“Everyone has a story, and I love digging for it.”
I’ve always been fascinated by people. I watch them. Eavesdrop. Sometimes, I’ll even strike up a conversation with a stranger. I weave nuggets of other people’s lives into my narratives.
Growing up in the South, I found colorful people, stories and scenes everywhere I went – from Nutbush, Tenn., (home of Tina Turner) to New Orleans, La. I took mental pictures of everything – although I didn’t know why at the time – and summon them when I sit down to write.
I’m amazed at the things I remember from my childhood in Memphis, starting around age 4. In the summer, men and women dressed like slaves waited on the corner in the wee hours for a bus to take them to the cotton fields.
Every morning, I heard the click-clack of my cousin’s heels as she strolled past our house on her way to the bus stop. With her hair did and stylish outfits, she looked like an executive secretary but worked as a maid. In the winter, she wore a ratty fur coat, a castoff from her boss.
I will never forget the day blacks and whites stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the riverfront in segregated Memphis, to see then-presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy give a campaign speech in 1960. Everyone was giddy that day, and we were unified and colorblind for a few hours.
My curious nature as a child turned me into a voracious reader and subsequently a student who loved to write book reports, essays and short stories. I also drew pictures so that my projects stood out.
Grandma Lucile, aunts and teachers nurtured my love for writing and public speaking. They made sure I was always on programs at church and school, and attended workshops and conferences to hone my skills.
After I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, I worked as a TV reporter, newspaper reporter and journalism professor.
The creative writing bug surfaced in 1995, when we lived in Chicago. My husband, James, bought me a laptop for Christmas and kept telling me I should write a book. After I put the kids to bed, I sat down and started to write on a cold, windy January night.
I was used to writing news stories, but a novel was more challenging because I had to tell a compelling story in 300-something pages. Looking back, I wish that I’d taken creative writing classes in college. They would have helped me sidestep a lot of mistakes new writers make.
As a writer, if you’re not writing, you’re thinking about writing. Sometimes, there is so much imagery and conversation clogging my brain that I have to escape to the beach. The sun, sand, surf and sea life relax me. Communing with nature helps me order my steps.
I also enjoy photographing beach scenes. People are in their most natural state when they’re frolicking in the ocean, walking hand-in-hand near their shore or playing in the sand. I click and smile each time I capture one of those precious moments.
Foreign movies are another way for me to get away without hopping on a plane. They’re entertaining and educational, allowing me to meet new people, see interesting places and explore other cultures.
Several times a week, I hit the gym. Zumba and what I call booty dancing are fun and make me feel like a video vixen. Boxing fitness classes help me burn the most calories so that I can eat chocolate candy, chocolate chip brownies, chocolate ice cream, chocolate anything.
Whether I’m at the beach or walking through the mall, I run across interesting people who might pop up in one of my novels. And there’s always my husband, two adult children, octogenarian mother, siblings, quirky friends and a host of nieces and nephews who provide endless hours of amusement and fodder for my stories.