Why did you decide to become a writer?

As a kid I was always writing stories, many of which I left unfinished. In middle school I had an amazing English teacher (Thank you Mrs. Sutton!) who gave me wonderful encouragement and made me believe I could be a writer. It just took me until I was much older to decide to take my writing seriously.  

As an adult when you meet people, you get asked, “what do you do?” I remember the point a few years ago when I was brave enough to say for the first time, “I am a writer.” It felt marvelously scary to put that out there, like jumping off the high dive. 

Where do you get your ideas?

I get my ideas from EVERYWHERE. I am forever inspired by the things happening around me. I might overhear a bit of conversation at the mall that gets me thinking, or I might read an article in Popular Science or National Geographic or Smithsonian that sends me down an idea path that I didn’t expect. 

When I travel, I always wonder about the history of a place and the people who lived there before us. That was my inspiration for the Circle of Nine books. We were visiting the standing stone circles in Ireland (which by the way exist all over Great Britain), and I began to wonder what were they used for? Who built them? What if there were people still alive today descended from those builders who hid their ancestry from the rest of the world -- and BAM -- a story is born.

What kinds of jobs have you had?

I meant to be a journalist. I really did. But somehow my first job after college was in the field of political fundraising, and I kind of got hooked. My job let me meet some very interesting people (including my husband) and taught me that no matter how funny you think you are members of the Secret Service are a tough audience.

The strangest job I ever had was detasseling corn. For those of you who are not from “corn” country, the tassels (the fluffy part that grows out of the top of the corn plant) on certain rows of corn have to be removed so the right cross pollination can occur to create the type of seed corn needed.  It’s a great job to get a tan, but it’s the worst job ever if it has been raining. Plus, just like Sookie Stackhouse from the Charlaine Harris novels, I look great with a tan, although it is highly unlikely that I am part Faerie.

 (Please NOTE: I do not advocate tanning indiscriminately but back in the 80s when I was working in the corn fields, we weren’t as aware of skin cancer as we are now.)  

What are your hobbies?

When I am home (and when Wisconsin is not under a foot of snow), I am an avid gardener. I think this must seem strange to my parents because as a teen I would moan and groan and do just about anything to get out of working in the garden.  Now we have an "almost farm" with apples, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.  You can tell I like fruit!

Traveling is another big hobby. We feel so lucky to have gone on some amazing trips. 

My other hobbies are reading, doing publicity for our community theater, and working at our local historical society.

Where have you traveled?

Our last trip was for the World Orphan Fund (a charity that my husband founded in 2011). We went to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda. We met so many people who are working hard to make change and protect vulnerable children. It was fun to get to know them better and in person and learn where we might partner with their efforts! Prior to that we were so excited to watch one of our sponsor children graduate from high school in Honduras in December 2019.

Before that the last tourist-style trip we took was to Spain and Morocco. One of the most amazing trips we've gone in was to Israel and Jordan. I love learning about the culture and what it is like to live in each country. I am always curious about what people do for a living, what their houses are like, and what they eat.  Traveling makes me wish I spoke more foreign languages.  I only know Spanish (and English, obviously).

I’ve also traveled to fourteen European countries as well as Egypt, Mexico, and Honduras. (Oh, and Canada! I always forget Canada.)  

Once we took our kids on a 30-day trip across Europe. We rented apartments for a few days in some cities and tried to live like local folks by buying our groceries in the markets. Sometimes we made mistakes and ended up with some interesting ingredients.  

My favorite country to visit is Ireland. My husband and I have been there seven times. Irish legends and locations are an important part of my Circle of Nine books.

Who is in your family?

I grew up in a big-ish family – six kids plus our mom and dad. There were five girls outnumbering our poor brother. I am the youngest. Sadly, two of my sisters have passed away from cancer.

My grown-up family includes my husband and two daughters and a son.  

Where do you live?

I live in rural Wisconsin with a view of a pretty little lake and farm fields all around.  

How old are you?  

Old enough to know better but young enough to not always take that advice.

Who are your favorite authors? 

I have so many that I wouldn’t know where to start. To me that’s like asking what is your favorite food. Where would you start? How can you choose? Sometimes I’m in the mood for this and sometimes I’m in the mood for that.  There are so many great authors out there with so many books that are treasures.  (I try to pin this down a little better in my blog.) 

