Tell me about the mechanics of how you write.
I once gave a talk to a fifth grade class about revision (the teacher wanted the kids to get the message from a “real” writer that the first draft is only the barest beginning). One question that stirred up the students was “What’s your favorite writing tool, and why?” I didn’t expect each of these young kids to have his or her own clear and immediate answer, but they did: “red pen, because it looks nice,” computer because it’s easy,” pencil because that’s what my mom uses.”
For myself, I go back and forth between ballpoint-pen-and-yellow-lined-paper and my laptop. I type faster (and way more legibly) than I write, but there are definitely times when computer use is awkward or when I think my words come out more expressively from a pen. I do early edits and smaller revisions online, but later, when whole chapters or the entire manuscript are in play, I always use a red Pilot pen on a printed version.
Do you write in bed?
Do you listen to music when you write?
Do you have brilliant plot ideas in the middle of the night?
No, but sometimes when I’m talking a walk I’m able to sort out plot or character difficulties.
Do you have a daily word count or page goal?
No, but I do set weekly goals, like “write this chapter” or “revise the first 50 pages” or “get this character from Point A to Point B” or “go back and research X more fully.”
What do you do when you’re not writing?
The usual stuff. Eat, sleep, visit with friends, read, work in the garden, bake and cook (I have an overpowering dessert fetish—when I’m planning menus for company, I always plan the dessert first), travel, try to keep up with my kids and grandkids, and work with my husband to figure out how to live a good and useful life in this imperfect world.
What are the Seattle7Writers?
Authors have lots to complain about (clueless agents, stupid publishers, shrinking book markets, clumsy marketing, idiotic cover designs, diminishing income), but no one wants to hear about it except other authors. I’m part of a group of Seattle authors who gets together once a month to whine about such things (and occasionally celebrate a success or two). After about a year and a half of this, even we got bored with it, so we decided to Get Organized and Do Something.
We call ourselves the Seattle7Writers (www.seattle7writers.org) after the Seattle7 antiwar demonstrators of the 1960s. Some might remember the reference to them in the Coen brothers’ 1998 movie The Big Lebowski. As the Seattle7Writers—our tagline is “Read Local”—we raise money for local literacy-related philanthropies. We’ve donated about $10,000 so far, most of it raised during our “The Novel Live!” extravaganza in October 2010. We also collect books from booksellers and our publishers which we donate to homeless shelters and transitional housing units around Seattle. Our goal for 2011 is to donate 1500 books to these “Pocket Libraries.”
Our biggest project so far has been to write a novel in public. We gathered thirty-six local writers and each took two hour stints in front of an audience and wrote a novel. It’s called Hotel Angeline, A Novel in 36 Voices. I wrote Chapter 21. The book will be published as an ebook by Open Road Media—launch dates are in May 2011.
Besides Seattle7Writers, what other nonprofits do you support?
I’m a member and a huge fan of the Washington Women’s Foundation (www.wawomensfoundation.org) . Other organizations I support include:
- Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/
- Heifer International http://www.heifer.org/
- Northwest Harvest http://www.northwestharvest.org/
- One Percent Foundation http://www.onepercentfoundation.org/
- Page Ahead http://www.pageahead.org/
- Planned Parenthood http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
- University of Washington School of Nursinghttps://www.washington.edu/giving/make-a-gift?source_typ=2&source=EHG
Where have you been recently that you would highly recommend?
My husband and I spent three weeks in China last fall. We’d previously visited Vietnam, and are planning a trip to Laos and Cambodia later this year. Visiting Asia is like taking a peek into the future of the planet. The energy level in cities like Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City (the old Saigon) make New York look like a lazy backwater.