I'm 57, and it's hard to believe that anyone could possibly care about where I was born, but for the sake of due diligence, it was in Queens, NY. I grew up in Upper Nyack, a suburb of New York City, without a lot of drama, and the most important thing I learned in my four years at Middlebury College in Vermont was that I could write in James Joyce's stream-of-consciousness style fluently and for long periods of time without breaking a sweat. That was also the very first time I dabbled in fiction, though I wasn't aware of it at the time, only that I was having fun.
I began my professional life at a department store in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1977, but I was fired, so who cares about that job. I badly wanted to be an advertising copywriter but no one would hire me, so instead I became an editorial assistant for a publisher of building industry trade newspapers. At the first office Christmas party the executives exchanged, with a lot of fanfare and as tokens of their highest mutual regard, a decommissioned and presumably disarmed land mine and a surplused torpedo. The staff were then encouraged to exchange sexually explicit gifts and open them publicly for the amusement of the group (this was in 1977, before there was such a thing as sexual harassment lawsuits). There was rumored to be a lot of cocaine circulating on the executive floor (where I was not), which might have explained why decisions were made very, very quickly and no one had a weight problem. It was an interesting place to work. I lasted there for two years, until a move took me to Washington D.C. in 1980.
There, at a trade association and then a women's college, I had my first experience with editing (I like it, but I'm not very good at it) and public relations (I'm good at but I don't like it). More importantly, I began writing fiction in earnest for the first time, cutting my teeth on short stories, attending classes and workshops at the Glen Echo Writers Center in Glen Echo, Maryland, and joining a number of ad hoc writing groups. My first two short stories were published in Woman’s World, followed by others in Mademoiselle, Yankee, the Washington Review, and other periodicals that I can't remember the names of right now. I was much prouder of the fact that I began receiving personal rejection notices from
C. Michael Curtis at The Atlantic Monthly, and Daniel Menaker, then an editor at The New Yorker.
Four years later, I moved to tiny Newport, Oregon (pop. 9,000), on the central Oregon coast, a writer’s paradise with its relative isolation, constant winter storms and harsh beauty. I began maturing artistically there, discovering themes and settings that have resonated in my writing ever since. At the same time, I worked for the local electric utility through 1989. I wrote an in-house newsletter that featured the reimagining of everyday workplace events as folk tales, melding creative writing with employee morale-boosting. God only knows if anyone but me ever got the point, but I was humored. Somewhere in through there I received an Oregon Arts Commission grant that allowed me to take a brief leave of absence to write full time, but not for nearly long enough. I've never found a workplace or colleagues more interesting, at least not until I became press secretary for Keiko, the killer whale star of the hit movie Free Willy. After leaving the utility, I headed up communications efforts for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which owned the facility built for the whale; and then for the Free Willy Keiko Foundation, which owned the whale but not the facility.
I wrote half of my first book, Going to Bend, in Newport, but got tangled up in craft and plot issues and put the whole thing aside for eight years. In 1998, when the Keiko project ended for my husband and me, we fulfilled a dream and moved to Bend in the high desert of central Oregon, reinventing ourselves and establishing Web-Wrights, a website design company my husband and I owned and staffed until 2011. One snowy day when I didn't feel like doing whatever I was supposed to be doing (and remember, I was self-employed by then, so who cared), I resurrected the Going to Bend half-manuscript and read the thing over. Lo! I saw exactly where I'd been headed, if only I'd known it. I finished the book in six months and it found a home with Doubleday. The day the book was accepted was rivaled only by the days I got married and gave birth to my daughter Kerry.
By the time the book was released in 2003, we were living in Tacoma, Washington. It took confidence-bolstering hypnotherapy and the constant support of my family to get me through that first book tour, but get through it I did. Going to Bend was well received, especially in the Pacific Northwest, but hardly the blockbuster my editorial team had thought it might be.
My next attempt was a manuscript that eventually became my only bestseller to date, Hannah's Dream, but it was turned down not once but twice by Doubleday. Crushed, I stuck to the familiar fictional ground of coastal Oregon, writing Homesick Creek, my second published novel, on the road between Bend and Tacoma while we made endless trips back and forth to find and ready a home there.
It took a jump to publisher HarperCollins to find Hannah's Dream a pubishing home. The editorial team led by editor and goddess Kate Nintzel believed in the book when no one else did, and I will be forever grateful to them. I had no readership expectations whatsoever--would have cut bait on the book, in fact, had my husband Nolan not been so insistant that it had merit--so image my astonishment when it became a bestseller in the Pacific Northwest in 2008.
When Kerry decided to try her hand at professional acting, we moved on to Los Angeles for a couple of years (and yes, she was on some TV shows you've probably heard of) but returned to Bend in early 2007 to let her finish out her high school years as a normal kid. Writing is cheaper than therapy, so my attempts at making sense of the Hollywood in which young actors chase fame became the subject of my most recent book, Seeing Stars, which HarperCollins published in March 2010.
In Spring 2011, Nolan and I embarked on our most recent adventure, moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, where I've proved that while you can take the writer out of the Pacific Northwest, you can't take the Pacific Northwest out of the writer. I wrote my latest novel, Friday's Harbor, in the safety and refuge of Amore, a neighborhood coffee shop, but in my mind I returned to tiny Bladenham, Washington. A sequel to Hannah's Dream, Friday's Harbor, which will be released on October 8, 2013.