What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?
I love the ease of typing on the computer. It’s fast and mistakes can be taken care of quickly, plus computers have editing and formatting programs that cut down the time it takes to work on a full manuscript. However, when I’m stuck in the middle of a scene or trying to begin one, I find that writing longhand unlocks whatever mental barriers I struggle with.
When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing stories when I was a child. I know, that sounds so cliché—many writers have had a similar calling since childhood, but I don’t think that it’s only writers who feel that pull. It’s part of the human experience to want to create and tell stories about ourselves, our friends, or even about a faraway place the author can explore with her mind.
What inspires you to write?
Life, people, experiences—both the unusual and the everyday. I see, hear, or say something and realize I want to write that and expand on it.
Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I used to be what’s called a “pantser,” meaning I wrote by the seat of my pants. Now I do a combination of very loose outlines and allowing my characters to take me on a journey. They have a way of surprising me, and when the writer is surprised, the reader will be too.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
It’s important for writers to read. How silly is it to say I like to write, but I don’t like reading books? I like to paint pictures, but I don’t like looking at art? Some of my favorite authors are Amor Towles, Donna Tartt, Khaled Hosseini, Tana French, and the Hungarian author Magda Szabo.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
I’m much better at setting scenes than I used to be.
If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?
House of Thistles is an emotionally engaging read, but I wrote it before I really understood how to take time with a scene and with the characters. I believe it would be a better book if I wrote it now than several years ago.
Have you ever designed your own book cover?
I wouldn’t know how if I tried. My publisher has a terrific staff that includes some very talented artists, and I’m pleased with the work Peter Hollinghurst did for the cover of Cassia.
Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?
It’s bad form for writers to respond to reviews. I’ve even heard that it’s best not to respond to good reviews. But I love talking to my readers on other forms of social media. I respond to tweets and comments on my FaceBook page.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Read. Read widely—in your genre and outside your genre. Take writing classes, read writing blogs, follow literary agents. Anyone who is serious about writing novels has to treat it like any other profession.
Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?
It was about a white horse named Lucille, and she wore a flowered hat. I was probably four years old.
How realistic are your books?
To paraphrase my husband, I write about broken people living in a broken world. While my stories are fiction, I deal with realistic situations.
Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
The next book coming out after this is about an American girl, Amanda, who visits Hungary to research her grandpapa’s childhood and early adulthood. While there, she gets mixed up with a Romani family and risks the loss of her new friends when her grandpapa’s secrets are discovered.
Who are your books mostly dedicated to?
My husband. He’s been my biggest cheerleader and a great source of support and the one I bounce ideas off of. None of my novels would be what they are without him.
Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?
I homeschool my son, and it’s the best job in the world.
Is it true that anyone can be a writer?
Almost anyone can write, but not everyone has the passion for it, and not everyone puts forth the dedication that it takes to learn the craft. Writing is a skill; it takes more than talent. Anyone who wants to be a writer has to make the effort to learn and practice the skill.
People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?
I thought people believed we sat around in our bathrobes all day, which is a little closer to the truth than the glamorous lifestyle.
Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?
Publishers and agents. Rejection is part of the business. Everyone who submits manuscripts receives rejections. All of my novels (the ones that count) were eventually accepted by publishers, but it took multiple rounds of rejections and revisions before I got to that point.
Name one book that you like most among all the others you have penned down.
Cassia—the one that’s just been released. I love the setting (arts/bar district in a historic neighborhood), the story, and the characters. Of all my books the characters in Cassia feel the most real to me, and they’re all so diverse in personalities and beliefs—an optimistic atheist who yearns to belong, her lesbian lover with a lifetime of secrets, a Jesus-freak bar owner, and a simple pothead who just wants to play his music and be loved.
Do you believe it is more challenging to write about beliefs that conflict with the ones you hold yourself?
Not at all. See the answer to the question above. I enjoy writing about people, and it’s important to tell their stories. In the complexity of the human experience, we all have different beliefs and cultures, families, and experiences to shape those beliefs. Many people talk about diversity in terms of skin color and sexuality. Sure, that’s a significant part of it, but I’m more interested in the diversity of philosophies. Race, sexuality, and religion shapes our philosophies, and philosophy shapes who we are.
Which character, created by you, do you consider as your masterpiece?
Cassia. She’s manipulative and cunning, but she’s also sensitive, artistic, and broken. She can make another person feel many conflicting emotions at once while drawing out the best and the worst in them.