Describe your new book.
A Heart for Any Fate: Westward to Oregon 1845 tells the story of Lovisa King, a real girl who made the trip west with her large, extended family in the early years of the great westward migration. Hoping to avoid the Blue Mountains, the Kings chose to follow guide Stephen Meek on a "shortcut" through Eastern Oregon, with tragic results. The Kings who made it to Oregon settled in Kings Valley, near Corvallis, and in Portland, where the neighborhood Kings Heights still bears their name. The land they owned in Portland was near or may even have even encompassed the current site of Powell's Books!
Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
I try to convince people to read anything by Hilary McKay, a British author perhaps best known for her Casson family series which began, I believe, with Saffy's Angel. Absolutely charming. I don't know anyone who's read her books who hasn't loved them.
What is your favorite literary first line?
The first line that has most impressed me recently has to be Molly Gloss's opening for The Hearts of Horses. "In those days, even before the war had swept up all the young men from the ranches, there were girls who came through the country breaking horses." I heard Molly read this from her manuscript several years before publication and it gave me shivers. I don't believe she changed a single word prior to publication and why should she? She always nails every word before moving on, she tells me, which amazes me since I have to flounder around in a million rewrites before I'm satisfied.
What was your favorite story as a child?
I had a favorite picture book called The Surprise Doll by Morrell Gipson with illustrations by Steffie Lerch. It was about a little girl named Mary who had, among other attributes, "big brown eyes, hair as yellow as butter, and cheeks that were pink from the sun and the wind." Her father was a sea captain who brought her dolls from all over the world. She had six and he told her that was enough for any little girl. "But they weren't enough for Mary!" Wow! I remember always being impressed with Mary's nerve in going after what she wanted and getting another doll. The fun part for me is that my own daughter, who is of course named Mary, had brown eyes, yellow hair and pink cheeks and looked a lot like the girl in the book. Just to keep life interesting, though, my own Mary never gave a rip about dolls!
What do you do for relaxation?
I like to spend time limbing trees to relax. Along with various forest properties, we have a five acre stand of Doug firs right here at Wake Robin Farm where I can go out and work away when I want some peace and quiet. I don't take my cell phone and I don't wear an iPod. I'm content with the sounds of nature and the mental tape of my own thoughts. Sometimes, if I have a book going, I think about that and let ideas come to me.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
A couple of months ago I had a phone call first thing in the morning from a woman who wanted to talk about my book Brides of Eden: A True Story Imagined. She said she'd been in the middle of trying to get her family out of a cult when she read the book and it helped her decide to leave. She said her parents were still in the cult, though, and gave me links to the group's website. I looked it up and the stuff she was telling me was for real! It's gratifying to think that somebody read my book and it actually influenced the course of her life, I would have to assume for the better. And this sort of contact with readers certainly keeps my own life interesting!
Name the best Simpsons episode of all time, and explain why it's the best.
My husband saw these questions first and erroneously reported that this question was "Who is your favorite Simpson character and why?" so that's how the answer was formulated in my head. I have always identified strongly with Lisa, of course, the misunderstood smart girl, whose father is forever clueless in trying to relate to her. I have come to feel that most of my writer friends, as well as the editors and agents I've worked with over the years, were also Lisas growing up. It's hard to get published or to rise to a top editorial position, so it makes sense that these women were probably the smartest, most persistent and competitive little girls in their grade school classes.. And I'll bet everybody gave them a hard time too, just like they do Lisa Simpson!
If you could be someone else, who would that be, and why?
Nothing on earth could persuade me to be anyone other than who I am. I love my life, my family, my work and where I live. That said, when I go to a big musical (we recently came to Portland to see Wicked) and the star is up there singing her heart out while the audience, thrilled, sends waves of adoration her way, I'm always stabbed with the same exact same longing: "Wait a minute," I think, "that's what I wanted to be! Her! Up there in the glittery dress!" But a voice like that is a total gift, and no amount of training and perseverance can get you singing like that if you're not gifted to start with. Lucky for me, I clued into my lack of talent in this area early on and didn't waste much time pining.