I was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but grew up in Atlanta, and live there again now. I consider Atlanta my home. I’m a writer, and a college professor, and used to be a production manager for film and television, in Los Angeles, Boston, and here in Atlanta. I enjoyed that, but I love writing and teaching. I’m married to a great guy who works in television, and we have two cats and an old house not too far from the neighborhood I lived in as a child.
Real life inspires me to write! Writing is how I tell myself the story of the world I live in, how I make sense of it, and how I get perspective on things that happen, either to me or to other people. Even fiction, I believe, is based in reality. A character is always a little bit like someone you know; a relative, or that kid you knew back in school. As for my muse, I love it when she takes over and I disappear into what I’m writing – what’s on the page, and in my mind and rushing to get out is the realist thing to me at that moment. Sometimes my muse is just the act of showing up at the page, but if I clear my mind and get to work, she shows up and helps me out.
Invisible Sisters celebrates my sisters and me, and our childhoods together. I’m the oldest of three sisters, and at 32, was the only sister living; my middle sister, Susie, died of leukemia when she was eight and I was ten, and our younger sister, Sarah, had been diagnosed with a rare white blood cell disorder called Kostmann’s Syndrome. She died when she was 27 and I was 32.
Our father was an attorney in the Civil Rights era South and was involved with what was then called “the movement,” and we grew up very aware of social responsibility, fairness and justice. We considered our lives as normal – we grew up believing that hospital stays and medication were just part of life.
The story is also about my journey to find my own voice and identity after I’d lost both my sisters to fatal illnesses. It’s a very loving and realistic memoir. I’ve met so many people at author events who tell me, almost as if it’s a dark secret, that like me, they’ve lost loved ones, too, and that reading Invisible Sisters has let them know that it’s okay to remember their loved ones and what their lives were like, the good and the difficult times.
What’s your formula for creating characters? Do you model them after people around you or do they have a bit of you in them?
The best way to really understand a character – and I consider real people to be ‘characters’ when they’re on the page – is to find what in them resonates with you. How are you, the writer, like them in some way? What do they value or want that you do, too? This goes for the “bad guys” too.
Do you have any have any other works in progress that you want to share?
I am in the early stages of working on a book about writing through loss. I also continue to write essays and book reviews for literary and trade magazines. I have ideas going all the time.
What would be your advice to aspiring writers out there?
My advice is to write. Don’t expect what you do to be perfect – allow yourself the generosity of rough drafts and developing ideas. Find a chunk of time – whatever that needs to be for you – whenever you can, and write, in a notebook, on a computer, even jot down thoughts on coffee shop napkins or a pad in your purse. The more you write, the more comfortable you’ll become with your thoughts, perceptions, and your voice.
What are your favorite books at the moment?
I loved Susan Rebecca White’s “A Soft Place to Land,” especially since so much of my writing is about sisters, as is Susan’s book. I’m rereading Beth Ann Fennelly’s poetry, including “Tender Hooks,” because it’s so smart and funny and female. Just finished Faith Adiele’s “Meeting Faith,” about her time as a Buddhist nun in Thailand.
Favorite: hard to pick, but I love saying “parenthetical.” Least favorite? “Awesome.”