The inspiration for the Warriors and Watchers Saga must hit close to home, since you teach. After completing your double masters at Chapman University, you accepted the position of curriculum developer and instructor. Do you enjoy teaching?
I love it! Each student’s needs are unique, and I love helping to augment academic skills but also confidence. Each year ends with my feeling that my students gave me as much as I gave to them. Numerous students come back to visit me or reach out to thank me for preparing them so well, which gives me great joy.
The Warriors and Watchers Saga is about seven teens, ranging in age from fourteen to eighteen, but some of them have physical challenges: blind, deaf, paraplegic. How did that come about?
I did not write these characters into the story; they magically appeared and I could not ignore them. I’ve thought a lot about where they came from, and I do have an answer. I’ve occasionally helped out at Special Olympics events, and the first time I did, I was amazed at the joy, talent and fortitude of the athletes. Later, in my creative writing class at Chapman, a young woman (I’ll call her Sally) came to school with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. She entered the class in a motorized wheel chair. Her wheelchair had a compressor which provided oxygen, yet here she was earning her college degree and writing a novel. Talk about the “right stuff”! I’ve met lots of people like Sally since then, which is why I added a page to my website for stories of “real life” (RL) heroes. When writing Evil Speaks, Amir, Kami and Chaz leaped out of my head and onto the pages, and they continue to raise their voices and be heard. I was nervous, because I had to do this right or not at all. I’m so grateful for these characters!
As a teacher, I’ve also worked with children with diverse challenges: autistim, Asperger’s Syndrome, processing problems, behavior and discipline problems, ADHD, and more. Since writing the novel, I’ve become an advocate for people with physical and mental differences. Children with these challenges are bullied more than others, and we need to educate our youth and encourage business owners to hire people with physical and metal differences. NOD, the National Organization on Disability, helps train employers.
Do you use any of your students as characters?
I’m asked that a lot. No. I can’t write about people I actually know, but sometimes a real person is a jumping off point to creating a character or I meld several people together.
The seven-novel Warriors and Watchers Saga is an Epic Mythological Fantasy. What do you love most about this genre?
Anything goes! I can let the creative mind explode. Some of the characters and places in Evil Speaks have blown me away. I didn’t see them coming, which sounds odd, because I outline the plot points and scenes, but sometimes a scene changes course and the ideas flood so fast that my fingers have a hard time keeping up.
What is it that makes a person a writer? How do you know you are a writer?
I once read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, and I felt like she described me rather than herself. If someone asked me to stop writing, it would be like they’d asked me to stop breathing. The daydreams come, characters speak, and I cannot ignore them. Getting it all out of my head and onto paper takes tremendous work—plotting, crafting characters, researching—but it’s a work of passion.
Have you ever had “writer’s block”?
No, I don’t believe in it. Just step outside and interact with people, and stories emerge from every corner. I used to “free write” to break loose in the past. I would pick a subject or open a magazine and stab my finger at a picture or watch a real person and create a story around it. In the classroom, I hand my students a picture (my collection of zany pictures is astounding), and they have to write a story about it. This is also a great exercise for Point-of-View. I’ll hand a child an image of an old farmer, a young pianist, ritual dancers, etc., and they have to take the character’s POV and tell his or her story. I once had a student who said it best (I’ll call him Sam). Sam was writing a Beowulf like saga (after we had read the book), and he came into the classroom super excited. He said he’d never had so much fun writing, and when his friend asked why, he said, “It’s like being God—I created an entire world and everything in it!” With no religious disrespect intended, Sam was right. My characters become so real they take over at times, and I let them.