On writing a letter to readers

Writing is nearly always hard. Capturing inchoate ideas and feelings and experiences, forcing these into precise words arranged intentionally, demands fierce psychic energy: more with every passing year. It is tempting to say that the drain comes from all that is not expressed, all the ways that the words are less than what I feel or think, and yet I’m not sure this is true. What keeps me writing, what draws me back to it, is the way that the words suddenly become more than what I knew, the way a sentence will take off and reveal so much that I had not realized was so.

Almost anything is easier to do than write.

Recently, my publisher asked if I would compose a letter to […]

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What will I write?

I have spent extended portions of my waking life in a dreamy state. When I am working on a new novel, the characters and their situations live in me. They grab at my attention and pull me away from what I am doing. They nip at my concentration, they beg for my awareness, they leave me in a frequent state of ill focus.

I was a dreamy kid too. As a seven-year-old, I whiled away the hours wondering if aliens had kidnapped my family and shape-shifted into their forms. They looked and sounded like my parents, my three brothers, my two sisters, but who really knew? Comfortably narcissistic, my operational theory was that it was all a grand plan to study me more closely. Other […]

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VegasStrong: What I’m going to do

It turns out I have nothing to say.

Yesterday, the horror just grew from morning to night. I’m a professional imaginer, and it was the imagining that did it. I wasn’t glued to the television, I didn’t read more than a few articles in any newspaper. I did my best to know what was happening, what had happened, what concrete things one might do, and then I tried to stop listening, to stop seeing; how else to carry on, and how else to resist the way the constant attention turns the real to theater?

And still, I learned enough. Enough to start the imagining.

How people stood there, and heard popping sounds, and wondered what they might be, or didn’t even bother to wonder, and […]

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Live nude, my friend

I live in a place that might be considered exotic (or bizarre or fantastic, fanciful, implausible, preposterous, incredible: there’s a long list of adjectives, often conflicting, that might be applied) and I wrote about Las Vegas not as an exotic place, but as an ordinary one.

Somewhere in We Are Called to Rise is a line about how Vegas children do not notice the oddities of their city – the naked women on the billboards, the blitz of neon lights – but in my family, we have one particular story that illustrates this. My daughter played soccer for years, and she often practiced at a somewhat run-down soccer complex near the old highway that runs from Hoover Dam to downtown Vegas. When she was about […]

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What one person can do

I have a small pile of unposted notes for this blog, but I haven’t quite reconciled myself to the form. Having a book in the world leaves me feeling exposed enough, and posting more bits of myself here is giving me the quakes. Still, I’ve been meaning to post this short review I wrote of Bryan Stevenson’s incredible memoir, Just Mercy. I was so very moved by this book.

From Off the Shelf, May 3, 2017

Time magazine called Bryan Stevenson’s JUST MERCY one of the 10 best nonfiction books of 2014. The next year, it won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. I wouldn’t have known. The book was sitting on my nightstand, making me feel slightly guilty.


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May you know there is enough

At American Dreams: A Festival, I was asked to participate in “A Prayer for the American Dream.” It was a gorgeous night in Red Rock Canyon, and here’s what I said:

I have a long history with prayer. I was taught to pray probably before I could talk, and some of my earliest memories are of praying: at meals, at bedtime, on waking, when I heard the whine of an ambulance, when I overheard a curse, when I was old enough to curse on my own.

In my childhood family, the prayer of choice was the rosary. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a Roman Catholic devotion, a kind of meditation, which involves saying certain prayers over and over. There are prayers at the […]

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Give it up!

I belong to a GiVe group: twelve women who pool a small amount of money each month and give it away in our community. We don’t look very diverse (12 white women in their 50’s) but we represent – and rather passionately – a wide range of political views and religious beliefs.

This morning, we all met at a Migration and Refugee Services program, where the director took the time to share how refugees are integrated into our community, and to outline the history of the public-private partnerships that make up our national refugee efforts. I’m bursting with the things this experience made me think and feel, but for this post, I just wanted to share that my friend Leslie recently launched a website to […]

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Pals on the bus

I grew up in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Spokane, Washington. For my family, it was a compelling community that also had a river, and glorious sunsets over that river’s steep banks, and just a two-mile walk to the downtown library. For the rest of the city, it was Felony Flats. Perhaps there was cause for that neighborhood nickname, but it doesn’t match my memories of the place.

I rode the city bus to high school. There was a stop right out the door of our kitchen, which encouraged a sort of casual approach to arriving there on time. I was a friendly kid, and nearly all the bus drivers were friendly enough to toot the horn right before they made the turn to […]

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On Oscars and presidents and me

I’ve been thinking about the Oscars and presidential claims, and mostly about my own journey toward becoming the person I long ago chose to become. And while I know what I want to say, the words come hard: the impulse to parse and truss and calibrate is strong. Twice, I thought not to write at all.

And yet.

The thing is: the desire to be enlightened comes before the enlightenment itself. At 55, I still face my own misconceptions. I give myself credit: I’m willing to believe they’re there. I know that finding them requires personal risk. And I give myself no credit, because why the hell is it that hard?

Last night, I watched the winner of the Oscar for best documentary: OJ […]

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Yada yada . . . Yaddo!

Last week, Touchstone’s associate publisher, David Falk, sent me a photo he recently took in the Yaddo library. Yaddo is an artist residency program in upstate New York, and I wrote a good chunk of We Are Called to Rise there. During that magical four weeks, I wandered into the library every single day. Its shelves were lined with books written by Yaddo artists, and each night, I took a different one back to my room to read. I don’t remember even once imagining that my novel would join them one day. But . . . look!

In 2014, I wrote this essay about the amazing Yaddo:

Even to me, it seems unlikely. A 50-year-old woman – with no writing history, no MFA, no […]

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Love the pics . . .

I promised you something new (and something old). The something new is this two-minute video of me talking about ‘Round Midnight, produced by my very cool publisher Touchstone Books.

Photos (and videos) are the only part of being a writer I don’t like. But I do want you to read my books! So, here are two minutes of me answering questions about a story I loved imagining.

On concentration

As for something old, here’s an essay I wrote for Bill Wolfe’s blog in 2014. I’ve been thinking about this piece, because of a conversation I had with some of my students, and because Rebecca Solnit had a beautiful essay about Virginia Woolf in last week’s New Yorker. Virginia Woolf revealed to me the dramatic power of a character’s internal life, and even now, I can close my eyes and conjure up the way I felt when I read certain lines for the first time.

Originally published June 2, 2014 (on my birthday!)

About a million years ago, when I was in college, I did my senior thesis on Virginia Woolf. It was an odd choice of topic – for an American Studies major – […]

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Welcome readers

My idea is to post occasional writing here – sometimes just for you, and sometimes an essay I originally published elsewhere. This week, I’m busy going crazy with a new website, but by next week, I’ll have something new and something old for you. Hold me to it!

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