For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read and write. I taught myself to read at the age of three and soon afterwards began filling blue examination books (my father was a professor) with elaborate illustrated stories. In elementary school, I would write down the names of large extended imaginary families, changing each person’s age as they completed another year of their life in my mind. In junior high school and high school I worked on the literary magazine, and kept journals avidly.
But then the fiction writing part of me took a long hiatus.
While I took a creative writing class in college, I didn’t have the self-confidence to declare myself a “writer,” nor did I realize creative writing was actually something one could major in. I considered majoring in English, but couldn’t summon sufficient enthusiasm for parsing the academic minutiae that seemed to define the study of literature. I wasn’t so big on studying for its own sake, anyway. I wanted to do something either completely abstract or completely real.
So I studied nutrition, and ended up doing something abstract (writing) about something real (food). And I spent the majority of my time engaged in the most real occupation of all: raising children. My attention would often wander to things abstract and my desire to write fiction began to reassert itself. When my youngest child started middle school I signed up for some writing classes, joined a writer’s critique group, and began writing short stories and screenplays.
Then I had a fourth child.
I continued to write, both my food journalism and my creative efforts, in bits and snatches, with my baby on my lap, or when he was napping, early in the morning and late at night.
Around 2004 I wrote the first draft of a story about two sisters. I realized there was way more to the tale than a short story could contain, and began work on a novel. Around the same time, I read an interview with the writer David Guterson, about his superb novel, Snow Falling on Cedars. It had taken him sixteen years to write, he said. He wrote in bits and snatches, while watching his child’s soccer game, or waiting in line at the supermarket. I figured if he could do it, so could I, and I wrote while waiting for my son to emerge from piano lessons or drama class, early in the morning, and late at night. Even when I wasn’t writing on paper I was writing in my head. Real life intruded and changed the story I had to tell. Real life influenced the minutiae as well; for example, the name of one of Portland’s high schools and the name of a local furniture store became the name of Ethan’s place of employment. (I don’t know what a future literature professor might make of this.)
About seven years later I finished Wrong Highway, and then I started revising it. The bits and snatches of my time had expanded somewhat over the years but were still bracketed by carpools and dinners. I kept writing for three more years.
And now my characters and my story are out of my head and into the world—as real as anything.