FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How did you decide to become a writer?
I was a shy girl, but I liked my own company. Writing things down in a diary made them seem more real to me, though I didn’t write down everything. As a grown-up, I’m writing about some of the things I noticed as a child but didn’t have words for then.

Do you write every day?
Yes, even on weekends and holidays. I like the quiet and routine, and I don’t waste time trying to pick up a thread I’ve put down for too long. I learned to discipline myself when I had a baby who never seemed too keen on sleeping. If she took a ten-minute nap, I wrote for approximately 9 minutes and 55 seconds.

What do you do in your spare time?
I’m happy that writing and teaching take up most of my time, since reading, daydreaming, and often laughing or wonder are part of the job. I like swimming when it’s warm and cross country skiing when the snow is thick and soft, which isn’t often. Yoga is good. Doing almost anything with my grown daughter is best. Since I write slowly, I sometimes wonder why I took up knitting, work which gets bigger only small stitch by small stitch. But my best friend from high school asked me to take lessons with her, and while it wasn’t folding notes into origami shapes and passing them in class, we had a lot of fun. I made the Gryffindor House scarf pictured here for my daughter.

Do you like to write?
Most of the time, yes. There are few sentences I don’t struggle with, but when they fall into place I smile.

What inspires you?
Much of my writing begins by noticing women who seem a little hidden in history, then looking for words to bring them back into sight. While I like books that let me slip into other worlds through, say, a wardrobe or train station wall, and novels where people talk and dress and eat pretty much the way I do, ever since I was girl playing dress-up I was drawn to books like those written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott. History shows me what changes as well as what stays the same.

What is your best writing advice?
Find people who believe in you so it’s easier to believe in yourself. Find one person. And learn to feel friendly with silence. Solitude sometimes feel itchy, but stick with it and after a while one word after another starts to make sense. And even lead you down new and fascinating roads.

Are you in a critique group?
Yes, and its three members became some of my best friends. I started exchanging manuscripts with Lisa Kleinholz, Dina Friedman, and Bruce Carson when my daughter was a baby. For more than twenty years, we’ve been meeting about every other week. Clearly we trust each other’s eyes and ears, and cheering each other on when things are tough, and cheering louder when things are good, makes the writing life more fun. On some happy days I also meet other writers friends. We drink tea, catch up on news, then take out our laptops or yellow pads and write.

After writing mostly historical fiction, why did you decide to write poetry?
Reading and writing poetry has long had a place in my life, but writing Borrowed Names was the first time I put it at the center. I like poetry’s nudges to silence and the slow pace it demands. Poetry may create a space where facts and imagination meet, letting us carry on a kind of conversation with the past.


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