Why I Write

Maybe my mother put me to bed too early, but I started making up stories and dramas when I was a very young kid in order to get to sleep. I would invent intricate plots with multiple characters, most often female. One would have brown hair, one would be blond, another dark-haired. That’s basically what I started out with in Private Faces, a multiple-woman-character story told in first person by Natalie, a portrait artist.

I was a mother, teacher and artist, but my writing career didn’t get going until I was in my forties, when I started to take writing courses at UC Berkeley Extension. There the instructor told me I couldn’t just tell stories about the family drugstore in Oklahoma— that I should try tying all the anecdotes together into a plot—then maybe someone would want to read it. That’s how The Wind Came Running came to be.

The Putneyville Fables grew out of my interest in animals, which was fueled by watching innumerable nature shows on public television, as well as caring for the family pets. I coupled my love of animals with my lifelong fascination with proverbs and sayings— in this case Aesop’s fables. Then I threw in the human factor, lots of intrigue about love affairs and family relations, which to me are the most fascinating aspects of life.

I have also written a collection of short stories called Foolish Girls and Reckless Women, to be published.

I love writing about women. I guess it’s because I know more about them than I know about anything else.

How I Came to Write the Putneyville Fables

Part of my inspiration for this novel came from my interest in Aesop’s Fables and, in fact, my liking for all sayings, adages, proverbs, and quotations. Each chapter of Putneyville  is headed by one of Aesop’s Fables, one appropriate to the action to follow.

My mother used sayings constantly in daily life, so I was exposed early. Her two favorites were ‘Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched’ and ‘Pride cometh before a fall.’

 I’m afraid I never learned to follow this excellent advice.

Another inspiration for Putneyville was my own love of animals and the knowledge of America’s ever-increasing involvement with household pets. From Google:

Facts about Pet Ownership in the U.S.: It’s estimated that 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 37-47% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 30-37% have a cat.

So why not write a book about a family in which each member has an intense involvement with animals? In a small town in Colorado, the Cherrystone family matriarch runs the town animal shelter; her son Cal is a veterinarian, and even though he is married with children, falls in love with a beautiful heiress who runs a wild animal rehabilitation center. Cal’s sister owns a disorderly mongrel— or the mongrel owns her— and one of Cal’s daughters has a menagerie of hamsters, dogs, cats, rats and turtles. But Putneyville isn’t just about animals; the plot involves love, sex, a young biracial boy caught between two families, and the egregious misuse of land by a crooked local politician.

In THUNDERBLUNDER (unpublished juvenile trilogy) my love of adages shows up in young Tessa’s “Guidebook to Goodness.” Tessa and her brother Alex share many adventures, and Tessa has a saying to match every situation. At one point, she even quotes Confucius!

Further, in my novel The Wind Came Running, each chapter is headed by a literary quotation, and the father in the Fields family is nuts about bird dogs, as my own father was. He raises pointer and setter puppies, trains them to hunt quail, and sells them for good money in the middle of the Depression.

Beginnings of an Artist and Writer

Most of my adult life was spent working as an artist; that is, when I wasn’t busy being a wife and mother. My transition to writing was a gradual one, beginning with fiction classes at University of California Extension classes in Berkeley. The transition is not yet complete, but I find that the gratification I get from writing a story— short or long—is an even more exhilarating high than that of completing a painting.

As a child in small-town Oklahoma, my life was simple. We had radio, all those great radio shows from the 30’s & 40’s, and most of the great movies of the era came to town: charge: 10 cents for kids. But no television, of course, no electronics of any kind; we communicated person- to- person or by telephone or postage stamp.

I suppose any background is nurturing for a creative child, but my quiet upbringing in the Oklahoma panhandle, town population 750, left loads of time for imaginative invention. I drew pictures, fooled around with my Prang watercolor set, and made up plays with my best friend and next-door neighbor Joy Lee.

My backyard was a busy place. There I had a playhouse, and over the dog pen was a tree I cllmbed when I wanted to sulk. There was a patch of scrubby grass for turning cartwheels and somersaults, and that was where my mother killed chickens by chopping off their heads. She didn’t raise chickens, so she must have purchased live ones and brought them home. I was fascinated by the chickens’ bodies flapping all over the yard, unburdened by heads.

Flap! Flap! Flap!

On a plank stage thrown together by Mama in our (one-car) garage, Joy Lee and I performed shows, charging five cents admission to all the younger ‘sucker’ kids on the block. (We did grass shows too —those same cartwheels and somersaults, nothing fancy.) One of our plays, a musical, had a Hawaiian theme. We did hula dances, and instead of grass skirts we wore white lacy half-petticoats. I unbraided my pigtails, and I still remember how my hair streamed down in tropical opulence. Joy Lee had short red hair, but she was a much more enticing dancer than I.  If enticing is the right word for a nine-year-old.

Later, we put out a neighborhood newsletter called OUR STREET with all the latest news about our pets; I had Daddy’s bird dog puppies; Joy Lee had Slinky-Poo, her cat. We wrote too about all the street games we played that summer: “It” tag, Blind-Man’s Bluff, Annie Annie Over. We made sure to list names of all the players so they would buy a copy.

At the drugstore, my talent bloomed. I copied, in large format, all sorts of pictures from the magazines my dad sold: Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Life, Look. “Did you see this?” my dad would brag to customers trapped at the soda fountain. “My daughter drew this right off the page of that magazine!”

Other than the newsletter, I hadn’t begun to tell stories yet. Maybe a few fibs once in a while, but Mama was the one who spun yarns, to anyone who would listen. But her narratives were short, because the store’s drop-in trade usually had a story they wanted to tell her.