Interview on Examiner

T recently interviewed me with the following questions:

Q-How did you get started writing?
A-Writing begins, I think, with the art of noticing. One of my earliest memories is this:

I am standing at the end of a peach orchard in Farmington, New Mexico, in which my parents have cleared spaces to make a trailer park. Many of the trailers sit on blocks because their tires, along with the women’s wedding rings, sit in a hock shop until payday.

The peach trees are at the end of bloom, filing the air with a stinging sweetness and the ground with pale, brown-edged petals that swirl around in the wind. Down the row of trailers are cars and trucks, and men’s legs sticking out from underneath them, this way and that. Above them, the automobiles’ hoods are open, making them look like birds lined up, waiting for someone to feed them. 

This is a sight I see every weekend, when the men come home from working as roughnecks in the natural gas fields. Most of them drink too much, and curse as they work under the cars, all day Saturday and Sunday.

Not until I am an adult do I make a connection to all the legs sticking out from under the cars and what we children do all week long while our fathers are working. We have few toys and play cowboys and Indians (“Andale, andale, arriba!”) and roleplay shopping and gas station. For the last game we all use the square of window screen I found in a trash can. We take dirt and sift it into old coffee cans. One of them we have bent to make a spout, and while the boys let sticks hang from their lower lips like cigarettes, the girls hand them scraps of paper and tell them, “Fill it up and check the air in the tires.” We watch as they pour the silken rope of dirt into our parents’ gas tanks. 

Q-How old were you?
A- I began “noticing” and archiving details of what I saw from my earliest memory. As soon as I was able to write I began describing what I saw. 

Q-After you first started writing–how long was if before you were published?
A- My first published writing was an essay on fire prevention, written in the 3rd grade.

Q-Do you have a particular degree or other educational experience that has helped you write well?
A- Although I have advanced degrees, my most valuable training is in the repeated reading of the Bible. I’ve lost count, but I have read it all the way through dozens of times – once in Spanish.

Q- What compels you or has influenced you in your writing?

A- I have to write. Except when I can’t.

Q- How many hours a day do you spend writing?
A- It depends. When I’m on a roll, sometimes 12 hours a day.

Q- Who are your mentor(s) and supporters?
A- My husband and children are my biggest cheerleaders. I couldn’t function without them. My mentors are the fantastic writers I blog with at
NovelMatters: Bonnie Grove, Debbie Fuller Thomas, Kathleen Popa, Patti Hill, and Sharon K. Souza. 

Q- When you first started writing, what was the biggest mystery to you about the process of publishing? And now?
A- Most of my writing that was published in my early career (including my first book with Zondervan, The Mormon Mirage) was submitted by someone else (teachers, other writers) to a publisher or magazine or contest, often without my knowledge. I don’t resent that—I see it as a sign that God was advancing my writing.

Q- Tell me about the day you first received word that your first work was accepted. What was it like? What did you do?
A- I was getting ready to attend a baby shower at church when I got the letter. I told people that Zondervan was going to publish my book and even though people were kind, it was obvious most were having trouble believing I had the story straight, so to speak. And honestly, I could hardly believe it myself.

Q- Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
A- After 40 years of writing, with dozens of books completed and hundreds of magazine articles published, I have to say (using my mother’s phrase): It’s not a money-making proposition. You have to have other motives and expect other rewards, and there are many of those. 

Q- How do you deal with writers block?
A- I am just coming out of a writer’s block valley. I have had speed bumps and school zones in my writing journey, but never a complete roadblock. You should probably ask me about this later this year.

Q- Was your work ever rejected? If so, how did you react?
A- I’m rejected a lot. Um, I mean, my work is rejected a lot. It’s hard to swallow when I believe I’ve written something really helpful.

Q- What are your biggest distractions?
A- The Internet and social media. Oops. That’s what this is!

Q- What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
A- October 31, 2008, my agent Janet Grant called and said that Moody wanted to publish my first novel, Latter-day Cipher, a murder mystery. Then an hour later she called and said Zondervan requested me to revise and update The Mormon Mirage. Both came out last year.

Worst time – hmm. Some of my books make people really, really angry. Most of the time they are past any kind of dialogue by the time they post something publicly or write to me. And to be honest, I can’t debate. When I have laid out facts and given the reader plenty of resources to verify what I’ve said, and the reader rejects it and hates me for writing it, it feels like a helpless, hopeless situation.

Q- What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?

A- During a particularly low period recently I was re-evaluating my life as a writer. Both my son and my daughter told me the same thing separately: They are proud of me and very grateful that I did not work outside the home but instead pursued a writing career that allowed me to stay home with them, teach them Scripture and spend time with them. Nothing in this world is more valuable than knowing my children are faithful, committed Christians who are close to me. 

Q- What is the role and importance of an agent?
A- I am so grateful for my agent, Janet Grant of Books & Such. She does those things that make me most uncomfortable, including trying to “sell” someone on my writing.

Q- What advice would you give to new writers?
A- Malcolm Gladwell says you have to spend at least 10,000 hours to be proficient in a true craft. Are you willing to do that?

Q- What is your personal ministry focus (if you have one) and testimony?
A- Some of my books are about my exit from Mormonism. Most people think that Mormonism is just another version of Christianity, but this is a religion that believes in more than one God. This issue is the deal-stopper. And my insistence on bringing that and other issues about Mormonism to the fore has been a focus of my life.

I’m continuing to write, but I’m moving away from writing about Mormonism. It will always be a part of me, but not what I want to write about much anymore. I want to explore other deep soul-issues, including those which involve a loss of faith.

Q- Do you have anything else you would like to share with our readers?
A- Writing is deeply satisfying – in the process, and in the completion. 

Q- When you see God, what do you want to ask him?
A- I want to ask Him about mental illness. Why. What are the issues of responsibility. How He views it. Why. Why. Why.

For more information, see The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition:  A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today(Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.

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