What was your experience like in SPFBO5?
Exciting, surprising, but also nervewracking. Honestly, when I entered Fortune’s Fool, I had no idea what to expect. I hoped that it would at least make semi-finalist, but there always seems to be a lot of buzz saying romance is a hard sell and at its heart, Fortune’s Fool is a love story. A very gritty love story—but still, romantic fantasy. I definitely did not expect to end with the final score I did, and the final weeks with all those reviews coming in—and a pandemic unfolding around us—was a real rollercoaster ride. Fortunately, I lucked out and ended up in an enormously supportive and excellent group of finalists, and ultimately, that was the best part of the competition—the new friendships I came away with.
You write slow burn character books – who are some of your favorite authors or books that are in the same lane?
Three come to mind right away: Carol Park’s Heretic Gods series, Barbara Kloss’s book The Gods of Men, and K.S. Villoso’s Bitch Queen series, beginning with The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. I really like all of these authors, not just for the way they add romance to their epic fantasy, but for the detailed and complex way they develop character and emotion. All the epic fantasy adventure, politics, and magic are there in spades, but at their heart, these books are all about watching the characters develop and grow in relationship with each other.
You studied Anthropology at the University of Maryland – that’s pretty neat. What’s your favorite aspect of anthropology? What’s something you think most people don’t know about?
I think my favorite aspect is discovering the absolute richness of human experience and culture around the world. This is probably a reason I gravitate to fantasy in my fiction, too, but I’ve always been interested in the differences in how people go about their lives—how culture influences the way people see the world and live in it.
I think most people are fuzzy on what anthropologists do in general. People don’t realize there are several different branches of anthropology. I’ve been asked whether I went to school to dig up dinosaurs (that’s paleontology, not anthropology, and my 5 year old self is still kicking me for not following that career path) or to live in the jungle (no). Some people do also know that there are forensic anthropologists from watching crime shows (and I did think about that, because my undergraduate degree is from the University of Tennessee, which specializes in forensic anthropology.) But I actually studied Applied Anthropology at UMCP. Anthropologists are sometimes hired by government agencies and corporations to help formulate policy or to solve problems that have to do with workplace culture. I only studied there for a year before I dropped out and started having babies (I decided I’d rather be a writer and a mom), but I was hoping to get involved in educational anthropology—studying how culture affected perceptions of learning disabilities and how schools could do better at helping kids with learning disabilities.
Your twitter bio says you’re a mother of 9?!?! Are they all human or are we counting furbabies in that? If they’re all human – wow! You really love momming – how do you find the time to write with 9 children!?
Well… my two oldest kids are out of the house most of the time now, in college and grad school, so that just leaves seven human kids at home. It’s easier now to write than it used to be when most of the kids were little, because I don’t have a baby or toddler getting up multiple times at night. (My youngest is four now.) Regular bedtimes make things a lot easier. But over the years, I’ve also learned to not need perfect peace and quiet in order to write and to slide it into my day where it fits. I usually do some writing or business stuff in the morning over breakfast, and then in the afternoon after I’m done helping with schoolwork, often again while I’m making dinner… and then when the younger kids go to bed. I’m never actually alone while I’m writing, because the only place I can write is the kitchen table or the living room couch, but… it’s either do it this way or don’t write at all. I went down the “don’t write at all” path for a number of years, and that was kind of miserable, so now I just do what I can and call it good.
You liked “Sidestreet Burgers” – how do you like your burger? Plain or all dressed up with lots of toppings?
Actually… I never order a burger from Sidestreet because I like their other sandwiches so much! But since I have a gluten sensitivity I usually get the Skinny Panda. It’s a lettuce wrap version of a sandwich they make with spicy Korean-style beef. The Banh Mi is also really good there. Actually… everything Sidestreet makes is great. It’s my favorite restaurant, which is saying something because I live in Memphis and there’s an award-winning barbecue place on every corner. Sidestreet is a funky little hole in the wall grille, set up in an old 30’s gas station and attached to an alehouse decorated by Star Wars fans. I think I like it for its atmosphere just as much as its food.
You liked “Down Sydrome Association of Memphis” “Down Syndrome for life” and other non profits on FB – does this have any special significance to you?
Down Syndrome organizations do have a special significance to me, because my youngest was born with Down Syndrome. She was diagnosed at birth, so we had a very steep learning curve the first year. If it weren’t for other parents, Down Syndrome organizations making information available, Abby’s therapists and doctors, I’m not sure what we would have done. She had heart defects requiring surgery, which was easily the most terrifying thing I have been through as a parent. When she was born, I’d never really known anyone with Down Syndrome, and I had a lot of misconceptions about what it would be like to raise a child with DS… which can be tough and scary sometimes, but is also wonderful and delightful and I can’t imagine how we got along without Abby. I haven’t been as active in the Down Syndrome community as I would like to be, but Down Syndrome awareness is a cause close to my heart.
You also seem to like a lot of “birding” FB accounts – are you a bird watcher?
This question made me smile—I’m not a birder, but my oldest daughter (who is now a biology major) is. She’s been interested in birds since she was tiny. Part of our homeschooling philosophy is that we try to support our kids’ interests, so I learned a lot about birds and birding while she was growing up! She is still my bird expert, so whenever I put a bird in a book and I have a question, I ask her. We also tend to send her photos of weird bird sightings to ask her for ID because we’ve gotten lazy about trying to ID them ourselves now that she’s in college.
I’ve seen you liking things along the lines of “homestead/survivalism” – are you a farmer or are you learning how to do things like canning?
