1.What is your earliest memory of writing?
I remember sitting on the floor of Forest Road elementary school library, maybe second or third grade, drawing and writing little stories on loose-leaf paper. It was quiet and I was surrounded by books, and all of those words and stories and colorful book spines were like little hugs of encouragement.
2. What do you think makes a good story, and what types of stories are you drawn to?
When I am so caught up in a story that I am not even aware it is a story (even if it has surreal aspects or magic realism, which I love), I think that is a good story. When a plot twist or character’s behavior or bit of dialog are jarring in a way that takes me out of the flow of the moment, I can’t connect to that story, and then I lose interest. I am drawn to intimate stories that have authentic characters, full of flaws and contradictions. And I love delicious words, words that come together in a unique way, and make me want to pause and savor them for a moment before moving on.
3. What are some of your favorite books, plays, movies, and/or TV shows?
There are so many! I’m sure I am leaving out many, many incredible works, but off the top of my head, here goes…
Books: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon, Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall, The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, Beloved by Toni Morrison
Plays: No One is Forgotten by Winter Miller, Fences by August Wilson, Fun Home adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, everything by María Irene Fornés
Movies: Roma, The Piano, My Octopus Teacher, Call Me by Your Name, any film by Charlie Kaufman, especially Being John Malkovich, My Dinner with Andre, and I am a total sucker for The Holiday and Moulin Rouge!
TV shows: Call my Agent, The Twilight Zone (original series), Shtisel, The Handmaid’s Tale, Rita, The Queen’s Gambit, and I just started The Wire.
4.Where do you find inspiration?
When the sun rises over the ridge and casts an unusual shadow, when a stranger makes an off-handed comment that sparks a question in my mind, when I enter a building and breathe in a particular aroma, … Life presents endless inspiration—if I am present.
5. Tell us about your writing practice.
I wake up pretty early (there’s that beautiful sunrise I always like to catch) and drink a tall glass of water and make a pot of espresso (half decaf!), and as the still of the morning eases into the day, I follow the rhythms in my writing practice. I work for a few hours in that luscious quiet, and then get distracted by something, like a new recipe I want to try or yoga practice or a load of laundry. Then I get back to work. And I take long walks. I consider anything I do throughout the day as part of my writing practice!
6. How did participating in a WGI workshop help your writing, (if so)?
The first WGI workshop I attended helped in such a fundamental and profound way. My heart was guarded when I arrived. I didn’t even know it, but Winter and Ryan did. My writing showed a level of stuck-ness and superficiality. Winter and Ryan provided such a safe place, and pushed me just enough to crack me open and allow me to be vulnerable, to get me in touch with my core, my pain, and whatever else was getting in the way for me write authentically.
7. Do you have an interesting “writing quirk” if so, what is it?
Hmmm, this is not the first time “quirk” would be used in a description of me! I have many “1–subject wide rule” notebooks in which I jot down ideas for a scene, snippets of dialog, and then on the next page might be a house chore To-Do list followed by another page of budget calculations, followed by some random idea I heard on a radio interview, and the next page might be a bunch of doodles or a list of people to write thank you notes to, or notes from a doctor’s consult, and so on. There is no order and there are no categories in these notebooks. It is like a run-on sentence full of non-sequiturs, i.e., organized chaos! But then, I go back through the notebook, page by page, line by line, and methodically circle those things that strike me, that I want to include in my writing. I’ve often joked to my son and daughter that, after I am gone, people will be a little shocked when they look through my notebooks and get an insight into how my mind works! But it works for me!
8. What is the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
It is the same thing that, for some reason, still surprises me about life: most people do not show you who they really are. It takes a lot of work and patience and unpeeling of layers and layers to get to know someone, really know them. And even then, because many people do not even know themselves, or they are full of fear or shame or guarded, or the way we know ourselves or what we believe is constantly changing, it is a challenge to know another person fully. So that applies to people I interview as research. And to fictional characters as well. It is a process to dig deep, and one needs to have courage to truly know and then reveal his or her true self. Myself included.
9. How do you make time for writing?
Writing is what I do, what I am, so there is no actual need to make time for it. Isn’t that true for all things—and people—we prioritize?
10. Any advice, guidance, or tips you’d like to share?
Again, I try to be as present as possible (e.g., living mindfully) in the course of my day. That does two things… 1. It provides me with so much sensory material, how something looks and sounds and feels and smells and tastes, how people speak or hold themselves or present their ideas. And 2. The more present I am, the more in touch I am with my own story, which opens my own heart and mind.
There are so many more things to share! For now, I’ll just add that getting out in nature as much as possible is an invaluable practice: for writing, for living, for being. And a more practical tip is that I read aloud whatever I have written. Over and over. I find it such a useful practice to slow down, to catch the sound of a word I might be tripping over, an issue with pace, sentence length, characters speaking in their authentic voices, etc. Oh, two more things… please, even though writing can be both uplifting and grueling, have fun with it all, and be kind to yourself in the process!