"It took me years to write my first novel, Sleep Toward Heaven. I wrote at night and on the weekends while working all sorts of full-time jobs: receptionist at a country music station, librarian, babysitter, curriculum developer for an internet startup. I went to readings at BookPeople, and tried to figure out how to get from being a babysitter to being a published novelist. Of course, there's no one answer. But I vowed that if I ever sold my novel, I would tell people how hard it was. It's so hard to keep faith, when
you're writing at night while your friends nap or drink margaritas. It's so hard believing you have something important to say. It's hard to work in isolation, in your pajamas. But I love novels. The dream of creating something that could give a reader the hours of pleasure and thought that my favorite books have given me kept me writing, and keeps me here, typing, day after day."
Bill Kittredge's diagram
When I was a graduate student at the University of Montana, Bill Kittredge drew me this diagram of how a novel works. It is my most treasured possession. I tend to diagram a very loose outline of my novels, and then write each scene on an index card. I lay the cards in a row, and try to pick a scene each morning to write. By the end of the scene, the novel has usually changed completely, and then I have to throw out some cards and add new ones.
The Violet Crown Book Award
The Writers' League of Texas awarded Sleep Toward Heaven a Violet Crown Book Award. I love my glamorous glass award!
Book Press from Oprah
When I did some events with O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah sent me this book press. My brush with fame.
I am inspired by my favorite novels and books about writing. Here are three I admire: In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien, The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, and The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo.
Phone home
I talk to my mother every day.
Anika's notes
I speak to my editor, Anika Streitfeld, a few times a week. This is my original Sleep Toward Heaven manuscript, on which Anika wrote pages of notes. I'll never forget talking to her for the first time, on my thirtieth birthday. Having an editor call to say they've bought your first novel . . . it is, simply, a dream come true.
Newspaper clippings
I read the New York Times almost every morning, and often cut articles out and stash them on my desk. I'm inspired by obituaries, especially, and stories where stranger's lives collide.