I'm the author of seven books and host a blog and poetry website
I also do presentations, workshops, and retreats about creative writing, poetry, and being a woman of faith in today's world.
- Born in Wauchula, Florida on March 8...some time after the dinosaurs and before the Internet
- B.A. in English from Mars Hill University in North Carolina
- One older brother and sister. My father died when I was 7 (I once read that all creative writers seem to have in common some traumatic event early in their life and, I must say, that seems to be the case). My mother passed away in 2004 after a 10-year bout with Alzheimer's disease.
- Longtime resident of Greenville, South Carolina
- Happily married, with three brilliant, talented, handsome sons, three lovely daughters-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren
- Have been writing since I was 6 years old. Besides "author," my titles have included playwright, poet, creative director, artist-in-residence, continuity director, advertising copywriter, creative consultant, freelance journalist, newspaper columnist, magazine editor, proofreader, public relations specialist, publicist, arts reviewer, and speech writer. Whew!
The first story I remember writing was called "Jet, the Race Horse," which I wrote when I was in the first grade. My first published work was a story called "Aurora and Her Horse." (Do we see a recurring theme here? I love horses but, unfortunately, have never owned one.) I was in the fourth grade when Jim Kelly, the editor of my hometown newspaper, called to tell me he was going to print my story in the Hardee County Herald Advocate. (I carry a torch for that man to this day!) During junior high, I wrote a weekly column for that same hometown paper and, in high school, got my first big break when the Tampa Tribune agreed to carry a series of interviews I did with country music stars such as Kenny Rogers, Jeannie C. Riley, and Jerry Reed. I've been writing and publishing ever since. During the course of my career, I have written newspaper columns, print ads, travel guidebooks, videoscripts, radio dramas, training films, magazine articles, TV commercials, beauty pageant scripts, slide show presentations, birth announcements, billboards, newsletters, greeting cards, press releases, concert reviews, annual reports, grant proposals, puppet scripts, musicals, celebrity interviews, children's books, poems, crossword puzzles, novels and, of course, lots and lots of grocery lists!
THE WHOLE STORY
A Word Woman from the Very Beginning
I have loved words from my earliest days. One of my most vivid memories is sitting at my mother's feet as she sewed (she made beautiful clothes for my sister and me, as well as herself), drawing letters and filling in the blanks of the pre-reading workbooks Mother regularly bought for me. They tell me I was reading by age four; I don't ever remember not reading. I do remember specific books I loved; I had a set of Childcraft Encyclopedias that included a volume on poetry, and a volume about the lives of famous composers, that I adored and read time and time again. I also loved a Little Golden Book called We Help Mommy (came across a copy of it in a bookstore a few years back and actually shed tears at the happy memories it brought back), and when I was a bit older, Ribsy, by Beverly Cleary, and Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White.
If reading was my favorite thing to do, the library was my favorite place to be, and the first one I knew was at First Baptist Church in Wauchula, Florida. I've never known of another church with a library that diverse--or with a trained librarian on staff! I probably owe many of my accomplishments today to whichever broad-minded trustees voted "yes" to such an uncommon, invaluable resource. It was under the loving and encouraging eye of that dedicated librarian, Lola Dietz, that I first discovered Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses (his poem, "The Swing," inspired "Swing Time," which appears in my book, A Mother of Sons), a simplified version of Helen Keller's The Story of My Life, and Maj Lindman's wonderful Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka series of books. Mrs. Dietz organized reading contests every summer; to this day, I associate summer with reading as many books as I possibly can.
Later, when I was old enough to navigate the streets of our small town on my own, my bicycle was often parked in front of the charming stone building that housed our city's tiny library. There inside its dark, cool interior, I discovered Trixie Beldon, Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, Donna Parker, and the Bobbsey Twins. Already a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott's stories and their smart, spunky protagonists, I was thrilled to find these contemporary counterparts to Jo March. I identified with them completely--despite the distinct lack of mystery, intrigue, and adventure in my own placid community!
One of the reasons I'm such a big supporter of public education today is because of the outstanding teachers I was blessed to have during my years in school. Many of them played a direct role in my love for reading and writing. My 4th-grade teacher, Billie Wadsworth, read aloud from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book every day after lunch. My 5th-grade teacher, Lina Ertzberger, taught me how to do a great outline. My 6th-grade teacher, Agnes Moore, had us write short stories every week and then share them with the class on Fridays. (I still have most of mine!)
