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The Joy of Writing

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, Webucator Bob Clary asked me for an online interview. As a committed novelist, I was happy to oblige.

Q: What were your goals when you started writing?

I wanted to contribute to a national conversation—especially about race and gender equity. As a white woman who’d been married to an African American man and as the mother of biracial children, I had a perspective I hoped might provide a bridge for white people.
And I loved the mere act of writing, playing with words, creating well-crafted sentences. During the busy years of child-raising, two jobs, and night school, I found little time for formal writing. But late at night I poured my desires and frustrations into a journal, which exercised the writing muscle. Sometimes I experimented with poetry, and always read voraciously.
Finally, I was chosen to attend a Wyoming retreat center for social justice leaders. Two and a half delicious weeks, all to myself: time to wander the hills, stare at the sky, and write. Ten bite-sized essays poured out, as if precooked. I sent six Op-Eds to USA Today and, amazingly, they accepted three. Regional papers printed the rest.
Three nonfiction books and hundreds of Op-Eds later, I made the turn to novels. How hard can that be, I thought, after the rigors of journalism? You just make stuff up. Ha ha. After several years of humble-pie learning, I did publish a well-reviewed novel, then a second, with a third due out next year. While not as easy as I imagined, fiction-writing is “it” for me right now.

Q: What are your goals now?

To keep creating imaginary worlds populated by characters who live in my heart—and therefore on the page—while illuminating aspects of the same cultural dilemmas that jump-started my Op-Ed and nonfiction author career.

Q: What pays the bills now?

A combination of book advances, royalties, coaching/editing other writers, and my wife’s income.

Q: Assuming writing doesn't pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

The sheer act of writing in itself gives me joy. I also enjoy stretching myself by learning new genres: personal essay, women’s self-help, biography, young adult fiction, and adult fiction. It turns out all those years of multicultural living have provided enough juicy material for several life-times of books; I’ve published in all those genres. Now I’ve first-drafted a mystery and a memoir, and am bubbling with ideas for a new novel. Becoming proficient in many categories of writing is a challenge, which gives satisfaction and keeps me interested.

Q: And what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

So many people yearn for the creative self-expression that writing provides. If writing is the mode that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, bursting with ideas, plunge in. Some artists find the same exquisite pleasure in painting or sculpting. But if playing with words lifts your heart, there are multiple paths for you; trust your intuition to find the niche that suits you best. You will figure out the money part, even if, at first, you have to squeeze writing into early morning or late evening hours.
I look back at my first book and understand that, like the birth of a first child, the moment of its publication fundamentally changed me. It marked my evolution from a woman who’d always “wanted to be a writer” to one who, finally, was one. Total joy, and makes my life feel complete.

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