Well.. sort of… If you’re looking at my old FB likes, you might see me as I was many years ago, when we lived on 15 acres in upstate New York. I grew up in the country, in Tennessee, and my grandfather (who did not live in Tennessee) grew large gardens, so I figured that when you became an adult and had the space, gardening was just what you were supposed to do. In addition to a big garden, we raised chickens and even turkeys and ducks once. But it turns out that farming takes a lot of time and raising a large family also takes a lot of time (who knew) and before the pandemic, my husband was out of town quite a bit. So, although we live on 5 acres now (in Mississippi) and we have a big barn, I can’t say we hobby farm anymore, although we do currently have a flock of 34 chickens for eggs and quite a few blueberry and blackberry bushes that give us gallons of berries every spring. I know how to can (pickles and jam anyway), but that can take a lot of time, too, and now that time usually goes to writing. Except when I’m stressed out, and then I bake.
What is your biggest challenge with being a self admitted non direction follower?
I can’t follow a plan to save my life. This extends to homeschool lesson plans that could theoretically make my life easier by laying out everything I have to do, as well as things like recipes and outlines and TBR lists. I think this is probably why I’m not a plotter in my writing; I’m capable of making a detailed outline, I’m just not capable of following it.
You started drinking coffee in 2009 – are you still taking it with a lot of cream and sugar or have you gone full coffee aholic and drink it black
I drink it black now, but only because I’m also sensitive to dairy. But I go through periods when I try to give it up, too. Coffee can be kind of hard on my stomach and my anxiety levels if I drink too much of it. When it starts to creep up over a cup a day on a regular basis, then I have to cut back again. I drink more tea than coffee anymore.
Art supply stores were listed as your favorite place on the planet to be – what kinds of arts and crafts do you make? Pictures welcome
Mostly I do stuff with kids ☺. This is another place where writing sucks up all my time, but as far as art goes, I like to sketch, usually plants and other things that stay still. I’m not a great artist, but I do enjoy drawing and I like to do it with my kids; I just haven’t made enough time in the past few years. Art supply stores are great for writers, too, though… I love all the colors (and the words used to label them) and the smells and the paper and the pens… I am a great fan of fountain pens and colored ink. My favorite pen right now is a super-cheap Platinum Preppy.
In 2009 when you did the 25 random facts about yourself you said you wanted to learn how to know or crochet – have you picked that up?
Alas… I have not. I’ve tried, and my daughter taught herself to knit, but I could never make the time to do it. Between 2009 and now I’ve had another three kids, one of whom is disabled, and I started writing again. It was hard to spend enough time learning to knit when I was holding babies most of the time, and then all the time I would spend on learning a new hobby I devoted to writing. I would still like to know how to crochet and to knit; my mother is very accomplished in the textile arts, and it would have made sense for me to have learned when I was a kid, but when I was a kid, I spent my time in much the same way I do—making up and writing down stories. The only difference was, I did it on my bike or in a tree with my best friend.
Are people constantly asking you for home schooling tips now that so many kids are distance learning? Do you have any tips for parents out there now?
I’ve had a few people ask me for tips. My biggest tip is… try not to stress out too much. I’ve been kind of horrified at the requirements some school districts are putting on their distance learning, especially the number of hours young kids are supposed to spend in front of a screen. We don’t homeschool like that. My older kids (high school age) do take online classes, because I think it’s good for them to learn how to handle a class on their own and it’s better to have somebody other than me teach Algebra II. But mostly, what we do at home is read books and follow our interests and go outside and do art and work with our hands. Seatwork, like handwriting and math, only takes up a minimum of the day. So… if your kids are distance learning, and you’re worried they’re not learning enough because they’re not in school and you’re not able to work at home and oversee them in any way that feels adequate to you, know that a) it’s normal to worry but b) kids learn an awful lot by living their lives. Give them books (audio and paper) that feed their interests; watch some documentaries and google their questions; try to find some art supplies that they like; get a field guide and hang a bird feeder and identify the birds that come to it; learn how to bake (bonus points for sourdough). Talk to them about stuff, and try to run around outside and dig in the dirt a little bit. Do things you find interesting, and answer their questions about what you’re doing. Parents worry, that’s in the job description, but take a deep breath; it’s okay to relax a bit.
You listed Roald Dahl as your favorite author of all time – which is your favorite story? Why do you admire him in particular?
James and the Giant Peach is my favorite Roald Dahl book, followed by Danny, Champion of the World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the BFG. I fell in love with James and the Giant Peach when a teacher read it aloud to my class in second grade. I can’t remember my parents reading to me after I learned to read myself, so this was a novel experience, and I responded immediately to Dahl’s snarky, somewhat dark but compassionate stories. I like his writing for all those things—and because he never talks down to children. His books are just as good when I read them aloud as an adult as they were when I read them as a kid.
You described yourself as the poster child for sensory integration disorder – noting a distaste for seams in your socks and tags on your clothes – do you feel like this affects your day to day or is it more of an annoyance?
It does affect my day to day. I’m sensory defensive, and basically that means things like sock seams and certain kinds of touches and florescent lights overload my system and make it incredibly hard to concentrate on anything. This also plays into what is probably undiagnosed ADD (see the problems I have with following directions and planning above), so—yes. I’ve figured out workarounds and compensations at this point in my life (for instance, all the light bulbs in my house are soft white, not that ridiculous daylight bulb, and the best thing in the world was when clothing manufacturers started making tagless shirts and seamless socks), but it still affects my relationships (I have to remember to explain why I get overwhelmed sometimes and that other people aren’t telepathic and may not understand what’s going on.)