Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
I secretly wanted to be a screenwriter since second grade, and my fourth grade teacher was the first adult to encourage my creative writing. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my first favorite author. I love a story that makes me forget the world around me—or seduces me into pondering my surroundings through the lens of the story. I sincerely appreciate well-written television and movies. It all starts with the story on the page. (photo: Sadie, kindergarten)
Who is your favorite writer?
Just one? HA! This is definitely an incomplete list:
Fiction authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Alice Hoffman, C.S. Lewis, Barbara Wood, John Grisham, Stephen King, Deborah Harkness, Willa Cather, L.M. Montgomery, John LeCarre, Paulo Coelho.
Poets: Shel Silverstein, Seamus Heaney, Maya Angelou, Nichole McElhaney, Fleassy Malay.
Non-fiction authors: Brene Brown, Kyle Cease, Russell Brand, Oprah Winfrey, Shirley MacLaine, Deepak Chopra, T. Harv Eker.
Screenwriters: Aaron Sorkin, Nora Ephron, James L. Brooks, John Hughes, John Hindman, Rob Reiner, Liz Hannah, Josh Singer, Jordan Peele, Kenneth Biller, Michael Sussman, Chuck Lorre, Christopher Lloyd, Steven Levitan, Tracee Beebe, James Moorer.
What are your goals as a writer?
I aspire to be a writer who is valued for the love I share and a voice for those who have not yet found their own words. Like any writer, parts of my own journey have found their way into my stories, so I’d love to hear from readers who recognize themselves in the pages of my books and scripts.
What inspired The Recollection of Trees?
Like Iona, I grew up estranged from my real father and his real mother, my grandmother. I reconnected with them on my high school graduation day. As I got to know them, I discovered their beliefs were quite different from how I was raised. Understanding them helped me understand myself in new ways. I chose a few character names from deep within my family tree, and many of the characters are combinations of people I’ve known. Dyllan and Jules have characteristics of half a dozen different boys, and Cookie is a combination of four different girls I knew in high school. The setting is beautiful Michigan, where I lived my entire life until 2017. I couldn’t write the story anywhere else!
Do you have any writing advice?
Flow, then fix. Create, then critique. I spent way too long giving myself writer’s block by editing while writing. That’s why I like sharing my baking successes and mishaps because imperfection is essential to creativity. Vulnerability and curiosity lead to great writing. I do my best writing while wearing lucky Halloween socks, listening to Thirty Seconds to Mars, Cavetown, or Cloe Moriondo, and sipping a cauldron of coffee.
Lucky Halloween socks? Are you superstitious?
Yep. It’s the gift and the curse of a wild imagination. Many of my own personal superstitions are included in THE RECOLLECTION OF TREES. Just for fun, I made a list of 13 superstitions that I learned mostly from my own family.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I love to take walks in the woods and visit cemeteries. My family and I enjoy epic game nights, and I NEVER miss a Detroit Lions game.
I love studying other screenwriters. I often unplug my writing brain with smart sitcoms–written with clever humor rather than stereotypes and insults. I enjoy classic movies, film noir, and movies that achieved believable special fx with art, makeup, lighting, and costumes. I mean, the new technology is incredible, but it can be inspiring to look back at how much was accomplished without a green screen. Also, I’m a fan of a good rom-com. I know, naysayers have declared rom-coms are dead. I guess that makes me a rebel.
What are your political or social views?
Politically, I earned a BA in International Relations (MSU-James Madison). I worked in politics and then I made the conscious choice to exit that career when I was up to my eyeballs in meetings and realized it was not in alignment with my heart. Much more progress happens when we focus on love and kindness. The best answer to many, many political debates is a question: “Is this kindness in action?” and if it isn’t, “How can this be kindness in action?” That is also how I choose who earns my vote: people who are compassionate and kind.
Socially, I advocate for inclusiveness and equality. I’m an ally. I give out free mom hugs whenever I get the opportunity. I advocate for 7th-12th grade health curriculum to include LGBT+ students because exclusion of this information leaves too many teens potentially misinformed of risks to their well being, which is also a potential public health risk. I’m also vocal about mental health awareness and self care. We all need to know it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. It’s time to end to the social stigma around getting help. It is normal and healthy to get help–whether a therapist, vitamins and herbs, medication, meditation, time in nature, EFT tapping, good sleep hygiene, 12-step and support groups–or anything else that helps us feel connected, empowered, and supported rather than disconnected, numb, and alone. I choose love, kindness, optimism, and hope.
What gives you hope?
I am hopeful for the future when I see the heart-centered activism in Gen Z. I love their dedication to leaving the world a better place. I love that they’re not okay with business as usual ie abuse of power, climate change, human rights, violence, addiction, and that they default to inclusiveness in every aspect of their lives. Kindness, non-conformity, creativity, curiosity and laughter give me hope.
What is your most embarrassing moment?
I have to pick just one? There are so many. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a few famous people and every time I do—I trip, spill something, break my glasses, drop my camera, or step in a mud puddle. Let’s just say that secret service for a certain ex-president probably has me on a “she could trip and accidentally impale him” watch list. The only exception was when I met Shirley MacLaine. Nothing happened. She was absolutely lovely and I managed not to spill anything on her. Likely because I was with my good luck charm of a husband.
Okay, once, during a well-attended public meeting, I accidentally flung a pen across the room, which hit someone in the shoulder and caused her to spill the water she was pouring. Did I mention it was well-attended and there were TV cameras? They still don’t know it was me. Hey, it’s all material.
There’s also the time I got trapped under the piano while avoiding a political canvasser.
Do you have a bucket list?
Yes, and it is ever evolving. The famous person category keeps changing because I’ve been able to meet a few of them already. You can see it HERE.
Besides writing, what other jobs have you held?
My first job was a part-time cashier at Woolworth’s, where I honed a poker face for people who pay with exact change from their sock or bra. The hardest job I’ve ever had was certified nurse aide. Those people break their backs (and hearts) taking care of patients for really crappy pay! I had better biceps than Michelle Obama back then. I also taught preschool at a daycare in my early 20s (also for crappy pay and a sore back). I’ve been puked on, bled on, peed on, coughed on, sneezed on, and talked back to…and that was just when I worked in politics, ha ha ha!
If you weren’t a writer, what other job would like to do?
I love to do different voices and accents. I love guessing where people are from originally. I don’t mean just the easy ones like Boston, New York, Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Sydney, or Melbourne. I’ve even guessed a person’s parents’ origin, based on certain vowel sounds. Maybe I could work at a carnival guessing accents next to the guy guessing weights. Actually, I’d love to be talented like Mel Blanc, Robin Williams, or Tara Strong. You know, do all those amazing voices. Or Meryl Streep. That woman can mimic any accent from anywhere in the world. That’s it. I’d want to be Meryl Streep.