A lot of people like you, like me, are dreamers, and they can envision what they want to become. But they also—and I do this, too—can put incredible pressure on themselves, and can feel that they need to be successful and Doing Important Things right now. How old were you when you published your first book?
My first book was published when I was 40. I’d been a writer before that, but I was writing for magazines.
Right. And you’ve written how many books at this point?
I think 45.
Forty-five. So you have been very, very productive. Did you have doubts or worry that you might never achieve your goals and dreams? Do you have any advice for how to push past those doubts?
I was not, as a teenager and a young college student, a particularly self-confident person, but I was always confident about my goals. I always knew what I wanted to do. I always knew that I was a good student and a good writer, so my doubts didn’t fall into those categories. I mean, I still today have many doubts about many things, but writing for me was always a certainty, so I didn’t indulge in a lot of self-doubt in that realm. However, I got divorced when I was 40, and then I had to make a living for the first time, having been supported by a husband prior to that. There were moments when I was worried about being able to do it. But that kind of worry, that kind of uncertainty, simply made me work harder at it. It was probably a good thing to be uncertain, and not panicky, but concerned. It made me sit there in that chair when I might not have wanted to. So necessity was good for me. When I was being supported by a husband, I was writing, but I didn’t need to sit there every day. It wasn’t a hobby because I was doing it professionally, but it was an indulgence. I did it at my own pace, and when I felt like doing it. When it became a way of life and a way of making a living, it took on a whole different tone. That was good for me. It made me work hard. Hard work is an important thing. It took me a long time to have to work hard. Now I have to work hard every day still!
We learn in Looking Back that you have had quite an adventure of a life, including living in Japan as a teenager. What is your favorite teenage memory?
I was very fortunate in that my father’s profession took me to so many different places. I loved living in Japan. I’ve gone back several times, and of course it’s very different now. When I was there, it was immediately post-[World War II]. I loved my time there. But then when I was in high school, I was living in New York City, and I so loved the excitement and the cultural opportunities and the wonderful school that I attended. When I lived in New York, I went to a small private school for girls, and it was a very seriously academic school, which I thrived on. When you say specific memories, I don’t have anything specific—except geography came immediately to my mind. The geography of Tokyo and the cultural opportunities there, and then contrasting that to New York City, which was such an exciting place for me. But I did live on the most amazing piece of real estate in New York because I lived on an island in New York harbor out near the Statue of Liberty. I lived in a place that was very lovely. We had a beautiful house, and there was a swimming pool and tennis court and a golf course—not our personal golf course, but it was there—and yet every day I got on a boat and went by boat to this amazing city and went to school. So I had the best of all possible worlds. And then I went to Brown University, which was a wonderful choice for me at that time, and I showed poor judgement in dropping out at the end of my sophomore year. But I did love my time at Brown and my courses there. I was able to major in writing, and I had some wonderful professors whom I’ve never forgotten.
It does sound like you went from amazing place to amazing place and had the perfect setting for your teenage experience.
I was fortunate.
Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. Before I let you go, would you like to share what you are working on now? You mentioned it was a short story.
I have a very interesting project that I’m working on now, and I love that it’s different. It’s exciting to do different kinds of things. This particular thing is a project where an artist by the name of Linden Frederick has asked 15 writers—some of them quite well-known, and I was pleased to be one of them—to write a story based on an individual painting [of his], or on preliminary work that will eventually become a finished painting. At least mine is a story—I suppose some of the other people might write plays or [something else]. So I am writing a story based on that, and then the whole thing, the stories and the 15 paintings, will be exhibited in New York in April of 2017. I’m guessing they will become a book because it certainly would lend itself to a book—the stories, of course, and then the paintings are very interesting and very visual. It’s such an interesting and challenging thing to look at this very evocative painting that I’ve been given and enter into the artist’s world. Who knows what he was thinking when he created this? But now I’ve had to create that world in the form of a finished story. It’s been a very exhilarating thing to work on.
It sounds like it! I hope that it does become a book.
The title of the project is “Night Stories.” All of the paintings are set at nighttime. You can picture how mysterious and wonderful they are. And at the same time, I am also working on one more in the little series I do about the character named Gooney Bird, which is for younger kids and takes one second grade class through the school year.
That sounds wonderful. I will leave you to get back to work. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.
Thank you, Stephanie. It’s been fun talking to you. You know what this is like: I sit here all by myself hour after hour after hour, so it’s always fun to have a little conversation. ♦