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There's an anonymous Spanish folk song called "La hija de Juan Simon" about a gravedigger who has to bury his daughter. In the version I have, the song is sung by the legendary Juanito Valderrama. The song gave me goose bumps, and I told myself that one day I would write the story of that gravedigger. Since then, I've played the song over and over, probably a thousand times, and I still get goose bumps every time.

A few years later, while attending the low-residency MFA program at Bennington College, I was having coffee with my teacher, the writer Elizabeth Cox, and she asked me about my relationship with my three-year-old daughter, Elena, (my second being just a baby at the time). I began to tell her the story of how each night as I tucked Elena into bed I would tell her a story. Only before I finished nearly every line, Elena would interrupt me, saying, "No, Daddy, that's not how it goes. It goes like this." And then she would proceed to send the story in a new direction. Like a good father, I would adapt and attempt to take the story in that direction but after another line she would interrupt me again and do the same thing. I was in the process of telling Elizabeth that this would go on for as long as I told the story, when she looked at me and said, "I think you have a story in there."

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I love the name Blackbelly because it's mysterious -- some people suspect it's erotic, some that it's racist. It is, in fact, a breed of sheep with black bellies that hails from Barbados. Like my protagonist, Chas McPherson, I raise Blackbelly sheep. He raises them for meat, but I just use them to keep down the blackberries on my Oregon farm.

I was working on another novel (my fourth unpublished) when I woke up in the middle of the night compelled to write Blackbelly. When people ask me where my ideas come from, I have to say they come straight out of the darkness like a bolt of lightning. Or, at least the best ideas do. There was a connection in Blackbelly that was more personal to me than just the fact that I raise sheep, though it wasn't evident until I'd finished the first draft. That's when, stepping back, I could see the web of themes I'd knitted together and their striking relevance to my life: faith vs. religion, sin and forgiveness, prejudice and rural Idaho.

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On the evolution of my most recent novel, The Pleasure Was Mine, which was recently read on Dick Estell's Radio Reader and was a finalist for the SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) Award in Fiction 2006.

My father died of Alzheimer's seven years ago this past June. A couple of years before he died, I began keeping notes. At first we weren't sure he had Alzheimer's. He hadn't been to the doctor in 35 years, so we had no real frame of reference. My father was wonderful, smart, articulate, warm, very well read, obsessed with Eastern mysticism, a fine writer, and eccentric in a very charming way, and so it was hard to tell where any sort of illness like Alzheimer's started and where his personality left off. Looking back, we realized he had been a master at hiding what he didn't know or what he was forgetting.

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I am not an identical twin. Before writing TWINS, I had started another novel about a young woman in San Francisco and then I realized that the last thing I wanted to do was write a book about myself. Instead, I set out to amuse myself. I started with a new, outlandish voice (Sue) and then countered her voice with a quiet, controlled opposite (Chloe).

I have always been fascinated by twins. I'm also drawn to coming of age tales, stories of troubled teens, confused college students; the stories of disaffected, young women always pull me in. I made Chloe and Sue blond and beautiful because I could, and smart, too, because I'm only interested in intelligent, sensitive suffering characters.

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In 1998, when my husband announced that he'd been invited to Oxford University for a year, I made an announcement of my own. I was having a mid-life crisis, thank you very much. Therefore, I wished to stay in Arizona and write fiction.

Unlike most normal red-blooded American women of a certain age, I hate to travel, unless it's to a familiar place, to see people I already know. For me, travel is an opportunity to be reacquainted with my dearest anxieties: flying, packing, shipwreck, public toilets, nameless indigenous insects and being stranded without lunch by the thief in the American Express commercial.

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In the middle of my second term on the City Council of Iowa City, I got a call from the City Manager informing me about a police shooting the night before. Investigating an open door at a business in an area that had had dozens of burglaries in the previous months, a cop had pushed open the door and was suddenly confronted by a man with a small object in his hand. The cop, his own gun already drawn, reflexively fired at the man in front of him. That man was the owner. The object in his hand was a phone. The owner was dead in seconds, his chest ripped open by a single bullet.

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Dream of the Blue Room began with a classified ad in the employment section of the New York Times. I was living on the Upper West Side, and I'd just quit my fatally boring cubicle job at Ogilvy New York City. Desperate for a paycheck, I answered an ad for an English tutor, and a couple of days later I was being interviewed by Tony, the president of a Chinese trading company in a posh apartment in midtown. We sealed the deal on the spot. For a bit more than I'd been making at the PR firm, I would accompany Tony to restaurants, farmers' markets, art galleries, design stores -- anywhere that he could learn new vocabulary.

My first day on the job, I assembled a vacuum cleaner in Tony's apartment. My task: to decode the instructions. I tried to explain to Tony that instruction booklets for home appliances do not represent the best of American English, but that did not compute. Three hours after we began, we stood admiring the partially-functioning vacuum cleaner. That's when Tony hit me with the news: "I go to China next Monday. You go Wednesday."

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8 9 10 11 12 Displaying 71-77 of 82 Articles