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The idea for Once Upon a Day came from something that happened to me when I was in New York to tape the CBS Early Show. I was on the way back to my hotel when the cab driver and I struck up a conversation. He was curious why I'd been at CBS, and I told him about my first novel, The Song Reader, which had just been released. He also told me about himself: that he was from Romania and had immigrated a decade before, that he loved New York, that he had two children, a wife, and a house in Queens. But then his voice became quiet as he told me that he was having some problems since 9/11. The World Trade Center attack had changed him, he said, and he didn't know what to do or how to change back. Then he looked in the rearview mirror and said flatly, "I've lost my hope."

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My inspiration for The Keep happened in a single moment--or really, more like a single hour. I'd just finished my previous novel, Look at Me, and was wondering what I would work on next. I'd also just had my first son, and my husband and I had taken our eight-week-old baby to Charleville France, where my husband was directing a play. It was an ill-starred trip (I ended up having to return early because of a serious illness in my family), and we ended up having only one day of leisure together. We spent it driving around in Belgium, and our travels included the town of Bouillon, named after Godfrey de Bouillon, who led the first crusade. Godfrey's ruined castle still stands on a tall hill overlooking the town, and we took the obligatory tour, my husband carrying our baby in a pouch on his chest.

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The fact that I've written anything at all astounds me. I certainly didn't end up being a writer on purpose.

When I was a teenager (in the sixties), I wanted to be a famous artist -- the mysterious, dramatic type hidden away in a loft in NYC. Problem was, I didn't have any talent. So I became a second-grade teacher in a tiny rural town in northeastern New York. After thirty-three years, I retired, thinking I'd spend the rest of my life doing not a whole lot. That goes flat fast. I tried passing the time by refinishing furniture. No fun at all. A friend and I went into "business" making and selling little girls' smocked dresses. She smocked and I sold. It was a hoot for me but not for her. Then my son (a college senior at the time) won a national writing competition sponsored by the Kennedy Center. I thought maybe I could write something.

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I was born in a small town, and I've lived mostly in small towns. When I write, that's where my stories are set, in places like those I know. The fiction I've always enjoyed reading features working-class characters that play roles, often unwittingly, in each other's lives, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, for example, or William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County stories. Living in a small town, you witness human drama -- comedy, tragedy, often a weird blend of the two -- acted out every day on street corners, in kitchens and churches and coffee shops.

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Long before I ever wrote a word of Coupon Girl, I knew the title. I sold direct mail advertising to small business owners in Worcester. Buy one, get one, baby. Pizza guys, dry cleaners, wallpaper hangers, chiropractors--all of them were my customers. An old boss of mine said getting a mailing together was like ushering a herd of cows through a doorway. At ten in the morning, I might have been helping a pet store guy clip a parrot's toenails. By eleven I might have been shivering in the bowels of a car wash, taking a look at a defective pump, and by two, giving a formal sales presentation in a stockbrokers' boardroom. Don't wear your bathrobe under your coat is my best advice.

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In 1999, my wife, Allison, and I were traveling throughout India during the midst of a four-month backpacking trip in Asia. We spent several days in northern India at the Taj Mahal. Our time left there an indelible mark on me and spurred me to dedicate the next five years to writing "Beneath a Marble Sky," a novel based on the story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal.

By luck rather than design, we arrived at the mausoleum early and were the first visitors onto the grounds. Stepping through the vast sandstone gate was like immersing myself into a photo. The Taj Mahal glistened in the light of dawn, glowing like a sculpted ember. The day was still, the only movement from birds wheeling about the tear-shaped dome.

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For me, luck and timing played important roles in getting my first book published. I've dreamed of being a writer ever since Mrs. Jacks, my grade five teacher, first put a gold star on one of my stories (I should note that, as a child, I also wanted to be a veterinarian, a psychiatrist and a racehorse jockey). Throughout my teens, I wrote mounds of poems and short stories; kept a journal for seventeen years; and even tried my hand at a Harlequin Romance-type book. That particular attempt proved to be a dreadful waste of typewriter ribbon.

It all came to an abrupt halt when, in my late twenties, the man I'd lived with for six years died in a motorcycle accident. For whatever reason, I got rid of my typewriter, packed away my paper and pens, and didn't write again for the next fifteen years. Yet my desire to create continued to simmer beneath the surface.

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8 9 10 11 12 Displaying 64-70 of 82 Articles