Tell me about your latest book.
My latest book is a collection of poetry based on artwork: Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? (Futurecycle Press, 2017). My husband and I love to travel, and we look at a lot of art. The book documents my perceptions, interactions, and ideas about the works I’ve seen, including Chadri (burqas) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; a horse painting by Picasso in Madrid; and a handwoven Navajo rug in Santa Fe.
The book previous to that is a mystery novel, Shadow Notes (Barking Rain Press, 2016). It’s about a landscape architect, Clara Montague, with terrible mother issues, who has to come home after fifteen years away because she has a dream her mother is in trouble. A few days after her return, her mother is arrested for murder. Did she do it? And what does the mother’s history with the local politician have to do with anything? The book is set in wealthy Fairfield County, Connecticut, where it’s all about how shiny your new ___________ is.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently acting as my town’s poet laureate, in the second year of a two-year term. That’s the highest creative priority at the moment. I’m lucky to have a job teaching, so I get my summers off, which gives me space to write. I am working on a book of poems about piloting and the stars, what it means to float up there in the sky, and what it means to land. I’m also finishing my second mystery novel, which also features Clara, above. Given the number of projects I get myself involved in, I’m a little behind.
Who are your writing role models?
What an interesting question. I have writers I admire, but I’m not sure I ever thought of them as role models, even though they most assuredly are. I admire Sara Paretsky because she interweaves political issues with strong mysteries and an intelligent female P.I. I admire Sue Grafton for her incredible productivity, and for trying new forms and approaches in each of her Kinsey Millhone novels. I love poet Mark Doty for his language and his attempt to connect with life on a deeper level. I love travel writer Colin Thubron for his gorgeous depictions of the world he’s walking through. I love poet Billy Collins for his wit, poet Claudia Rankine for making me think about race, mystery writer Jo Nesbo for scaring me half to death. And I love Jonathan Franzen for going on and on and on, because he challenges me to look more closely. So many wonderful writers out there to make me think about things in a new way.
How do you balance your day-to-day commitments with your writing life?
Balance? What’s that? A friend of mine once commented that we were rarely in balance; it was more about getting into and out of it over and over, like a see saw. I tend to see my life more in those terms. I write a lot in the summer, from two to six hours a day, depending on where I am in a manuscript and how much work (play) there is to do in the garden. I can maintain a fairly regular writing schedule into early October, and then the college essays needing to be graded start to pile up. I’ll write on and off until the end of the semester, and then write over the Christmas break, mostly in January and February, until the semester heats up again. “People” say one is supposed to write every day, but I just don’t have the time or the mental space when the semester is busy.
What are your other passions outside of writing?
My husband is a Francophile, so we’ve visited France a number of times. We have family in Australia and Canada, and we love Central Coast California wineries. We also have a house in Vermont where we spend time on weekends and in the summer. We live close to New York City, so we maintain memberships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art; we like films, hiking with our dog, botanical gardens, hosting dinner parties, reading (!), drinking coffee on the back deck on summer mornings, gardening… Life has so much beauty to offer, and we are so lucky to be in a place where we can enjoy it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Don’t put off doing what you love, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Find things in the world that bring you joy. Listen, even to people with whom you don’t agree. Read things that make you cringe—in order to understand and to think. Never stop looking for something to challenge you. Act from love, rather than rage or fear.
And thank you so much, Susan, for hosting me on your beautiful blog. I am so honored to be here.