By middle school, I knew I would be a writer. Fate led me into the classroom of William Ferguson, a quiet man with a great sense of humor, a heart of pure gold, and a radical "no boundaries" philosophy. I was one of twelve lucky students in a two-year experimental English class that centered around creative writing, critical thinking, and vocabulary development. I don't know who authorized the class, don't know if it continued past our two-year stint, and don't know if Mr. Ferguson's unorthodox teaching methods were ever fully appreciated by the Hardee County School Board; I do know, in that glorious environment of challenge, creativity, and freedom, the embers of my passion for words began to blaze.
Fueling that passion was discovery of a world beyond my hometown. Once again, I don't know who deserves the credit, but I'd sure like to thank whoever arranged all those class field trips to Sarasota's Ringling Estates during my formative years. The first time I clambered off the school bus and into the Asolo Theatre, saw Shakespeare presented onstage for the first time, and saw those wall-size Rubens and Van Dycks up close, I was hooked for life. Sixty miles from the orange groves and cow pastures and Leave-It-to-Beaver life that comprised my world, I found "the Arts" and was smitten for life.
In high school, my 9th-grade English teacher, Diane Knight, made us compile a notebook of favorite poems, complete with illustrations. (I wish I knew what happened to mine; I'd love to see how my tastes have evolved.) That assignment was instrumental in redirecting my writing interest from short stories to poetry. I didn't write very good poetry then--it was mostly the sappy, hormonal-infused angst you'd expect--but it paved the way for things to come. About that time, I also discovered the cache of Rod McKuen books and records my sister left behind when she got married. I fell in love with the gentle romance and vivid imagery of McKuen's work and spent numerous hours--and at least one term paper--arguing his stature as a "serious" poet with John Masterson, my 11th grade English teacher. (To this day, the world of academia turns up its collective noses at commercially successful poets. Call me naive, but if poetry can't find an audience to support it, what is its point? It would seem that Mr. McKuen--having sold some 75 million books of his poems--has made his.)
By the time I entered Mars Hill College as an English major, I was wallowing in the classics and showing a definite preference for Henry James over Hemingway (a prejudice which reveals itself to this day in my tendency to use forty words when fourteen would do!). I entered a poem in my first competition--a contest sponsored by the campus literary journal--and won third place. I spent the next four years basking in the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains and the literary icons which were my world. (Okay, I hung out in the music and theatre departments, too; came real close to double majoring in English and musical theatre.)
The Road to Becoming a Writer
Unfortunately, there aren't many jobs for poets, so after I graduated and married--which happened within a few months of each other--I took a job at a radio station writing commercials and editorials. (I did manage to wangle a few poems on the air!) Eventually, I became an advertising copywriter and, for about ten years, most of what I wrote were TV and radio commercials, billboards, and brochures. I was good at copywriting, and won lots of awards, but when my first child was born, I wanted to stay home with him, so I quit my job and started freelancing--which meant I accepted writing assignments from lots of different places. Mostly, I did real estate collateral materials, arts reviews for newspapers, and magazine articles. Meanwhile, I was writing poetry about all the new experiences I was having as a mother.
When my son John was three, I went to a writers' conference and met with a literary agent to pitch an idea I had for a book. The agent wasn't interested in that particular project, but she liked my writing style and asked me to send her something else. Sending my "motherhood" poems never occurred to me, until my husband suggested it. I sent them, the agent loved them, she told me how to write a book proposal, and the next thing I knew, I had sold my first book! That book, A New Mother's Thoughts, has now been published in three different editions by two different publishers. My second book, I Am the Mother of Sons, has been published in two editions, by two publishers, and there are two Spanish editions and a Portuguese edition as well. Dancing With My Daughter, my third collection of poetry, was published by Loyola Press in 2004. My nonfiction book, The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games, was released by Imagine Publishing, an imprint of Charlesbridge Publishing, in 2013 and went into a second printing within just a few months.
The Writing Life
Words have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I find inspiration everywhere--in a person walking down the road, a comment made by a friend, watching my dog chase after a squirrel, anything that catches my attention and imagination. I write in many different genres and find that some subjects work better in one form than another. I worked with one particular phrase for several years, trying to find a way to use it. Eventually, it spawned a poem but, before it came to rest in that form, that phrase needled me into creating a musical, a manuscript for a children's book, and several other projects still tucked away, half-finished, in my office.
I thoroughly enjoy all the writing I do, but poetry is my greatest love, because the brevity makes each word matter so much. I believe many people avoid reading poetry because they think it's boring. Wrong! It's a matter of finding a writer whose style and subject matter match your taste and interests. To me, reading a good poem is like a blast of cold air on a hot summer day--a quick little shot of energy that makes you come alive again. I read several hundred poems a month, and am constantly discovering new poets whose work I enjoy. I also like rereading work by old favorites such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and James Whitcomb Riley. Carl Sandburg's house is just a short drive from my house; often, when I want to be really inspired, I go sit in the woods by his creek.
