Frequently Asked Questions
The main character in your book, SKINNY, chooses to have gastric bypass surgery in order to lose weight. What made you decide to write this story?
I've struggled with weight and body issues all my life. About ten years ago, at 302 pounds, I decided to have gastric bypass surgery. I lost over a hundred pounds, and it was a good decision for me, but it wasn't a magic wand. I'll never be considered skinny, but I'm happy and healthy in the skin I'm living in, and that's part of the story I wanted to tell. SKINNY is an extremely personal story, but I hope it's more than just a story about weight loss. It's about overcoming the negative thoughts that keep us from being happy.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I'm basically a shy person. Because of my career as a teacher and a professor, I'm comfortable talking in front of groups, so sometimes people are surprised to discover I'm naturally shy in social situations.
The other thing they might not know is that competition is hard wired into my nature. I can’t help it. When I was barely able to hold a glove, my dad was playing catch with me in the front yard. That led to a passion for playing fast pitch softball. I was a catcher—a not-so-glamorous position that required a high tolerance for pain. I spent many a summer day, with my broken fingers taped together inside my glove, catching a ball thrown toward me at amazing speeds. I didn’t endure all of that just for the love of the game. I played to win. That childhood love of competing has, for the most part, served me well. It’s helped me do things I never thought I could do—both personally and professionally. I’m approached every day by people who want to write books, but few actually take the journey. So I try to compete with myself to reach the next step in the process—not the ultimate goal. I celebrate finishing a manuscript, completing the edits, finding an agent, going out on submission. I know the odds to this game, but each time I reach one of those milestones, I know I’m joining a smaller and smaller percentage of writers out there.
What were you like growing up?
When I was a child, my family spent one week a summer at a lake house in the hill country outside of Austin. My aunt, uncle and cousins would go, too, and the two families would crowd into the house for a week of boating, water skiing, swimming and hiking. Much to my older sister's frustration, my week was also full of reading. I couldn't wait to explore the uncensored bookcases full of paperback novels left by previous vacationers. There were so many books (and authors) I had never seen on the children's shelves of the library. It was a whole new world and was in direct conflict with the "real" world outside. My sister tried every guilt trick she could think of to get me to put the books down. The conversation usually ended with her storming off to "have fun without me." Within minutes, I was already back in the worlds created by authors like Agatha Christie, Daphne DuMaurier, Victoria Holt, and John Le Carre. Don't worry. I didn't stay inside and read for my WHOLE vacation (although I'm sure my sister would claim otherwise). I swam and boated and water skied, but the struggle between the "book" world vs. the "real" world has continued throughout my life.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Seriously, research is one of the BEST THINGS EVER about being a writer. It's an open ended adventure down a road to discover new plot twists, specific details and unusual characters. You may eventually get to Oz (and finishing the WIP), but you'll definitely discover a few tangent poppy fields along the way. Research on a writing project allows me to become a "pseudo expert" on anything and everything that interests me. It's the total excuse for attention issues,but you might be surprised what people will tell you when you lead with, "I'm writing a book and was just wondering what it's like to be a ... fireman...or bartender...or cab driver...or tight rope walker." Research nurtures the discovery part of the writing process. Yes, it can definitely be a procrastination tool and a distraction, but it's just so much fun!
To prove it, here are just a few of the random things I've recently researched:
- Acting Lessons
- Trail maps in the National Forest
- Internet security
- Trees of East Texas
- Water Moccasins
- Musical Lyrics
- Clothes from Gossip Girl episodes
- Favorite Female Baby Names
- Chemistry Experiments Gone Wrong
You wrote and published over twenty picture books, then there was a long break before you wrote this novel. What happened?
I read hundreds, maybe thousands, of picture books in my former life as a kindergarten teacher. When Halloween candy was coursing through their tiny veins, or the firemen had just brought the huge red truck with sirens to the school that morning, or when no classroom management strategy worked, I could always count on a picture book to calm the savage beasts (otherwise known as cute little five year olds). In only a couple of pages of a classic picture book like p.d. eastman’s Are You My Mother? or Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, or Bill Martin’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, I’d have all thirty-three sitting, listening and reciting along. All it took was the magic of a picture book. I loved picture books. No really. They saved me. As a 20-year-old teacher teaching all alone in the basement of a 100-year-old school, I LOVED picture books. I loved them all (and I have the insurance rider on my picture book collection to prove it), but I especially loved the repetitive, patterned text that had my five-year-old audience chiming in at every page turn. So that’s exactly the kind of book I wrote.
I eventually stopped writing for children to focus all my efforts on writing for tenure at a research university. I was granted tenure, but I longed to write something a little more creative than “The applied multiple regression correlation of the blahblahblah” and “Complexity arises in the behavioral sciences when one departs from the orthogonality of factors in the blahblahblah.” When I came back to writing for children after several years out of the game, I was facing a life event that was incomprehensible. My beloved mother had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. There was no stage five. I spent a great deal of time in hospitals and doctor’s offices trying not to think of the unthinkable, that my mother could actually die. I saw family after family torn apart by the diagnosis that someone—child, mother, father, grandparent—was facing cancer, and slowly I started to write about it. It wasn't picture book content and it eventually led to my writing young adult books.
Where do your ideas come from?
Most, if not all, of my ideas are based somehow in real personal experiences. In Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird she says, "Start with your childhood. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O'Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life."
I often start with questions to help me remember: What was important to me then? Why? What did I love reading at the time? What did I spend my time doing? What did I want most? What did I fear the most?
Although my ideas are often rooted in reality, there is an important twist that has to occur to make it a story and not a memoir. That usually occurs when I ask myself, "Yes, but what if?" I had to be willing to turn off the "real" road and take the fictional twisting path to a completely different outcome. Sometimes I've heard a writer say, "but that's not what happened," and the response is "but the real story isn't always the BEST story."