Because my family left the Los Angeles area and moved to Washington State when I was four, my memories from those years are mostly of odd, specific moments jumbled together like random pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that can't be fit together well enough to show an actual picture. Strangely, my clearest memory didn't come back to me for almost forty years, when my husband and I went to visit friends in Long Beach. When we drove up to their house, suddenly the look of trees and flowering shrubs, the smell of the air, and especially the quality of the afternoon light flooded into my senses. It was all so familiar! It was like coming home.Which genres of movies do you like watching? Which is your favorite?
Oh, almost all genres, and my favorites change all the time. Probably Alien is somewhere up there in my current top ten – I've watched it at least a dozen times, and it still scares me. And The Descendants: sad, funny, honest. Great music. George Clooney. And Dangerous Liaisons. And… and… But you said not to go on forever, right?Once an English teacher, when did you decide to become a published writer?
When I was in high school. I just didn't get serious about it until I'd stopped teaching! In some ways, of course, I regret not starting earlier. On the other hand, I'm probably a better writer now for having lived so long in between.How has writing changed your life?
It's made me think deeply about why people do what they do. It's given me a greater insight into human beings – including myself.What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done?
Marrying my very intriguing husband!Did you take inspiration for the character of Adda in ‘Darkness and Light’ from a real life character?
No, although I'd "met" Adda before, as a character in a different book of mine, so I felt I knew him. But some of my characters really are partly inspired by people I know or have known. The unnamed man at the end of that story, for instance, looks like and talks like my son-in-law, and he has a larger part in my novel The Kura. Still, when one of my characters takes something – looks, mannerisms, voice, whatever – from a person in this world, there's never a one-to-one resemblance. The two of them may start out very much alike, but they're like twins, I guess. Twins adopted at birth by two different families, who grow up in two different places, under two different sets of circumstances, so they end up being two different people.What is the one genre you feel you can never write? Why?
The detective novel. That's because plot is the hardest thing for me, and I think a mystery writer has to be very good at plotting the story so she knows where she's going at all times. My characters tend to take off in their own directions and sort of drag me along with them.Which author’s characters do you find the most interesting and brilliantly created? Why?
You're asking me to choose just one? Impossible! Jane Austen. Patrick O'Brien. Ursula K. Le Guin…. On and on…. What makes characters interesting, to me, is depth combined with integrity. That's integrity not in the sense of being virtuous or honest, necessarily, but in the sense of wholeness. They may be full of contradictions – most people are – but their contradictions are all sort of stuck together to make up a complete, real person. A well-drawn character may do something that surprises you, but it's never something you know she just wouldn't do. You get to know a protagonist or other major character in depth, after you've spent time with him, the same way you'd get to know a real person.
Not every good writer creates in-depth characters all the time, or even tries to. The late Michael Crichton, for instance, wrote wonderfully complicated thrillers. His characters were pretty generic, but that didn't matter; they were different enough to play different roles in the plot, but character wasn't what most of his books were about. Other writers are all about character. Think about Pride and Prejudice if all four of the sisters were interchangeable and if the men they're involved with were all more or less alike. The book would be pointless. To writers like Jane Austen, character and how it affects everything is the whole point.How would you describe the relationship between Lizzie and Robert in "Into a Distant Light"?
It's a conventional relationship, just one step removed from an actual arranged marriage. In fact, it is in a sense an arranged marriage, because they live in a society that's strictly ordered according to convention, and they've both learned to behave in accepted, conventional ways. They've been able to almost stifle their individual selves and to seem to be what their world wants them to be. (Lizzie's been better at this than Robert, mostly because young women in her world were taught from infancy to be passive, whereas young men were encouraged to be bold and adventurous until it's time to "settle down.") Lizzie's parents want her to marry a respectable man who'll take her off their hands financially. Robert's sister wants him to grow up and get a real job, so she introduces him to the prettiest, sweetest young woman she knows and counts on nature to take its course. The relationship could have worked if they'd both been conventional people on the inside. They might not have been deeply happy, but they'd have been comfortable and they might have found that was enough. But Robert is not conventional even though he tries to be. And although it's his eccentricity that Lizzie finds attractive even before she meets him (because she's not conventional either, not in her heart of hearts), that's what tears them apart.How did you come up with the title of “Uncle Bud's Health Mine and the Girl Who's Going to Fix the World”?
