Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship winner, Little Green novelist and PSU prof. She appears 4 pm Saturday with Joanna Smith Rakoff on the Oregon Education Association stage.
What are your favorite themes to write about?
I seem to write a lot about home and family—having or creating or not having one.
Name three books on your nightstand or shelf right now.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson (I’ve read it four times!), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.
What’s your personal writing ritual?
First thing in the morning while still in my jammies, I make good coffee in the French press. I stare out the window at the walnut tree as the coffee steeps. After I plunge the pot and pour a cup I sit with my journal on the couch and begin to wonder what my characters are up to. I write longhand notes until I go to the computer. I reread the last couple of paragraphs I wrote the day before and jump on in.
The most beautiful word in the English language is:
It’s all context, right? There is no one word more beautiful than the others, though “paycheck” makes me smile.
What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place and why?
When Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple was made into a movie, I went to see it and immediately read the book. At the time, I had been living for many years in an increasingly violent relationship with a man addicted to both alcohol and drugs. Walker writes the character of Mister with such compassion yet never turns away from the many ways he hurts Miss Celie. I wanted to do that with my own experience and began to write Little Green to explain from the inside what it’s like to live with violence and addiction as a daily fact of life.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
All those Harry Potter books. I don’t get it. I know people love them, but….
The dumbest thing I ever did is…
All the things I used to think of as “dumb” have turned out to be just fine. I sometimes regret not sucking it up and finishing the foreign language requirement for a B.A. instead of the B.S. I received.
The best piece of advice I ever got was…
Before my first big reading, my then-6-year-old friend Sylvia told me to read more slowly than I think I should, smile at someone I know in the audience and if I get scared to pretend I’m reading to her. Works like a charm every time.
What’s your literary guilty pleasure?
I read 19th- and early-20th-century lit for fun—give me some Dickens or Edith Wharton or one of those Brontës for a good time.
The closest I’ve ever come to quitting is…
I kept journals from the time I was about 14. About a year before I left that previously mentioned abusive relationship, my journal was found and read. I burned all my journals that day and tried really hard to stop writing, but it was easier to leave the person who read my journals than quit. This is not to say that I don’t sometimes stop working on whatever story I’m currently working on and write in my journal instead, but I’ll never give up writing. Writing is the way I figure things out.
Most recent nightmare:
A computer glitch that erases the manuscript I’m currently working on. Computers scare me.
Your cure for writer’s block:
There is no writer’s block. Writing is just writing. You sit down and do it like any other practice. Nobody ever talks about “dishwashing block” or “yoga block.” Get out of your way and write if you want to, or take up painting or gardening, or belly dancing, but don’t make writing some rarefied event. Some days the writing flows and other days not, but you just sit down and do it.
A dead person you’d like to meet (they’d be alive during the meeting):
I wouldn’t really want to meet a famous dead person. I get terribly shy around famous people. I would like to meet my paternal grandfather who died before I was born. I’d love to know his story.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
My sister sent me a copy of Oliver Twist from London in 1969. I still have it. I also loved T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Both those books I used to read yearly.
Please paste a short paragraph from a story, poem, article, blog post, etc., you’re currently working on below:
Most dudes will just use you like a spent Kleenex, drop you at the corner, and drive away. Tootie seemed different, but I guess I just wanted him to be. He’s got that coffee con leche colored skin, and long, Brillo black hair, braided French, and tattoos of saints and virgins all over his arms peeking out from the edges of his sleeveless white t-shirt. He looks like he’s kicked some ass in his time, but it’s been my experience that shit like muscles, tattoos, and past tense ass-kicking won’t tell you as much as you might think about who someone is. I always depend on the eyes. His are brown like Cocoa Puffs. White parts are white—not red from booze or yellow from the needle, and they got that crinkly look from smiling his wicked ass grin. He’s medium tall and maybe in his thirties, but for somebody his age he’s fine and buff—got those muscles dudes get from doing a lot of time in prison, or hanging out at a gym. I’m betting with this dude it’s prison all the way and later on at his crib he told me I was right—San Quentin. Seven years for possession.
Possession of what? I asked.
An attitude, he said.