Every once in a while I like to answer some of the questions you’ve sent me. Some are related to writing, some are more personal, and my goal in these posts is to answer two of each. (Almost) anything goes, so feel free to add new questions with your comments and I’ll try to answer them in the future. Also, I hope you’ll share whatever thoughts the questions elicit from your own life experiences.
Q. What advice would you give someone who has a passion for writing?
A. This is a two part answer.
Part 1) If you have a passion for writing, do all you can to learn how to write well (take a class in adult school, for example) and then, just do it. I hear all the time from people who say they have an idea for a book but can’t get started. I know how scary that blank page is, believe me. If you want to write a book, there is no way around putting the words on the paper. A page a day equals a book in a year, or at least it will equal a draft for you to revise–please never think that once you’ve written a draft, you’re finished. But go for it! Start writing.
Part 2) I am personally glad I didn’t major in writing in college. I do wish I had the skills I might have learned while getting a masters in fine arts, but working in the real world has given me experiences that influence everything I write. I always suggest that kids interested in writing go into a field that puts them in contact with people. The creative well needs to be constantly replenished.
Q. Why did you never have children?
A. Wow, heavy question! While growing up, I expected to marry and have kids. But when I was about nineteen and a special ed major, I began working with very disturbed and needy kids and I started worrying I wouldn’t be up to the task of taking care of children of my own. (Quite honestly, at that age I was right. It took me a long time to grow up.) Around the same time, a speaker from Zero Population Growth came to my college to speak. He talked about the wear and tear overpopulation had on the planet and encouraged us to have fewer children. It suddenly occurred to me I didn’t have to have kids. Shortly after, I met a man who felt the same way I did. We married with the agreement that we wouldn’t have children. Fast forward to when I was thirty years old and working as a social worker in the maternity unit and emergency room of a hospital. Every day I saw the two most significant and moving parts of life–birth and death–and I realized I was missing out on the first. For my husband, it was as though I was suddenly changing the rules of our relationship. We talked about it a lot, but we were both unsure of what we wanted. Around that time, I started writing and that creative act filled an empty place in me. I grew more comfortable with our decision not to have children and happily lost myself in my writing.
That’s not the end of the story, though. My husband and I eventually divorced and I married a man with three teenaged daughters. Although the marriage didn’t last, my relationship with ‘the girls’–now grown women–did, and I feel way way way beyond fortunate to have them and their little ones in my life. I really lucked out!
Q. What’s your favorite book you have written?
A. I have so many! I’d say Necessary Lies, my most recent novel, is probably my favorite because I’d wanted to write it for so many years. The story had the potential to be controversial and uncomfortable and it took a while for me to persuade my agent that I should write it. I loved the research–learning about something I knew nothing about (tobacco farming) as well as something I could all too easily imagine (a social worker having ultimate power over her clients). Other favorites are: The Bay at Midnight, because it’s set in my family’s former summer cottage; Secret Lives, because it’s the novel where I first found ‘my voice'; The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, just because I love the story; the Keeper of the Light trilogy, because it was so much fun to write three books about a family I adored. I could go on and on!
Q. Which state is your favorite: New Jersey or North Carolina?
A. I’ve also lived for long periods in California (San Diego for 12 years) and Virginia (for 22) and I can honestly say I’ve loved every state I’ve lived in. But I’ll stick with NJ and NC in my answer. It’s not like comparing apples and apples, or even apples and oranges. It’s more like comparing apples and pizza. Or Taylor pork roll. Or sausage and pepper sandwiches. Get the idea? I miss Jersey food, and when I go back to visit my family, I eat plenty of it.
It’s always a shock to hear the New Jersey accents when I’m up there and to realize that I probably sounded the same way until I left the state at age twenty. I love both states, however I wouldn’t live in New Jersey again because of the cold and snowy winters. Brr!
Things I love about North Carolina: The warmth of the people. The beautiful coastline, which if you’ve read my books, you know I’m hooked on. Shrimp and Grits. The cost of housing. The lighthouses. The towering pines in the sandhills. The dunes at Nags Head. I’m crazy about my adopted state. New Jersey, though, will always tug at my heart. Special places from our childhood have a way of doing that.