Foto: Kim Schneider Foto: /
I am really glad you’ve accepted my interview. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
My pleasure! Thank you!
Can you tell us a bit more about how you became a writer?
I’ve written my whole life, but I started writing in earnest in grade school. I grew up in rural America, which was difficult for a sensitive kid who loved to read. I made the horrific mistake of singing „Delta Dawn“ (a popular song in the 1970s) for my Ozarks middle school talent show – while holding a faded rose, no less. It wasn’t the best song selection for a boy to perform in front of an audience in rural America, and people heckled me. I ran off that rickety plywood platform and into the arms of my mother and grandmothers, furious they could let me embarrass myself like that.
As if they knew what the outcome would already be, they were waiting with two gifts: A writing journal and a copy of The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank by Erma Bombeck (a popular humorist and essayist in the 1970s and 1980s).
„You’ll need both of these – laugher and writing – to make sense of your world,“ they said to me.
Inscribed inside the book was a quote from Erma: „Laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.“
I began to read her column, At Wit’s End, in our little local paper. Then I read all of her books. Laughing with Erma got me through some very rough times. She inspired me to write about family – with love, heart and humor – and to never, ever give up. She also inspired me to write what calls to me and to listen to my own voice, the one that makes us all unique. That was the difference maker.
I majored in communications in college and received my master’s degree in journalism. I worked as a magazine writer and a reporter before spending nearly 20 years in public relations. I wrote nearly every single day, and all of that experience made me a better writer and even better editor. It also got me used to having my work critiqued as well as hardened to rejection.
I still write every single day, and I couldn’t be happier.
Was it difficult for the first book to find a publisher?
No, which came as a total shock to me. I spent about two years writing my first book, a memoir entitled America’s Boy, about growing up in rural Missouri, and then I spent another year studying the book business. I found that you have to secure a literary agent to represent you, otherwise a major publisher won’t look at your work. I was always a good student, so I spent a lot of time researching agents, narrowing it down to those who represented my genre as well as authors I admired, and who had a record of success. I then spent another few months perfecting my query letter, which is the letter you write to agents that sum up your book as well as yourself as a person and author. I mailed (this was in 2004, right before email was a big thing) 15 letters on New Year’s Eve, honestly expecting to hear nothing. Within two weeks, I had seven agents asking to read my memoir. Within another week, I had three formal offers of representation. After speaking with the agents, I chose Wendy Sherman (the agent I still have to this day), and she sold my memoir to Dutton (an imprint of Penguin) within two weeks. I was stunned at how quickly it all happened. But I believe that good writing will always find a home. And I believe that aspiring writers must treat publishing and being an author with as much seriousness, drive and respect as they treat their own jobs and lives. Authors must also be savvy business people. Publishing is what I like to term BART: Business meets art. You also only get one chance on your first book (and query letter), so ensure they are perfect before letting any agent see them. And, most importantly – even if it doesn’t happen as quickly for you as it did for me – NEVER GIVE UP and always believe in yourself and your talent. (And always write what calls to you, not what you think will sell … and be unique.)
The same story holds true for my novels: When I switched to fiction, I spent about three years writing my first novel, The Charm Bracelet. My agent sold it (at auction) in just about two weeks.
Could you describe literature in three words?
Mirror of life
Is there a book you would never read? Why?
This is a fascinating question, and one that I spent a great deal of time considering. There were a few books that crossed my mind, but I must say that – in the end – I am hesitant to say there is a book I would not read. Even if a book offends or angers me, or I feel is an affront, I believe in the freedom of expression, and that the best books are like mirrors: They reflect not only ourselves and our souls but those of society at the current time. Even the most offensive of books can be a clarifying call to action, a wake-up call, a moment in which we stand up and fight, march, question, speak up.
What’s your favorite book?
