Frequently Asked Questions
Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?
In my mid-twenties, I decided to pursue 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, but it soon became legal. 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 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 several 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 right 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 -- chosing photos and seeing how they interact with what I've written.