Ha! It wasn't hard, because that's exactly what the story is about – both those things, and how they fit together. If the title sounds strange, that's because weird things happen sometimes. There are a million stories in the high plains of southwestern Montana (well, maybe only a few thousand, unless you count the stories of cows and magpies). This is one of them…. (cue spooky music).How do you think women characters have evolved over time in romance?
For as long as romance fiction has been recognized and marketed as a specific genre, most of its female characters have pretty much reflected how readers want to see themselves, which makes sense because most romance readers have been female. When I first started reading genre romance, young women were portrayed as relatively weak, innocent, dependent on the hero to protect them from bad situations and bad guys, and they sometimes had trouble telling the difference at first between who was the bad guy and who was the hero. Since the story had to end happily, with this all sorted out, the woman (the "girl," as she was generally referred to) eventually recognized the heroic character by instinct. Her heart told her. The feminine heart could make mistakes – much of the plot conflict involved her mistakes – but in the end the heart was always wise.
All this made readers happy. Even if they weren't happy in their own lives, the genre romance gave them someone to identify with. As 20 th century social customs changed and women started gaining strength and independence, the female characters changed too. For instance, sometimes the girl got to save the guy from his own mistakes. And of course the male characters themselves changed, became a little less heroic and a little more human. As women started to see themselves differently, they wanted romance stories to reflect these new selves. These changes are still going on, and I've also seen another trend, which I think is great. Genre romances are still about relationships, and mostly these relationships still work out happily for everyone involved. But the stories are becoming less formulaic and their characters, female and male both, are becoming more complex. I think one of the results is that readers are seeing the characters not only as reflections of who they are or would like to be, but as possible role models, positive or negative. I think this can be a good thing.
Also, more people (including men) are writing about more kinds of relationships. My friend Franci McMahon writes lesbian romance. The British romance writer, Jeevani Charika, aka Rhoda Baxter, writes under both names, and some of her characters are from backgrounds where courtship customs are quite different from UK customs. My Uncial Press editor, Judith B. Glad, has for years been writing a series of stand-alone historical romances peopled with characters linked by family and acquaintance, each of whom is a real, three-dimensional individual. Jim Cangany has moved from sweet romance into mystery (writing as J. C. Kenney), but his newer work still includes plenty of romance. All these writers are intensely concerned with character. But then, character was the prime concern of the first women writing romance in English – Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte.Women's fiction is a genre many new writers are exploring. How do you plan to reach the readers in such competition?
Ah. Now you're talking about promotion and marketing, both of which are hugely competitive themselves, requiring money and skill in… promotion and marketing. I have neither of those things, so the only way I'm going to reach readers is either by word of mouth or word of social media. All I can hope for are a few readers who tell their friends to read my novels and stories and to spread the word if they like them. And the only way they're going to do that is if my writing is as good as it can be. That's what I work on.
I write genre. I'm serious about what I write, even when it's lighthearted (as it sometimes is, but not always). I want my books to be fun to read. I want them to reach ordinary people and change their lives a little, for the better of course. And, also of course, I want six months on the New York Times bestseller list and big boxes of chocolates from all my fans. But I'm not holding my breath.If there was anything you could say to your younger self, what would you say?
I'd say, "Hey, you! Stop daydreaming, get off your behind, haul out your typewriter, and go to work! You're not going to live forever, you know."Which is the next book you are working on? Give us an insight into it.
I'm working on sequels to my two full-length novels, both of which are set in fantasy (but non-magical) otherworlds. My working title to The Kura's sequel is "Incursions," referring to things being smuggled into the heroine's new world from her old one. Alyssha is trying to find out who's doing the smuggling and why. And, for now, I'm calling the sequel to A Glimmer of Guile "A Monster of Guile." The "monster" is a child with psi powers so strong that neither he nor anyone else can control them.How did you come to know about AllAuthor? How has your experience with us been?
My friend, the amazingly marvelous Jenny Twist, is in AllAuthor and she twisted my arm. (I can't believe I just said that.) So far the experience has been great! I love how all my books' covers are displayed on the same page and it's so easy for people to access and read several pages of each of them. I know I haven't taken advantage of everything you offer (see my promo-phobia up there under your 12 th question), but I will! I will!
Best known for her Underland series, set in an alternative world, Mary Patterson Thornburg was born in California. She is also a consummate master of horror and mythological stories, as well as writing academic treatises on literature. She is a very versatile writer. Mary weaves a magic spell around the reader, keeping them engrossed in her short stories, novels, and novellas from start to finish.