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This is the one book I reread every year. The narrative seems to grow more powerful to me, despite the fact that I continue to age more rapidly than Holden Caulfield ever will. Salinger’s writing is beautiful, real and heartbreaking, and the novel reminds us how easily it is to get lost in this world and lose touch with what’s most important in life. The Catcher in the Rye continually grounds me in the importance of writing what calls to me and inspires me, i.e., stories that remind readers of what’s most important in life. As my grandmothers taught me – and as I write in The Charm Bracelet – the simplest things are the most meaningful: Family, friends, faith, fun, love and a passion for what we do in this world.
This is a quote (actually passage) from the novel, and it not only explains how the book gets its title but captures the soul of the character and the novel:
„I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going. I have to come from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.“
EBooks or paper print?
I’m still an old-school paper book reader. I think the reason is that I spend most of my day writing and working on a laptop, and I think it’s important for me to be separated from technology. I also like the feel of holding a book in my hands, of turning the pages, using bookmarks … there is something about reading a printed book that allows me to truly escape from the world and into another.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by my life and family as well as what I call the “mundane moments,” those little things that that happen every day in our lives that unite us all. The beauty is found in the smallest, quietest of moments, like watching your child sleep, or your spouse laugh, kissing your dog or jumping into a lake. On a different note, I’m also inspired by visual beauty when I write: That’s why I live on the coast of Michigan in the summer/fall and in the California desert in the winter. Visual beauty – the lake, fall leaves, blooming cactus, shadows on mountains – call to me and inspire me. I’m rarely distracted from my writing by social media because all I have to do is look out my window and sigh in happiness.
Imagine you were given the opportunity to meet a book character in real life. Who would that be?
What a good question! There are SO many. My first instinct was to say Winnie the Pooh (ha!), but I’ll say Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. I’d like to talk to him, to tell him that everything will be OK, give him a hug and take him under my wing. Most importantly, I believe, hope and pray that he might turn out to be a much different person today.
What’s your worst nightmare?
Not being able to write OR being trapped in an elevator with a bunch of creepy clowns. (Or maybe being forced to live without lip balm or hairspray.)
The best decision of your life was?
Quitting my job and moving to Michigan to write full time. It was also the hardest decision of my life, especially to give up a good paying job with wonderful benefits to leap into the unknown as a self-employed writer. But, as I teach and write, fear is the greatest destroyer of dreams, and you must stand up to it for your life to be truly happy. With the greatest risk comes the greatest reward, and I truly believe that following your dreams and your passion leads not only to happiness but also success. Too few people do that, however, and they let fear win and, thus, take the path of least resistance in life. My mother was a nurse and hospice nurse who told me never to look back on my life with regret. It’s the greatest advice I’ve received.
I can’t wait to read your next book. Are you currently working on a project? Is there any release date to reveal?
Yes! The Recipe Box will publish in the U.S. on March 20, 2018, and I’m so excited for its release.
The Recipe Box is a novel centered around and including some of my family’s treasured dessert recipes. It is inspired by my grandmothers‘ heirloom recipe boxes, recipe cards and beloved recipes.
I grew up in my grandmothers‘ kitchens, tugging at their white aprons embroidered with pretty flowers, and it was from them that I learned not only to cook and bake but also the history of our family and the food we loved to make from the treasured family recipes in their beloved recipe boxes. My grandparents were working poor, and my grandmas‘ recipe boxes were their greatest treasures. After they and my mom passed, I became the keeper of their recipe boxes and recipes. My novel speaks to the fact that the women – and food – in our lives are essential parts of our souls and histories.
The novel centers on a lost young woman’s return home to her family’s orchard and pie pantry, where she rediscovers her passion, reconnects to the women in her life and learns about her family’s history through the treasured recipes in an heirloom recipe box. #1 New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans provided the cover blurb for the novel, writing, „Filled with cherished memories and treasured recipes, The Recipe Box is a touching tribute to the women and food that unite us and connect our past to the present.“
It’s a beautiful, heartfelt story about love, family and finding your path in life from those who came before you. I’m so, so proud of it, and know that it will resonate with readers and foodies everywhere.
And, I’m excited to announce, that I just signed a three-book deal with HarperCollins/Harlequin, and will have three more novels published in the coming years, starting with The Summer Cottage in May 2019!
So much more to come!