My goal is to read 100 books every year. Some years I do not make it, but some years I do!   

I enjoy everything from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Markus Zusak to Carrie Ryan to Diana Gabaldon and the list goes on and on.

What are your favorite TV shows?

Okay, here I can be more decisive. My favorites include The Walking Dead/Fear the Walking Dead, Westworld, Stranger Things, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The OA (I'm still angry this show was canceled!), Outlander, Downton Abbey, The Great British Baking Show, Amazing Race, and Survivor. 

When do you do your writing, and how do you make time for it?

I write best in the morning, and when I get going, I can write for a few hours without taking a break. A good day is when I look up and realized I’ve written all the way through lunch. 

A typical day has me sitting down at my computer, checking my email, checking my Facebook and possibly (okay probably) playing a couple of games and then I reread what I wrote the day before and I edit it a bit before starting on a new section. That process (rereading and editing) is my portal into my fictional world.  

I try to write at least five days a week for a little while. I tend to think of success in number of words on the page so a great week is 5000 words or more.    

Why did you start writing?

It was time. I have had stories banging around in my head for years, and it was time to let them out. Plus, (and my family will agree) I am a much nicer person when I take time to write. 

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, but as an adult I have been writing fiction seriously since 2009. My first book wasn't published until 2014.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I have a NEW favorite place to write. I recently took over one of the bedrooms in our house and created a lovely office for myself. 

How do you organize your stories?

I do a rough outline of the main plot with crisis points and climax. I note traits of the main character and major supporting characters. Then I find it’s best to just get writing. I don’t worry about subplots in the beginning. I find that while I write subplots make their appearance and I work with them.  

I think it is best to get the story out there in rough draft format and then finesse things during the editing.  

There are a million ways to approach writing, but this is what works for me. 

How do you develop your characters?

Before I begin a story, I know roughly what my main character is going to be like and who the supporting characters are likely to be. Sometimes, I will combine some supporting characters into one or eliminate them completely when I’m editing if I feel they aren’t adding enough to the story. For each story I have a file of eliminated scenes and characters that I am too afraid to delete.

I don’t want to tell my characters what to do exactly, so I don’t want to be too rigid in my initial character sketch.  I usually do this by hand in a little notebook and think through the interesting things about this person and what their struggle is. I find that if you give your characters the freedom to develop naturally, they will do the most amazing things.  

What are your greatest obstacles to writing?

TIME . . . I just need more hours in the day.  I would need fewer hours if my other obstacle wasn’t . .  . PROCRASTINATION.  On days when I’m not feeling very creative, I need to just jump in and start writing something – ANYTHING. I find the process of writing breeds more creativity. Even if what I initially wrote is complete crap, it eventually morphs into something better.

What do you like/dislike most about writing?

I love the feeling of accomplishment when I read back through a chapter or two after a writing session and know that what I wrote is working. If I hear someone laughing (in the right place) when reading my writing, it is a wonderful thing.

I hate it when I’ve written for a while and realize I’ve produced something only so-so which needs a lot of editing.

What made you choose to write for a young audience?

Hmm . . . That’s a good question. Partly, I think it’s because I still remember so vividly what it was like to be a preteen and teen. But it’s also because I have such fond memories of reading when I was younger. I remember getting my Scholastic order and heading home with a nice stack in my backpack for the weekend. It was a way to leave our dairy farm (without really leaving) and experience a completely different world for a little while. I hope that I can create fictional worlds that capture the imagination of kids and give them characters that they feel connected to.

I'm a writer/aspiring author. Do you have any advice for me?

  • Don’t wait as long as I did to start writing.
  • Write as frequently as you can. 
  • Take it seriously and really own it.  Say to yourself (out loud), “I am a writer!” 
  • Surround yourself with other writers – find a critique group, go to conferences, take classes. 
  • And when you receive your first rejections... remind yourself that you are in good company.  
  • Persevere and know that your unique voice has a place in the publishing world.
  • Never give up!  

Can I interview you on my blog/website?

Yes, I would love to answer your interview questions. Please contact me and we can make arrangements.