Book Nerd Interview
When Kaya’s not working, she likes to telemark ski, sit in hot springs, moonlight hike, and play in lakes with her dog, Big Cedar.
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
No, I never really had that thing where I wanted to be a writer. I just was a writer. I couldn’t help it. I loved writing letters and had 30 pen pals all over the world when I was 14. That’s odd, no? It taught me about rewriting, because when something interesting would happen in my life, I’d write about it to at least a half dozen people and each time I wrote it (long hand on that thin airmail paper), I distilled it down and down to just the best parts. Later, after a few years working in archaeology on temporary projects here and there with people who would become like family, I started writing Xerox letters to keep in touch with people. A few of them had friends who didn’t know me who began to ask if they’d received a letter yet. That was when I realized there was a following for my writing. But still, I didn’t dream about writing novels. That just happened accidentally. My television was broken, my house was cold, and I needed a way to entertain myself next to the fire all day, so I thought, well, what if I approached a story the way I do a painting, where I don’t necessarily finish it and I sure don’t keep it, but just enjoy creating it? So I started writing one day, and enjoyed it so much that I continued writing every night in the bath. When I finished, I thought, “Well, it’s no Hemmingway, but it’s no Harlequin either. Someone will like it,” and I went to the library to learn about what to do with a manuscript. The librarian there in Heppner, Oregon, set me up with a copy of How to Get Happily Published and The Writers’ Market, and I looked at it like the lottery. Sometimes I just enjoy going for something just because I’m so curious about whether a door will open. I had nothing to lose. My identity wasn’t tied up in it. I had already gotten out of it what I wanted—months of free entertainment. The rest was icing on the cake.
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I’ve heard it said that we are our choices. And I’ve heard it said another way too: “You are what you have been. What you will be is what you do now.” So, I think stories can be a way to try on different scenarios like you might try on dresses at a store. How does this feel? How does this fit? Is this something I’d like to try? Is this something I’d like to avoid? If this character or person found a way around an obstacle or through a hard time, could I use those same strategies or perspectives to do the same? I think stories can be a way to examine what opportunities we have as we continue to create who we are.
Other times, a good story is just pure candy. I had a cancer scare and surgery last winter, and I have to tell you that Sarah Addison Allen (The Girl who Chased the Moon, and The Peach Keeper) and Maria Dahvana Headley (the Year of Yes) pulled me through it. Their books were like life rafts to me. They distracted me when I was scared and in pain. I’ll be forever grateful. And it was a nice epiphany moment for me too, because I realized what purpose my books had in this world. Like Sarah Addison Allen, I’m an author you can count on for a good ride and a happy ending—especially when you’re feeling too fragile for anything dark, depressing, or intense. What a lovely thing to be!
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Garth Stein said last year that a good writer tells his reader in the first paragraph or the first page how the story is going to end, and it’s only when the author doesn’t keep his promise that the reader feels dissatisfied with the book. What an interesting idea that was!
I read that Fannie Flagg organized her novels by clothes pinning index cards to a long clothesline she ran down her hallway. I modified that so it would work for me—color coded index cards for different storylines and I clothes pinned them all over my office curtains, so at a glance I could see my book. It really made a difference in my clarity. I’m thankful for that.
In your new book; How I came to Sparkle Again, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
Jill has just lost her unborn baby and been betrayed by her husband. Cassie has just lost her mother. Lisa has reached her breaking point with emptiness. This is a story of how we all are or can be angelic influences for each other—often times without even trying. Paths cross, trajectories change, and new beginnings are created. It’s heartbreaking at times, funny at other times, and ultimately hopeful. And spoiler alert—you can always count on me for a happy ending. There are enough sad ones in real life.
What part of Lisa did you enjoy writing the most?
I loved writing her dialogue. At times, it’s a little raunchy and off-color when she banters with the ski bums next door. Every single thing is something I would say. Lisa is the character in this book who is most like me.
For those who are unfamiliar with Jill, how would you introduce her?
All of us have been broadsided and devastated and all of us have wondered how we would ever be okay again. Jill is that part of us… the part of us that had to let go of our vision for how we thought things were going to be before we could see the opportunity right in front of us. Heartbreak and healing are universal experiences.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m in the rewriting phase of The Embers, and I’m so in love with it! It’s about a group of women who save a summer camp. It’s inspired by, but not based on, a group of women who saved Camp Zanika on Lake Wenatchee, where I worked in college, and again six and seven years ago. Six years ago, several of us volunteered so that the camp wouldn’t close its doors, and it really got me wondering about what happened to us all there that made us care so much. Camp is full of so many life-changing stories… moments that didn’t just change our lives, but changed who we were, or at least how we saw ourselves. I really wanted to write about how the culture has changed for kids in recent years… how it’s become so highly competitive. We need to ask ourselves what kind of society we’re creating. Camp is cooperative, not competitive, and camps are sinking at an alarming rate because cooperation isn’t fashionable right now. I have concerns about that.
If you could introduce Cassie to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think I would introduce her to Daniel from Church of the Dog, because he also lost his parents at a young age and might know what to say or how to help. Or at least it would make her feel so much less alone to know she wasn’t the only person who experienced that level of loss at such a young age.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
My mom could always tell when I was lying, so I learned early on not to even try. I don’t have much of a sensor on my mouth. If I think it, I say it. It makes me a disaster in social situations, but a very honest writer. It also makes those question and answer sessions at the end of book readings fascinating and a little dangerous. You never know what I’m going to say. I never know what I’m going to say. But I know it’s going to be the truth. Enjoy!
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Write to entertain yourself. Write the book you want to read. And if you’re really stuck or dissatisfied, put it down for awhile. Go out and live. Have an adventure. Whenever we take a break from something, we come back and do it on a higher level. Well, that’s the story I tell myself, anyway.
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
Generally, after a bad day, I go running and try to handle it myself. Why puke negativity on the ones I love? Why not just work it out and clear it? Who wants to listen to a bunch of negativity? No one. Everyone has problems. Let’s not share that wealth. Stress is a very physical experience, so I figure I could talk about it until the cows come home, but for it to clear, I have to burn it off by exercising.
What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment?
It might be my front porch. I have a fabulous front porch. Southern exposure, rocking chairs, Christmas lights, strawberries growing in clay pots, and my dog, Big Cedar on his bed watching the world go by. I love eating dinner out there on warm nights in the late summer, when it gets dark early enough to enjoy a little candlelight.
Which is the hardest thing you ever had to do?
Let go of and get over a man I loved so much. I thought the heartbreak would surely kill me. I just had to endure it for months and months and months. I thought it would never end.
Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?
Who was your first boyfriend?
Danny Swanson. He was my boyfriend from second grade to sixth, with a few interruptions in fifth and sixth grade. Tragically, I think that remains my longest relationship.
Who was the last person you hugged?
Cowboy Alex. We rode horses today.
What is the one, single food that you would never give up?
Well, I can’t say never, because if my health depended on me not eating something, I’d take care of my health. But I will say I can’t imagine life without fresh raspberries.
Where can readers stalk you?
I just finished my 26th stop on my tour, so they missed most of their chances. I’ll be at the Seattle 7 Holiday Book Fair Saturday, November 17th at the Phinney Neighborhood Center in Seattle with author friends like Erica Bauermeister, Jamie Ford, Garth Stein, Jennie Shortridge, and many, many other greats. After that, I’ll be at A Book For All Seasons in Leavenworth, Washington on Wednesday, December 5th and Saturday, December 16th.
I’d like to give a shout out to my Super Fans, Heather and Jennifer, who, when they heard I was going on tour, took their vacation days, flew out to Colorado, rented a car, and followed me around as if I was the Grateful Dead. They’re the best!
Jill Anthony spent her young adulthood in the ski town of Sparkle, Colorado. But more than a decade has passed since she left when, only weeks after a very late miscarriage, she finds her husband in bed with another woman, she flees Austin, Texas for the town she knows: Sparkle.
Lisa Carlucci wakes up one morning after another night of meaningless sex, looks in the mirror and realizes that she no longer wants to treat her body like a Holiday Inn. She’s going to hold out for love. The only problem is, love might come in the form of her ski bum best friend, who lives next door with his ski bum friends in a trailer known as “the Kennel.”
Cassie Jones, at age ten, has lost her mother to cancer and no longer believes in anything anymore. She knows her father is desperately worried about her, and she constantly looks for messages from her deceased mother through the heart-shaped rocks they once collected in the streams and hills of Sparkle.
Three people at the crossroads of heartbreak and healing. Three lives that will be changed one winter in Sparkle. One tender, funny, tear-jerking novel you won’t soon forget.