That all depends on the time of year. Fan letters begin arriving in earnest in September, shortly after the school year starts. The volume builds until Christmas, then slows down for a bit with just a few letters or packets of letters arriving every week or two. Then, as the school year is ending, my mail box fills with manila envelopes bulging with class letters. I struggle to answer all of this mail before the school year ends and students go home for the summer. By the end of June my mail drops off again to just a trickle until the Fall when the cycle begins all over. I try to acknowledge every letter. And, as you can see, I’ve begun to answer more and more questions here on this blog.
Between research, interviews, writing and revising I dedicated about two and a half years of my life to creating LETTERS FROM RIFKA. The hardest part was finding Rifka’s “voice”. After I’d spoken extensively with my great aunt and read thousands of pages of information detailing the economic, political, religious, and social conditions of the early part of the twentieth century, I could not make the story come alive. It was lost, somehow, in all the facts I’d been steeping in. Not until I decided to write the book as an epistolary novel…as “letters”…was I able to cut through all the dry data and give youth and vigor to the narrative voice.
Sometimes events in a writer’s life directly lead to a story idea. In the case of JUST JUICE, my family purchased a house we very much admired but could not have afforded at full price. The house had come on the market because the owner owed a significant amount in unpaid taxes. We paid their taxes and “owned” the house with the real owners for eleven months. During that time I imagined what it would be like to live in that house. I also imagined what it would be like to be the real owners looking at the prospect of losing their home. In the final weeks of that year in which we both “owned” the house, the real owners finally paid their back taxes, we were refunded our money, and we never stepped foot inside the house. I was full of regret. But I was also relieved for the home owners who did not have to surrender their home. JUST JUICE grew out of that experience.
Actually I walked through a rainy spring…and that’s important. While I was walking it was damp and chill and the black flies and no-see-ums were swarming so the experience of walking during the same season Radley made her walk was vital to understanding how it might feel. I’m a recreational walker. I love to walk. But walking alone, along a busy highway, in towns and in the long stretches between towns with only my own thoughts, discomforts, and paranoia to keep me company had a profound impact on the emotional line of the book. Two friends, librarian Sandy King, and fellow author Liza Ketchum, joined me for parts of the walk. Their presence altered my perception of “the walk” in such a way that I knew I had to take Celia, a character who, in early drafts, did not enter the narrative until Radley reached Canada, and move her in earlier, much earlier, than I originally intended.
SAFEKEEPING arrived at its pub date while I was out of the country.
Now I am home and the book I have tended and nursed, loved and questioned, cut and restored and cut again, is like a seasoned leaf, and you, readers, are like the sun pouring through it, casting shadows of the work into the world.
Thank you to all the hardworking people who have brought this book into being. Thank you to all the generous readers who now give it life.
I do have a fairly regular routine. Because my brain seems to function the most efficiently in the morning, I’m usually at my desk by 7am. I remain here until noon and return at 1pm for another one to two hours. By 3pm my writing is beginning to get sloppy. Any work done after 3 is usually deleted or dramatically revised the following morning. So I often call it a day by mid-afternoon. Most of my evenings are filled with reading, either research or pleasure, though even pleasure reading usually has an element of research in it.
The cat on my lap believes he is my muse and is never far from me while I work.
For one intense “moment” in my life all of my attention is focused on the book I’m working on. And then that “moment” passes and I am far more interested in what comes next.
Deadlines careen across the crowded room of a writer’s consciousness.
When there are several deadlines in motion at once they sometimes crash into each other. This is not always a bad thing. Occasionally such a collision leads to an epiphany.
The little traffic controller of the brain, though, is kept busy day and night, night and day, writing up accident reports.