anyone could miss that it was Emma’s.  The initials to me represent either her husband Christian, or her son of the same name.  Perhaps it was another small way of having her voice preserved inside a male-dominated community.  Pendleton Woolen Mills, one of the last surviving family owned textile mills in the country has donated the wool for a replica quilt that my publisher is having made by quilters in Aurora.  We’ll have a drawing for it sometime in the spring and it’s to commemorate the book Aurora:  An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft coming out in December.  A close-up of Emma’s quilt is on the cover.  Nothing to buy…just enter at and click on “contests.”

Thank you, Jane, for an entertaining and insightful interview. We’ll catch up with you again and talk about your next book.

Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 2:16 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Jane Kirkpatrick, Award-winning Author

My guest today is Jane Kirkpatrick, an award-winning author of 14 historical novels, two non-fiction books, as well as numerous articles. A Tendering in the Storm, second in the “Change and Cherish” series, has just won a WILLA Award and was a Christy Finalist. The first book in the series, A Clearing in the Wild, earned a WILLA finalist Award. Her most recent novel, A Mending at the Edge, the third in the series, was released in April, and Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft, a non-fiction book of interest to women’s studies, historians, quilters and craftsman will be out in December. She’s also been working on promotion for her next novel, A Flickering Light, due in April 2009.
Jane, you are such a prolific writer, with such a busy life. Maybe you can help us understand “how it’s done.”

Have you always had an affinity for writing fiction?
No. I didn’t start writing fiction until 1995. I’d had one book and many articles published before then but fiction was a new venue. I used to make up stories to entertain my younger brother and they always had metaphorical aspects that I doubt he got but that helped me explore story more. I just think that fiction “comes along beside us” in ways that non-fiction can’t. Because I loved biography, I wanted to write the book that became my first novel as a biography but I just could not find enough information about this woman. Lots about her husband and father but very little about her. Yet her obituary and the stories of the way the Indian people that were their neighbors responded to her told me she must have been a remarkable woman and I wanted to know her better. So fiction became my route into her life and soul.

Which was your first book?
My first book was a memoir called Homestead. It was reissued with a new section in 2005 and a new subtitle: Modern Pioneers Pursuing the Edge of Possibility. My first novel was A Sweetness to the Soul. It earned the Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center and was named to Oregon’s Literary 100 as one of the best books about Oregon published in the past 200 years. It’s being reissued this month too, repackaged etc.

Where do your ideas come from?
Oh, all over the place. They’re like little first graders in the talented and gifted classes saying choose me, choose me! Sometimes it’s a sentence in a diary I’m reading. Sometimes it’s an experience I had where I became aware of a historical woman. People tell me about stories. But mostly it’s finding something strange and exploring it. If the path has too many barriers on it I try another journey; but often, once I say I’d like to write that story, some amazing contacts seem to materialize to make the research easier and voila, the story won’t let me go until I’m finished!

You have such a gift for metaphors, such as light, quilt patches, and oyster shells, and the many meanings of words in your titles: Clearing, Tendering, Mending. Does this come naturally or do you work on this?
I think I have metamorphosis or metaphormosis, some mental health disorder I’m certain! I just see metaphors everywhere. But in the books, they come out of the story itself. I knew nothing about oysters until I began researching A Tendering in the Storm. I do try to have a title with more than one meaning. The tendering part of that title was to focus on how things get tenderized to soften them; and also that a tender is a small ship going to a port. I saw this second book in the series as a tender of sorts, going between the first and third books and because my main character, Emma, would experience great trial and softening. But after it came out I happened to be looking in an old fabric book and discovered in the glossary the word “tendering.” It meant “the disintegration of material when exposed to caustic substances.” Well, that’s what happened to my character, to Emma! She’d been exposed to caustic substances in life and had nearly disintegrated but she did not. In the end, she allowed others to help her find a new direction, something very difficult for strong people, women included.

