Q: Your work often has a historical component. What eras in history are most interesting to you?

I absolutely love ancient Rome. In fact, I have recently completed a new manuscript entitled The Lares, which is set in Rome in 193 CE – just one of many times when things start to go seriously wrong for the Romans!

As you can tell from The Jewel and the Key, World War I and the early twentieth century are also pretty compelling to me: such a ferment of change, hope and heartbreak. And I always love teaching the Middle Ages in all their weirdness and complexity, though I still haven’t written about them.

Actually, I think I’d be hard pressed to find a historical era that wasn’t interesting to me. I’m especially interested in lives of “common people” and the ways in which they attempt to transform their lives.

Q: What is your writing process?

It’s very simple. Find time. Sit down. Write.

I know some people have rituals (candles, music, belly-dancers, jars of jellybeans.) I don’t, mainly because I don’t have time to do anything but sit down and write! However, I have to say, coffee plays a fairly large role in my writing life, so I suppose always having a mug of coffee at hand is as near a ritual as I get. I like to listen to music while I write, but I basically tune it out once I’m going.

Q: Do you outline?

Not often. I start writing the way a very irresponsible person would begin a hike in the mountains around where I live in Western Washington. I don’t look at a map. I don’t check to see that I have the ten essentials. Just put on my boots and go.

Needless to say, because of this, I often get lost. But I also find things I wasn’t looking for in the first place. It helps that I’m OK with throwing out my first chapter if I have to!

However, lately, I’m working on more than one book at once, so I’m starting to feel I need a more disciplined approach. For example, I’m trying to pull together a companion piece for The Jewel and the Key, and I have a lot of ideas already, so I’ve just completed a detailed outline.

Q: Do real people show up in your books?

All the time. Usually in supporting roles! Sometimes I like to give a shout out to people I really love and admire. Aside from this, people I’ve met sometimes inspire my characters. The major characters, however, are usually so completely themselves that any connection to real people has become attenuated or irrelevant.

Q: How do you find time to write?

It’s hard. I teach history and English at Cascadia Community College, and I have two kids and a lot of activities and obligations. I guess it’s like juggling – you can keep the balls in the air as long as you don’t think, “Wait a minute! There are too many balls in the air.” Because if you think that, they’ll all fall to the ground. And if you’re juggling with eggs instead of balls, you won’t even have an omelet. I suppose it’s just the fine art of suspending your disbelief? The same skill you need to write book!


I’ve been asked a lot of good questions by interviewers. Here’s an excerpt from an interview by Chris Eboch that appeared in The Spectacle:

CE: Your first book, The Amethyst Road, was set in an alternate reality in the Pacific Northwest. Your new book, The Jewel and The Key, involves time travel between two realistic eras. What draws you to this type of almost-realistic speculative fiction?

I’m drawn to the imaginative and the fantastic—there’s nothing I love better than a good ghost story—but am also deeply involved with the world around me. When I was about seven or eight, I believed there was always something magical just out of reach, around the corner, in the other room, in the old house up the hill. You had to creep up on it and surprise it. I still can have that feeling, especially in places which are old and have a lot of history. So that’s the psychological, ‘it all goes back to my childhood’ explanation. Nonetheless, I find the struggles of the real world completely compelling. I’m fascinated by the nitty-gritty of how people live, what they have in their pockets to pay for their food, what they do when they can’t pay, what stories they tell about themselves, what they dream about, what they do when the world they live in is dangerous or unjust. For me, fantasy needs to engage all of this. In fact, I think it’s the true substance of good fantasy, no matter how much it bends the rules of time and space.

CE: The Amethyst Road..was a finalist for The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. How did that feel?

Amazing! Exciting. I felt incredibly honored.