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My Writer's Journal

Smile! You're Going to Marry A Prince!

When Marie-Antoinette was 12, her mother decided that she was to marry the son of the King of France, who insisted that everything about the girl who married the dauphin must be perfect and sent a dentiste to straighten her crooked teeth. This is how orthodontia was practiced in the 18th century, as described in THE BAD QUEEN--and I'm not making this up:

"He placed a block of wood in my mouth to hold it open, gripped one of my upper teeth in the jaws of a dreadful instrument...and forced the tooth into a new position....Several footmen rushed to pin me down and hold my head in place while I howled...."

Later when he has finished, he hands her a mirror. "The gold wires, fastened to each tooth with a silk thread, gleamed back at me. I thought I looked ridiculous."

Anyone who has worn braces, as I did, and as my granddaughter, Sophie, does now, can certainly sympathize. (See my picture on the MY LIFE page, Before Braces.)

Next week: What About That Hair? Read More 
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Where Ideas Grow

I'm often asked where I get my ideas, and I always say, "Ideas are all around." Just consider my morning walk.

There's a homeless man sleeping in the park that I walk through every day. I wonder what his story is. And where on earth is that chicken I hear clucking, here in the middle of the city? A hot air balloon is flying overhead; who's in it? Workmen are gathering around the old tuberculosis hospital that is being remade into a fancy hotel; I pass the old nurses' dorm and wonder about the young women who worked there decades ago. A film crew is setting up for a morning shoot; a girl with a clipboard tells me the movie is "Warrior Woman." They're near the house I once wrote a short story about, called "The Crayon House" because of its wild colors--who painted it like that? Penny, the sweet greyhound, wants to be petted when I pass her yard, but Trixie, across the street, snarls at me as she always does. I missed the guy who goes to work on a skateboard every morning at exactly 6:20, but the guy on the motor scooter honks, as usual.

And this is just an ordinary morning, 7 am in Albuquerque. Plenty of stories here, like tomatoes on a vine, and mine for the picking! Read More 
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Book Signings

Two independent bookstores in Albuquerque invited me to do book signings. The ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL took my picture and ran an article last Sunday. Great publicity, but did anyone notice? Several friends mentioned seeing it. Thursday evening I dressed up, sort of, and drove to Alamosa Books, a new bookstore specializing in books for kids and young adults. Elizabeth, the owner, put out a beautiful spread of little pink cupcakes, meringues, pastries, and a fruit punch she called "pink guillotines." Marie-Antoinette would have approved. I read the scene in which Marie-Antoinette suffers the indignities of the ritual dressing, signed books, talked to everybody, and came home.

Yesterday I put on a skirt and lipstick and drove to Bookworks, a bookstore that has been around for years. Connie, the manager, had borrowed a fabulous gown from the Santa Fe Opera and someone built a two-dimensional costume for portraits. (See photo, left) Aa cellist and a violinist played, and Connie gave instructions for the minuet. There was a cake, and even if Marie-Antoinette never said it, we ate it.

I love to do book signings. It's my chance to get away from the computer and out among actual readers. Having readers tell me in person that they like my books is a wonderful treat. Read More 
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Big BIG Birthday

Recently I heard from a teen-age fan who wrote that she dreams of having a life like mine: success as a writer, husband, children, grandchildren. I'm 75 today, but I remember very well being 60 years younger and dreaming of becoming a successful writer with a husband and children (at that age I couldn't begin to imagine the grandchildren part of my story). I had no idea how to make it happen.

But somehow it has, but not in a way I imagined. I majored in English in college, and then at my father's insistence, I took a secretarial course so I could make a living, if I had to. (In those days it was assumed a girl would marry, her husband would support her, and only if disaster struck would she go out to work.) After graduation I went to NYC and got a job as a secretary at CBS Television. I hated it, but I hoped it would lead to a writing career. It didn't.

I married, worked for a magazine as a secretary, hoped the job would lead to a writing career. It didn't.

Had two kids and started to write stories while they took their afternoon naps. Magazines rejected them all. Finally wrote a story about a secretary. It was published! I got paid $25! I was on my way.

Moved to the suburbs, wrote articles, sold a few, worked on a novel, rejected umpteen times. Had another baby; now had 3 boys. Wrote a sewing book for girls: MISS PATCH'S LEARN-TO-SEW BOOK. Accepted! Wrote a second book, about needlework, and then one about bread, and then several more how-to's, all accepted. Some were really good. ROCK TUMBLING was forgettable. Reviewers trashed LOTS AND LOTS OF CANDY.

Began writing non-fiction, about the Pennsylvania Amish and the Yup'ik Eskimos of Alaska. Got divorced. Kids grew up. Wound up in New Mexico. Remarried. Began writing YA novels. Moved to Texas, wrote first historical novel, WHERE THE BROKEN HEART STILL BEATS, then WHITE LILACS. Came back to New Mexico. More historical novels followed.

I used to worry that I would run out of ideas. I never have. Now I worry (but not too much) that I will run out of time. Not a bad place to be at 75. Read More 
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