I no longer work in television. My life as a writer is much quieter now. Every morning, I get the kids off to school, kick my husband out the door to work, and settle in at my desk for two hours of morning writing, always with coffee at my elbow. Because my brain gets sluggish after sitting for too long in one place, I finish the morning session with a walk or jog or housework or a nap (naps are my favorite)—anything that’s mindless and therefore refreshing. Then I go to the desk for an afternoon session.
I’m an ex-TV girl, and in the best TV news writing, you write words to match the pictures. I’ve tried to replicate that in my fiction writing; choosing words to recreate the pictures I see in my head. Sometimes it works. It’s fun when it does. The best part of writing, though, is finding ways to make characters come alive, and fitting the characters into the puzzle called plot, and then carrying them through the plot to the end where you discover what you as a writer believe. Because to me, that’s what writing is all about; figuring out what you believe about the world through your writing.
For that, I’m deeply indebted to my agent, Dan Conaway. When we were going through the final manuscript to send out to publishers, he found places where the main character, Virginia, didn’t “feel right” or wasn’t being consistent. He said to me: Why don’t you know Virginia’s the smartest person in the room? Let her be who she is. And then I realized I was afraid for her. I had smart-chick terror. I was afraid people might not like her. And then I realized, also, maybe I was afraid people might not like me.
When I faced that fear, the problem scenes fell into place, the book was ready to go, and I learned something valuable about myself. Then I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I’m a long ways from television news now. I still read the newspapers every morning, and check in on Nightly News to make sure all’s well, for at least this day. But after that, the television goes off, and I pull out the novels, mostly mysteries and thrillers. My go-to favorites, the writers I preorder as soon as I hear of a new book, and that I study as much as I read: Megan Abbott, Tana French, Laura Lippman, and of course, I love Gillian Flynn. They expand female protagonists, with apparent fearlessness, giving them room to act and to be bad and to make bad decisions, creating characters who are conflicted and strong, worthy of the antagonistic forces against them.
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
My favorite genre is crime/mystery/thriller. But I also love 19th century Russian Literature (Chekhov is my favorite), and his collection sits next to JD Robb/Nora Roberts books. The melancholy of 19th century Russian lit suits me, but I’m also a romantic.
Where is your reading happy place?
I have a big blue chair that I can curl up to read and nap on. It’s by the front bay window, so I can see everything that’s going on, and it’s old enough that I don’t care if I spill coffee on it, and my cat or dog can join me. What’s a little fur on a 20-year old chair?
Who are your favourite heroes of fiction?
From my childhood: I loved all the MM Kaye female protagonists. They went to India or Zanzibar, they did things! They were bold and survived rebellions and war and gruesome fates. Now I love the darkly complicated female characters of Tana French, Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Gillian Flynn—they give their girls so much room to act and surprise.
What was your favourite book as a child?
When I was 12, I read Gone with the Wind. It helped me through my parent’s divorce.
Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
Pen and paper during first draft of scenes, and then I draft the chapters out on laptop.
Where is your favourite place to write?
My kid’s desk in the basement. It’s next to the French doors, where there is a lot of light. My work desk is always too cluttered with papers and bills, ugh—the bills.
How do you choose your characters names?
I need to see how they act, so I change names throughout the first draft. Rewrites get so confusing.
What word or expression do you most overuse?
I get a word stuck in my head and then it’ll pop up five times in the same paragraph, as I circle the idea. Obviously, a sign the paragraph needs cleaning up.
Do you listen to music while you write? What’s on your playlist?
No music, unless my family is being noisy. Then I put on my headphones and listen to “Brain food” on apple radio, or something classical. Don’t want anyone’s lyrics to show up on my page by accident.
What do all writers have in common?
Probably fear that no one will read their work.
Which natural gift would you most like to possess?
Being a better runner.
What’s your idea of a wild night out?
Can’t remember. I’m such a nerd.
If you could revisit yourself at any age, what age would you choose?
Because my husband and children are such a joy, I like my life now. But if I had to go, it’d be to me in my mid to late 20’s when I lived on Capitol Hill and worked local news. It was so fun.
What’s your favorite drink? Last supper?
Cranberry juice with a splash of soda. Yum. Or if strawberries are in season, limeade with crushed strawberries and cucumbers with seltzer. Try it—really refreshing in hot weather.
Something warm: apple cobbler with a cup of espresso.
Stranger Things was awesome. I loved the world of the story, and the way the entire cast of characters were used. Can’t wait for new season.