I try to keep a pen and pad with me at all times to capture ideas as they come--though I've been known to use everything from gum wrappers to my thigh in a pinch. It took a while to get used to composing on a computer, and I still prefer writing poetry by hand, but I am a definite fan of word processing, e-mail, and the Internet: research has never been easier.
WHY I AM A WRITER
For me, writing is like breathing; I can't imagine not doing it. Because I am a wife and mother as well as a writer, I don't have the luxury of focusing on words all the time; sometimes, the demands of domestic life push writing waaay down on the priority list. But I can only ignore my Muse for so long. One morning I'll wake up and feel the creativity eddying up inside me, the words and images rumbling and churning in my brain. It may build for a week, a month, maybe two. And then comes a moment when it all surges forth--and no matter who needs to be where, or what has to be done, the words demand to come out. So I give up sleep (creative juices always flow best in the wee dark hours for me, anyway), quit cleaning the house, let my family live off pizza and peanut butter, and build my wardrobe around baseball caps and sunglasses because I can't bear to waste time on trivialities like blow dryers and makeup. Those creative surges are bizarre and wondrous things--a bit frightening, even. Words flow from my pen as if a floodgate had been lifted--virtually finished pieces, sometimes; when the gush slows to a steady flow, I sit back and view the "harvest," wondering from whence it all came!
In Spite of the Rejection Letters
Writing is not a profession for the poor in spirit--or pocketbook. There are many more people ready to critique (or ignore) your work than to print it or pay you for it. I have to honestly say that the rejections don't get me down, though. My husband completely fails to comprehend the fulfillment of spending hours and hours working on something, only to send it off to a stranger who will likely take six months to send it back with a form letter that effectively says, "Yawn." Even if someone does like it, chances are that the amount of time you've invested in writing, divided by the number of dollars you'll ultimately earn doing it, will impress no one. But in The Great Scheme of Things, the money and the bylines don't really matter (well, okay, they do, because most of us aren't independently wealthy, and there isn't anything to compare with the rush of seeing your name through the glass of a bookstore window for the first time) because being able to use words to evoke feelings--weaving phrases and sounds and images into something that makes people laugh or smile or cry--that matters the most. It's why an e-mail from a mom in Toronto can make me feel good all day... why hearing second-graders laugh at my word pictures is every bit as satisfying as getting a pat on the back from the boss...why I stagger out of bed at 3 AM to write down the perfect word so I won't forget it by morning. I think it's called loving what you do for a living.
I know there are those who choose to become writers the way others choose to become teachers or truck drivers. If the job isn't satisfying or the pay's not good, they move on and choose to become something else. That is such an alien concept to me! I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing.
What's the hardest thing about being a writer?
The hours. There are never enough.
If you weren't a writer, what would you be?
A photographer or an event planner. I think being a research scientist would be very cool--although I don't think I have the patience for that!
What's your worst habit?
Who are some of the writers who have influenced you?
Louisa May Alcott, Henry James, Rod McKuen, Erma Bombeck
What's the coolest thing about being a writer?
Everything is interesting! Even things I might not care anything about, personally, might be useful in something I'm writing, so I keep my eyes and ears alert for all kinds of weird stuff.
What's the worst thing about being a writer?
I can't read a book, or especially a newspaper or magazine, without stopping to make notes or tear out a piece of information that catches my attention. My office is completely littered (as my family will attest) with thousands of scraps of paper and mutilated magazine pages. And I can't bear to throw any of them away!
Does your family mind that you write about them?
So far, no one has complained. I use bribery: whenever I sell a book, I take them on a trip or buy them something special.
What's your favorite book?
My old, brown thesaurus. I have several other newer, fancy ones, but none of them feel as "right" in my hand, and I've read its pages far more times than any novel I've ever owned.
What's on your nightstand right now?
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
What's your best advice to people who want to be writers?
Do the homework. There are books and websites galore about how to do everything from crafting a sentence to finding an agent. Read it all. There is no shortcut.
MY PHILOSOPHY ON WRITING
Above all else, writing must be worth reading. Because, otherwise, what's the point? If you're writing to please yourself, to share family stories with generations to come, or to purge your soul of sundry demons, that's one thing. But if your work has a price tag on it, you owe it to your reader to make it worth their time and investment.
Poets, in particular, are guilty of pointless writing. If a poem doesn't punch you in the gut, make you laugh, make you cry, or at least make you wince or smile, then it's pretty much a waste. And if it's so esoteric or obscure that no one understands it, that's a waste, too. A good poem is one that someone without an MFA can relate to. A good book is one you hate to see end.