Since I’m calling this “the backstory,” don’t expect it to be brief. If you want the short and sweet version, please visit my author page on Amazon.
Actually, I’m writing this way too long backstory partly to remind myself why I’m making this website. Why have a written all these books? How did it happen? And most importantly, what do I do now?
Well, it all started when I was ten. I bought what are now vintage spiral notebooks and filled them with stories, clutching my pencil so tightly I still have a callous on the third finger of my right hand. I used the much more glamorous name of Mirycha Myra—apparently I already knew some authors used pseudonyms, and I had a hard time seeing myself as a Winifred (I still struggle with that). I invented a publishing company too (as many self-published authors now do). I have to credit all this creative activity to my fifth grade teacher, who was the most boring teacher I’d had so far. I can still see him in his checkered polyester pants, the pockets pouchy with Kleenex. But possibly because he was bored with the whole situation himself, he let me and three of my friends sit together around a large table, and he didn’t seem to care what we did there. So we wrote stories. And we shared our stories. As always, having someone read my stories spurred me to write more and more.
By the time I was twelve, however, I’d developed an internal critic, which is probably essential for an author to produce anything that’s actually readable, and yet it can been demoralizing. I noticed my stories weren’t as good as the ones I read. Also, I got it in my head that most authors were dead. My father, who had written a few short stories before I was born and may have fantasized about being another Damon Runyon, discouraged me too, telling me it was impossible to get published, and really (now, this is going to date me) the best pursuit for a woman was to be a secretary. “A good secretary can write her own ticket,” he said. (This dates him. What exactly did he mean? Is she writing a parking ticket? Or a movie ticket?) Whatever kind of ticket it was, according to him it would have to be typed. So he forced me to take a typing class—at night school since I refused to waste any of my regular school electives on something so tedious. I hated it, and I always made too many errors to ever be a secretary (aka administrative assistant). But hey, as things have turned out, I’m glad he made me learn to type.
At this point, life swept on. I tried teaching. I was about as effective as Miss Hart in Living in Suspension before she got her act together. There was the Viet Nam War, Timothy Leary, and the back to the land movement. I found myself where Kiva decides to start her new life in Of Mice and Money, on the dry side of Oregon, in the pine forest surrounded by wheat fields. There my husband and I built a homestead, and I helped plant more than a million trees with our tree planting crew. I also piled a lot of brush, the way Kiva’s daughter Amy does. I even sang for a while in a country rock band prophetically called Lost from the Start. I also had two sons.
But when my sons got old enough to ride the school bus, I remembered how much I had loved to write. And maybe because I was so involved in being a mom right then, or possibly because I read an article that claimed it was easy to get juvenile fiction published, I started writing for kids. What’s remarkable is that the article was right—at least for me. I submitted With Magical Horses to Ride to Atheneum and they bought it. I wish I could say the rest is history and mean it in the way it’s usually said, as if it was smooth sailing from then on. But history has not been smooth sailing, and it still isn’t.
Obviously, the publishing biz has gone through some tragic changes, but I’ve changed too. Once I’d made it through my kids’ adolescence, I didn’t want to spend any more time in the head of a confused teenager. I found adult problems even more depressing. In my reading, I found myself seeking out books that made me laugh. Especially books that acknowledged all the things that were depressing me and still could make me laugh.
I read everything by Donald E. Westlake I could find. I decided I wanted to write a Westlake novel with a woman protagonist. It didn’t work out as planned. None of my books have worked out as planned. My caper story got mixed up with my homesteading experiences, my house-remodeling challenges, and some quirky memories from the eighties. Also, since I’ve been married longer than I like to admit to a boy I met when I was seventeen, I have a romantic bent. The result, Of Mice and Money, still pleases me and many of its readers, but it defies categorization in a genre any agent or publisher thinks exists.
So next I decided what I needed was a model plot to follow. I found it in Jennifer Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman. Romance, suspense, humor, a lot of heart. Yes! This did help me stay within a genre, but once again, I wove into my story experiences of mine.
I suspect all authors do this, often unconsciously. You can definitely find bits and pieces of my life scattered throughout my books. When I was a child I sometimes played in a cemetery, like Lizzie in Magical Horses to Ride. I didn’t live near the cemetery. I played there only when I visited a friend of mine, and that friend’s mother was often harried from providing most of the support for the family while her father was off working his gold mine in eastern Oregon. Then, when I was in my twenties, I knew someone who lived in the basement of an old building, and in the winter an amusement park brought him its carousel horses to repaint. With the extra brightly colored paint he decorated the basement much the way the Wizard Zorauk does in that book.
The Jell-O Syndrome draws heavily on my mortifying experience regarding the selection of the Rose Festival princess. At that time, and again I’m dating myself, all the senior girls in my school were supposed to try out. I’m told it’s voluntary now. And maybe you could have refused back then, but nobody did. One day we all did the best we could with our hair and makeup, and we tried to learn how to do a deep curtsy that threatened to dislocate your knee and dump you on your butt.
With Bombed, I drew on more of my wacky memories from the eighties. The red neck party up in the woods is something I have more or less participated in. And one of my sons is Ghostwriter, "the original punk-folk troubadour," so I drew from what I’d seen of his experiences. But then along came The Christmas Tree Bomber.
The Christmas Tree Bomber was a nineteen year old boy who may have had dreams of Jihad. He may have also exchanged emails with a terrorist recruiter, but it was an FBI agent who recruited him, convincing him it would be a good idea to set off a bomb at the lighting of Portland’s Christmas tree. The kid had no idea how to make a bomb, so the FBI agent provided him with a van full of 55 gallon drums and wires and such. It wasn’t really a bomb, but the kid was ignorant enough that it impressed him. The FBI even provided him with a parking space close to the Christmas tree since he couldn’t have parked a van that close without some help. Then all he had to do was make a phone call to trigger the ersatz bomb, which he did at least know how to do. Now he’s serving thirty years.
Now, this may make some people feel more safe, but I had the opposite reaction. Still, as I’ve said, I like books where the author is aware of just how messed up things are and yet can find humor in it, so that’s how I handled my feelings in Bombed. But I'm finding it more and more difficult to do this. My latest inspiration is Christopher Shevlin, and here is my favorite quote from his book Jonathon Fairfax Must be Destroyed: “The world is a strange and disconcerting place. It’s good to see that people in the past thought it was too, and that they dealt with it by drawing really solid and beautiful otters wearing trousers.”
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