Do you do a lot of rewriting?
You bet. Ivan Doig, the famous Montana/Seattle writer, says that’s when you find out what the story is all about. I think revising is when I find out what the story has to tell me, why it wouldn’t let me go in the first place. I try to keep going as I’m writing but sometimes I get stopped in finding the perfect word. My Super Thesaurus is dog eared. The right word can direct the entire paragraph. After I finish a manuscript I let it sit for a couple of weeks then re-read and revise. Then it goes to my editor who sends me back suggestions, things to keep, things to consider. My editors are wonderful and always make the work better. Then I revise again and send it off. When the ARC comes out, I revise yet again though I try to do less then unless I’ve discovered some perfect piece of history that I can’t leave out!

I certainly feel like I can identify with your heroines—such strong, independent women of their times—and I get exasperated, annoyed, even angry at their antagonists. You have such a quiet graceful writing voice, yet it’s not at all lacking in conflict and turmoil. You have a background in the mental health field. Do you think that gives you an insight to developing well-rounded and sympathetic characters in your fiction?
I’ve always been interested in the landscape of the mind so I’m sure that helps in characterization. But so does living at the end of 11 miles of a dirt road called Starvation Lane. I do think that characters we can relate to despite the separation of generations comes from portraying their desires. I spend a lot of time trying to imagine what my characters want. What were they doing there in south Florida (Mystic Sweet Communion) or as the only woman with 60 men traveling out with her husband and two little boys 6 years after Lewis and Clarke returned (A Name of Her Own)? What did Emma want that made her come west as the only female with nine male scouts seeking a site for their religious community? (Change and Cherish Series). In my latest novel, A Flickering Light, (coming out in April) I wondered what Jessie wanted and why do creative women sometimes sabotage the expression of their gifts? After looking at a character’s desire, I have to explore the barriers that would get in the way of that, barriers that shape the character. There are universal desires (Joseph Campbell, Carolyn Pearson, Elizabeth Lyon and others have explored this so well) and it’s my job as a writer to try to see what desire is driving my character. Fiction is really made up of change, causation, conversation, conflict and characters. It’s the weaving together of those qualities along with landscapes, relationships, spirituality and work that creates the turmoil. Just as in our lives!

You live on an isolated ranch in eastern Oregon. Has living there given you a feel for the way some of the early settlers lived?
Yes, I think so. We had to harness a spring to get water, clear sage-brush to plant crops; build a house when supplies were 50 miles away. We buried our own phone line 7 miles, twice since it didn’t work the first time. We had crops planted and totally destroyed by wind and fire. Rattlesnakes visit…one plopped itself at the end of our walk just last week. I stepped right over it, couldn’t find the .38 so used a hoe. If I’d been out in the field I’d have let it go but close to the house, huh-uh! But these challenges have made me wonder how my characters would have dealt with those things and made me speculate about where they drew their strength from? When we were going through our building trials I knew that someday we would have electricity and running water or I wouldn’t stay living here. But these historical women did not. Theirs was life as they knew it without end. Their endurance has been an inspiration and a never ending pool of exploration.

What challenges do you face in writing historical novels?
Really the same as writing any novel. Silencing the harpies that sit behind me telling me it isn’t worth it, that I can’t really write, that there are more important things to be doing in the world, that 50,000 books a year are published and why would I imagine anyone was going to buy mine? The mental stuff of all creative people is perhaps the greatest challenge. Then I think it’s not overloading reader with wonderful trivia of history that doesn’t move the story forward while at the same time choosing just the right detail to include in order to characterize a room, a time period, a person. Details add depth but they can strangle a story. I have to watch that because I love discovering things like how many people it took to make a single hat pin up until 1838 (seven) and why Queen Victoria restricted the sale of hat pins to one day a year, New Year’s Day and that’s why people saved their “pin money” all year to buy them. Pin money! A term my mother used all the time that I never knew where it came from until doing research but then, how to use it? I never could…until now! The other thing about historical novel writing is that one must be true to the shared knowing as I call it, the facts as people agree they are; and at the same time if discovering a fact that isn’t what people generally agree is so, decide whether to use it or not creating the buttress for it within the text but again, not so it overwhelms the story. People want to trust the history that is the spine of a historical novel; but they want the story to be the flesh and blood they’ll take with them. Weaving both is important.

