Current Release: Where Lilacs Still Bloom
Describe your current release in two sentences?
Based on a true story, at the turn of the last century, German-American Hulda Klager has a passion for lilacs. She teaches herself horticulture developing over 250 individual varieties and in the process inspires a community to live through floods and losses as she discovers the sweetness to the soul that comes from following one's dreams and generously touching the lives of others.
What was your childhood ambition?
To be a poet. I wrote wretched little poems. In high school I wanted to be a journalist, a missionary and a secretary who got to use a typewriter. Here I am: I've worked as a journalist and I use those skills now in interviewing descendants and others for my novels; I do get to use that computer and for several years administered a public mental health program and worked to care for the mentally ill and others struggling in their lives. Finally, I do believe that stories have the power to heal and transform so in that way, my desire to be a missionary has also been fulfilled. I am grateful.
Do you have a favorite time of the day? If so when and why
I write very early in the morning, before the sun comes up and I love the way the world looks as the sun brings the pink and blue spearing through the darkness. It is a constant reminder of my need to seek the light in life and not allow the darkness to take me from the relationship that sustains. Writing early in the morning is also a closer time to dream states and I think there's a creative edge then when I enter and live my story.
What is the one thing you do not want to live without?
Love. The love of God, the love of family, the love of neighbor.
Please describe your writing environment.
A desk my husband made for me that is covered with open reference books, scribblings, a good lamp, a computer with sticky notes that say "You don't have time for that" when I start to obsess about whether anyone will ever read this work in progress; a clay pen holder representing Guatemalan women, arms linked, reminding me of community; out my window I see a hawthorn tree and juniper trees along with the view of a labyrinth where I can walk to regain balance when writing drives me crazy. A Navajo rug that our wire-haired point griffon likes to lay on covers the hardwood floor and a pillow lies at my feet for the cavalier King Charles Spaniel to rest on. Behind me my grandmother's table to remind me that I come from a long line of faithful, strong women.
What are you working on?
I'm writing about an early mental health reformer from the 1850s named Dorothea Dix. She was a remarkable woman who sought God's purpose for her life and thought shy and sickly as a child, she changed the lives of thousands as an adult. I'm calling it One Glorious Ambition and hope that it will inspire people to seek their purpose and to know how important one life is in reducing the suffering of others.
What career fields have you worked in?
I worked in public relations for at the University of Wisconsin then moved into social work. Part of that work involved specializing in helping families of preschool children who have special needs. I also worked for seventeen years with Native Americans and others as a mental health professional and as an administration (as a director of a mental health clinic. My husband and I made a great change and moved to a ranch for 26 years. Now I write and speak internationally and nationally about the power of stories in our lives so I still believe I am in the healing profession.
Where do you want to travel?
I'd like to see Turkey again; visit the Aztec ruins in Central America and go to Machu Picchu. India intrigues me and I'd like to go back to Greece, too. We enjoy Baja Mexico and have gone there many times especially when snow falls here in the high desert and warm sunshine beckons.
How was your road to publication? Have you every had to deal with rejection letters?
Ah, let me count the ways! I began in non-fiction, writing short features for magazines and newspapers and branching out to two-three page spreads in magazines. My first book was a memoir about our leaving suburbia and moving to rattlesnake and rock ranch as I called it. In the process I did receive many rejections but I persisted, kept the pieces in circulation while improving my craft. My first novel proposal was accepted and contracted and each of my other books have been contracted prior to writing them. But that doesn't mean I don't feel the sense of rejection when that editor's "lists of things to rethink" comes my way! A good editor asks great questions and while that can feel like a critique, we are all on the same team and I trust those editors to make my work the best it can be. When I feel really low, I read Rotten Rejections, a book compiling rejection letters and terrible reviews from many great writers through the ages. It's very reassuring that if they can live through some of those scathing comments, I can live through mine.
What is the best thing about being an author?
Authors are allowed to day dream for good reason and that's a gift. I personally love meeting people during research trips and interacting with readers and hearing their stories. I've had the honor of encouraging would-be writers to pursue their dreams and to tell their stories. And every now and then some nice recognition arrives as an encouragement to help me through the down times and to remember why I decided to get into this profession which was to tell the stories I've been given the best way I know how and to trust that I'm not alone in the telling.
What do you feel blessed with?
A husband who is very supportive of my work and who cooks. A faith community that reaches out to others in our town and well beyond. The opportunity to write stories that I believe are important and that people tell me impact their lives in a positive way and believe I am fulfilling a life's purpose in the process.
Some years ago I was encouraged to write a mission statement for my writing life, the way a business might do so for their customers and employees. I worked long hours at it. Doing that has helped me make decisions about projects I take on. I'll share it with you: "It is my mission to encourage and promote, through speaking and writing, the power of story to Divinely heal and transform." It's my hope that my work does. Thanks for letting me spend time with you in this interview!