Frequently Asked Questions
Where did you grow up, go to school?
I grew up in the Baltimore suburbs. My family spent several years in Kentucky and on Long Island when I was a child but we always returned to Maryland. I went to a small Quaker school called Friends School where, thanks to a wonderful high-school teacher, I got interested in Russian. I continued my Russian studies at Boston University and San Diego State University, where I received a M.A. and taught for a year as a teaching assistant. The culmination of my Russian language career was getting signed on as an interpreter for the New York City ballet's tour of Leningrad, which involved passing a CIA exam and over-the-phone language test. But the tour was cancelled when the former Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
I also lived in Paris for a year, studying my other loves--French and painting. In 1976, back in the U.S., I began teaching French cooking at Yavapai Community College in Arizona. France spoiled me for locally grown ingredients, so when I married and moved to California, I opened a natural-foods cooking school in the San Francisco Bay Area. We had a brief but glorious three years, including a feature by Carol Flinders (of Laurel's Kitchen fame) in USA Today, but the school closed during the early-eighties recession.
I moved to Minnesota in 1986 to work for a small press as an editor, still writing cookbooks on the side and evolving into health topics, then memoir and self-help. Finally fiction grabbbed me. In 1990 I began publishing short stories then writing two novels. When I realized I was in way over my head, I returned to college for my MFA in creative writing, graduating from Goddard in 2007.
Where do you live now?
I live in northern New England in the mountains..
What came first, writing or painting?
Painting was my first love. I won an art contest at twelve with a drawing of Santa Claus. Art continued as my favorite subject through high school and college. I studied part-time at Boston University's School of Fine Arts, and although my art instructors encouraged me to switch my major to painting, my unreasonable obsession with the Russian language gave me my degree.
Writing never came easily to me. It began as a career change after my year in France, when I was asked to write a column on French cooking for Sedona Life magazine. I discovered I enjoyed working with words. When a publisher approached me to put together a cookbook and that evolved to more books, I was hooked. I published my first memoir in 1989 and my first novel in 2009.
What's your greatest creative influence--what writers do you admire?
Where to start? My shelves are lined with books by poets Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, novelists Michael Cunningham and Amy Bloom, short story writers Amy Hempl and Alice Munro. I love reading and I'm always on the lookout for new authors.
I admire painters Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and Mary Cassatt, among others, but my greatest and most practical influence as a painter was my teacher, Susan Sarback, founder of the School of Light & Color in California where I studied for many years.
What are some of your favorite books?
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
anything by Alice Munro
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
and so many others
Where and when do you write? Do you write on the computer or by hand?
I write best in early morning or late at night, when everything quiets down. I'm very focused so I can lose myself in the process and miss meals--unless my teenager or spouse remind me!
Favorite places to write? The screened porch of my home, at the library, a corner table at a local Starbucks.
I freewrite by hand in a writer's notebook. The looseness of longhand lets me grab initial scene ideas. Then I transfer them to the computer for revision. Once a book is formed into rough draft, it all takes place on the computer.
I print out my drafts and edit them by hand; too many years as a professional editor taught me how hard it is to catch pacing errors onscreen.