Frequently Asked Questions

Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?

Actually, I wanted a career in medicine. I went to Oxford, England to study traditional Chinese medicine. At the time, it was illegal to learn or practice traditional Chinese medicine in the United States. I focused on acupuncture, and had a medical practice for more than twenty years. I always loved reading books, though, and began writing in my mid-thirties while I was practicing medicine. It really surprised me that I wanted to write. I had to take remedial English when I started college since my writing skills were so poor. I chose Rhetoric. I worked as hard as I could, and still I got a C. Demoralizing! I stayed away from writing anything for a long, long time. Now I know that there are all kinds of writing, and some I like more than others, and some I am better at than others.

What other kinds of work have you done besides writing and traditional Chinese medicine?

My parents didn't have much money, and when I left home at 17 I had to support myself. I bought fabric and sewed it into clothes to sell on consignment in a couple of local clothing shops. My specialty was making dresses with hand-embroidery on the sleeves. I worked as a tomato picker in the Central Valley of California. I was also a house cleaner, cook, and waitress. My favorite job, and the one I did the longest, was waitressing. I liked that I could trade shifts with other waiters and take days off.

How do you decide what book to write next?

Choosing my next project is always a challenge, because I usually have five or six i am eager to get started on. when I get ideas, I put them in a folder and go and look inside and see which one absolutely positively needs to be written now. One will seem more compelling than the others. I mull over my choice for a little while, because I will be living with the book and the people in it for a couple years, so I have to make sure my enthusiasm can carry me that long! I like to write books that reveal something people didn't know, something I learned by digging deep into a subject. If the book is nonfiction, I check to see if there are good photographs available I can use to illustrate it. That is part of the fun for me -- chose photos and seeing how they interact with what I've written.