If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
Well, I’m not a very good cook. I’d eat breakfast with Craig Lancaster as long as he made it. I’d eat leftovers from Mary Karr’s fridge and whatever Alexandra Fuller wanted me to eat! Basically I’d do whatever those women wanted me to!
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
It’s terrifying to just start. It’s terrifying when I’ve gone weeks with no new ideas, and it’s terrifying when I get ALL the ideas at once because I worry that they’ll go away! I think the best thing I do is scribble ideas in a notebook, whether it becomes pages and pages or it’s just a doodle or some sort of outline. I have come to terms with the idea that sometimes my notes just aren’t meant to see the light of day.
I have also worked hard to just take a breath and send my work out there. Rejection hurts, but it’s not the end of the world. There’s a great anecdote from Stephen King from his early years in which he uses a railroad spike to tack all the rejection letters to his wall. It happens to, quite literally, the most prolific of them all. We indie authors aren’t alone!
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Janet Fitch is one of my most favorite authors, and her first novel White Oleander really changed the way I viewed characters. They don’t have to have linear or neat, clean growth. They can have an ugliness, a rawness that almost hurts to read. I felt that about her characters in Paint It Black, but I have an absolute obsession with Marina Makarova in The Revolution of Marina M and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral. I can’t find the right adjectives to do her justice.
What books are on your nightstand?
My dad listens to “books on tape.” (He does use a streaming service but hasn’t broken into modern lingo yet.) He talks a lot about this Louisiana ex-cop called Dave Robicheaux, and he’s so animated and uses this terrible accent when talking about it. He gets so excited about these books, so I’ve been checking out James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series from the public library. I could lie and say it’s War and Peace on my nightstand, but it’s a stack of good ol’ boy mysteries. A bad guy gets eaten by his own pigs, people! That’s bedtime entertainment!
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I’m an Oxford comma girl. I love a good semicolon; I don’t, however, use it a lot in fiction. But I can’t stop using exclamation points! I just have a ton of excitement!
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
I used CliffsNotes (does that date me?!) to get through The Scarlet Letter, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Great Expectations…I read so much that the librarians waived the 3-book maximum, but I couldn’t read anything I was assigned. I didn’t read The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye until I was in college.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
Oh, definitely my lifelong companion Brown Bear. I used to call him Winnie the Pooh, even though he’s not the yellow honey fiend. I dropped him in the street when I was about two, and my mom put an ad in the paper: “Lost. Little brown bear.” My earliest memory is of going to a woman’s house to retrieve him. He’s been everywhere with me.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
“If you don’t write it, who will? Just do the damn thing!”
Seriously, though. Just write it. If it’s in you, get it out.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Oh, it’s energizing. Sometimes manic. I never feel like I’m “done,” but I’m not exhausted by it.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think we all have a level of hubris, but it’s important to recognize that. Not everyone’s first book is picked up by, say, Random House. And that’s more than okay. Better than okay!
Also, guard your work. Blogs and other easy-to-publish sources don’t protect your work the way it deserves to be protected.
Don’t give up. Yes, you may have to work a “real” job. You may not write for three years. You may choose to attend nine thousand writer’s retreats and never come out with a single idea. All of it is okay. Do you write? You’re a writer. Is your grandma your only reader? She’s proud of you.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Does this question mean I’m Super Man? I’m so easily distracted by whatever I find on the internet. I’ll take a break, fall into the proverbial rabbit hole, and emerge 2 hours later. Were those cat videos worth it?
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Ooh, good one. Nope. I will read books multiple times until they become part of my soul. I am never not reading something.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Sure. Tell that story!! I guarantee that someone else has a similar experience as that author. Writing should come from every single experience. There’s no “one size fits all” for emotion.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m internet friends with several Montana writers, and just seeing them working (and succeeding, and failing sometimes, and living, and feeling) gives me an understanding that we’re all in this together. Not one of us is this hermit who lives on an island of self-importance, rolling around in stacks of cash. It’s a small community of folks who support each other through (often inappropriate) humor and the much-needed encouragement to just keep writing.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I write short stories, and sometimes one story is connected to another but told through different narrators. The one connection I think I will always have is Montana, but I’m in the stand-alone camp.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It encouraged me! The thought that other people will see my words in print gives me the motivation to do more. It’s such a dang process though, but I haven’t changed it. I do what works for me, which is long-hand notes and notebook scribbles.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Any money spent at a book store, a book sale, library overdue fines…reading makes a writer, and it’s the one thing that consistently encourages me.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I always had a hard time with the ones I was “supposed” to read. I eventually came around to Faulkner. I’ve never been into reading just to say I’ve read a certain book or author. I still don’t like Dickens.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was young, my best friend and I said this: “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can really hurt!” I remember being made fun of at the time and realizing that the things that come out of people’s mouths can cut deeply.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Plain Bad Heroines by emily danforth. She had huge success with her first novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post, but her second is just this intense noir/mystery/queer/magical/mystical piece of genius that involves a real Montana woman (Mary MacLane) who was so controversial and outspoken and outrageous in a time when women were decidedly not.
The moon, because the writing process certainly follows an ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s full and rich and bright and super, and other times it’s dark and absent (but still spinning around there somewhere).
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?!
I owe them the assurance that I am not intentionally basing characters on them, even though they think otherwise.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
What does literary success look like to you?
Honestly, I’ve written for so long. I’ve never tried to make it a “career.” Success, for me, is handing a real, bound, published book to my parents and saying “I did it.” Having an actual book. Maybe two. But something that other people read, something that stands alone. That’s success. It’s not the finish line.
What’s the best way to market your books?
Who likes to toot their own horn? I like the simple “post online” method and hope it spreads like wildfire! Not the most effective.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Bodies. I don’t know how a man settles into his body. I can only guess and observe and put a little of what I know about those around me into male characters. It’s really hard to avoid stereotypes.
What did you edit out of this book?
A lot of swear words!
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I am currently a librarian and 8th grade teacher. I love working at our middle school. We own a cattle ranch. It’s an amazing privilege to work outside. I’d love to create art full time. Honestly? I’d be pretty good at being a professional nap-taker.
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