How has the publishing industry changed since you first started?
Most of the publishing houses are owned by foreign nationals. There are probably only three or four big publishers now with a zillion imprints so decisions by imprints have more restrictions on them, less freedom to take on a new author or try something inventive unless New York approves. There are fewer university presses. I remember when the University of Idaho Press not only published award-winning titles for example (Bold Spirit by Linda L. Hunt for one) but they innovatively printed some of their hardcover texts in a format that would make publishing the soft cover later much easier and less expensive. Smaller presses could do that. But it went out of business. So has the Oregon Historical Society Press. The funding of university presses must compete now with departments that seek grants etc. for funding. I think regional presses are innovative but they’ve had to cut back on the number of titles they publish each year. Paper costs are higher. At the same time, there are many more print on demand books, self-publishing and even coop publishing venues. Titles are getting in to print but authors must do even more promoting than they ever did before, especially if you’re not a NY Times bestseller which most of us aren’t. I think there are also more supportive groups through the internet, through Women Writing the West, for example, so there are more of “our” kind of stories being written and published. Congratulations are in order for you for landing that Treble Heart contract, Heidi. Perseverance still pays off.
Thanks, Jane. Yes, it does.

What is your writing schedule? Do you research at the same time as you write?
I’m always researching. I read many more nonfiction books in a year than fiction. My yearly schedule looks like this, sort of: November-April, fewer speaking events, fewer writing classes or leading women’s retreats and more writing. Usually I write from early in the morning–4:30 until 4 p.m. with breaks in between. As the deadline approaches I’ll be awake at 1 or 2 AM, write for four hours, come back to bed; get up in three hours and write more. My husband is incredibly tolerant…. I usually have a book released in April so that means scheduling events from April onward. But I’m also then revising as I usually have a book DUE in April too. I may go several days from April until October without really “writing” but rather revising, researching. The best time for me personally though is early in the morning and I love it when I have nothing scheduled for two months so I can write all day long. This is a gift I know; but my first ten novels were written while I worked and commuted 100 miles twice a week, staying away from home for three days at a time. I worked on an Indian reservation in mental health and wrote from 5 until 8:00 each morning then went to work until 5:00 PM. I researched in the evening. You can get a lot of pages written three hours a day but you can also write a book with only an hour a day. It’s just doing it every day.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a writer?
I’d hopefully still be working in mental health and hopefully as part of the community at Warm Springs, the reservation where I was surrounded by terrific story-tellers and amazingly strong women. I’ve also thought I’d like to get a degree in spiritual studies just because I think I’d enjoy the reading list.

What are you working on now?
I’ve got two projects going. Well, three. I have the second book in my Portrait of a Woman series based on my grandmother’s life. She was a photographer at the turn of the century in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. I have a contract for three more historical novels after that. And I’ve been approached about writing a contemporary “lighter” novel that I’m truly considering. I have to finish the quilt book first, though! It’ll be out December 16 and we’re having a replica quilt made of Emma’s quilt, the textile that began my Change and Cherish series. If you want to get in on the drawing – nothing to buy! – you can go to and click on contests. Pendleton Woolen Mills here in the Northwest has donated the wool and the quilt it is being made and quilted by those from the community that Emma settled in back in 1862 called Aurora. There’s a picture of it on my blog and website Those projects should keep me out of trouble for awhile. That and maintaining a relationship with my husband of 32 years and keeping my dog, Bo, happy with daily walks beside the river.

Join us for Part Two of the interview on Monday, Sept. 8.

Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 2:15 am  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: