Frequently Asked Questions—continued
How did you get the idea for Molly and Zoe's story?
It came nine years before I published the novel. I was sitting on the dock at my family's lakeside cabin in the Adirondacks one mid-July afternoon. It was very hot and the air shimmered. Across the lake was a waterskier, creating a white plume of wake against the deep blue water. The effect was ethereal, almost as if the girl was walking on water.
I remember it as such a richly sensory moment, the sun and smell of the lake, the sound of summer birds, the vision of this girl in the distance across the blue.
I began to mull over this moment, and the image came of a girl watching another girl waterskiing. That started the book.
The pivotal plot moment--when the jackknife is lost during Sammy's accident--evolved from a writing exercise in a workshop at the Loft Literary Center with novelist Alison McGhee.
I wrote the first part of Qualities of Light as a short story. But the characters wouldn't leave me alone.
How much research do you do for your books?
Research is important. I spent a lot of time investigating the challenges of coma for Qualities of Light. But research can also derail the writing process, so I do enough to keep things accurate but also keep myself writing.
How do you divide your time between writing and painting?
I'm a avid gardener and live in the country; I usually paint outside, either at my family's cabin in the Adirondacks or out my back door. Summers are prime time for painting, writing is a natural for the colder months, unless I'm deep into a book or two.
For me, the two arts play back and forth all through the year quite harmoniously. When a writing project stalls out, I turn to the easel until the words flow freely again.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing two books at the moment: another novel, Breathing Room, the sequel to Qualities of Light, which takes place five years later with the same group of characters, and Your Book Starts Here, a book on how to create, craft, and sell your first novel, memoir, or nonfiction book.
How much of Qualities of Light is based on your own life?
Most writers draw from their own lives for their fiction, and there are some autobiographical elements in Qualities of Light. My mother was a pilot, like Kate Fisher. I spend each summer on a small lake in the Adirondacks. The story of Molly and Zoe and Sammy is completely fictional.
Who is your favorite character? The favorite of readers?
From letters I've gotten, I think Zoe is most people's favorite character, Anna a close second. Younger readers really relate to Molly.
Surprisingly, Mel Fisher is my favorite character. Molly and Zoe are much more likeable, but Mel intrigues me most as a writer. Perhaps because he has been hardest to get to know--and to like. Perhaps his challenge is what gets my interest.
Mel also changes the most, especially in Breathing Room, the sequel to Qualities of Light.
What's the very first piece of writing you published?
That article about French cooking in a magazine called Sedona Life, back in 1977.
Where is your art shown?
On my website, and in occasional gallery shows. My paintings are also in private, corporate, and university collections around the U.S. and Europe.
Where do you teach?
I teach in-person classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis (http://www.loft.org), the Hudson Valley Writers' Center near New York City (http://www.writerscenter.org), Southern New Hampshire University (http://www.nhwritersproject.org ), and Grub Street writing school near Boston.
I also teach a twelve-week online course for the Loft.
In July I offer a week-long writing retreat for book writers on Madeline Island, one of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, sponsored by MISA (http://www.madelineartschool.com ).