Describe your latest book.
A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents is the story of Grace Hawkes, a woman who has not spoken to her previously tight-knit family since her mother's sudden death five years ago. Most of the family was tight-knit — her father walked out on them when she was 13 and she and her two brothers and sister bonded more closely with their mother as a result.
Grace does her best to live life apart from them and the pain of her mother's death, but when her estranged father has a stroke and summons them, she suddenly realizes she's done the same thing he had done — abandoned those who needed her most.
Inside the hospital's walls, tensions run high as Grace reconnects with her family and they all meet their father's pseudo-friendly second wife. But the more the original Hawkes clan discovers about this manipulative woman, the more their family threatens to break apart once again. After finally realizing how much her family means to her, can Grace stand up for those she loves and keep them together?
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I used to temp at this convention center where my sole job was to count the take from that weekend's festivities. My first red flag was when, upon arrival, my manager informed me that she'd put butcher paper up on all my windows "so I wouldn't be distracted." My hours were from 6AM to 2PM. The only distraction was sleep deprivation, I assure you. So, I sat in my windowless cubicle counting dollars, pennies, personal checks, et al., for hours at a time while this woman looked over my shoulder... and then re-counted everything I handed to her.
Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
False, because everything is the truth if you write it well enough.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
A: Jack London's "Credo":
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
How do you relax?
The combination of the Pacific Coast Highway, great music, the company of a friend and fellow author (which leads to great conversation) is better than a massage or martini — although those certainly help.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I started writing at the local Starbucks because I realized that the solitary life of writing was making me spin in. Day after day, hour after hour I became a part of the tapestry at this Starbucks, so much so that one of the kids behind the counter became quite the literary comrade. Our conversation sparked because I overheard him talking about Nikolay Gogol. I couldn't help myself. We swapped books almost weekly — each swap ending in a furtive conversation and a promise of a new book. My favorite that he gave me was, by far, Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky. It touched me like no other book has. How had I gotten through life without it? Nobody does it better than Dostoyevsky — the arrogant, arch misfit surrounded by idiots that I have been looking for my entire life. Not that I identified with him or anything.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
My favorite author of all time is John Steinbeck. It started, as it does, with The Red Pony in elementary school, wound through the high school years of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, and headed deep into maturity with East of Eden. As I grew up it became more about the man: His life, his letters, his non-fiction work, and the why of his writing. Last year I drove up to Salinas, California and visited the Steinbeck Library — I'm choking up now just thinking about it. I meandered in wonder through the exhibits, saw the original wooden box Steinbeck put his East of Eden manuscript in. Then… I turned a corner and there it was: The Rocinante. Sighhhhhhh…. Perfection. I have to get back.
What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Midnight Moon cheese. It's...it's glorrrrrious. It's a Dutch goat cheese and I know it sounds lame, but I swear it's some kind of divine gateway — like Sigourney's refrigerator in Ghostbusters. For real. Midnight Moon cheese, these rosemary cracker bread things, and ice-cold sparkling water. And maybe I'm watching So You Think You Can Dance.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five books I've swapped with the kid at Starbucks:
I gave: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
He gave: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I gave: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
He gave: The Diary of a Madman, the Government Inspector, and Selected Stories by Nikolay Gogol
I gave: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink