Where are you from and where do you call home?
I grew up on a farm in Minnesota after living in Norway for a year when I was a toddler. How different my life would be if my parents had chosen to remain in the small Norwegian village where my father was born! Yet I think I would still have become a writer and actor because so many of my family members, including my parents, wrote and acted. My brothers are both excellent writrs. I am thoroughly American, yet I’ve lived, worked and traveled all over the world, filling notebook after notebook with journal writings. For many years I called Zurich, London and Paris home. Now I divide my time between New York and Los Angeles.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve been drawn to writing and acting since I was a child and they are still my twin careers, one always feeding the other. I wrote a play about George Washington in second grade, but it was all about Martha, the role I intended to play. I wrote short stories all through grade school, worked on the school newspaper and in high school won a state award for an interview I did with Carl Sandburg. I attended the summer “cherub” program at Northwestern University on scholarship when I was 16, after applying in both the journalism and theatre departments. I consider myself so blessed that I am still working as a writer and an actor, and I’ve though of myself as both since I was seven years old!
How much of yourself, your personality, or your experiences are in your books?
Much of what I’ve written is nonfiction. I am very drawn to memoir, having written books about my experiences working as both a Playboy Bunny while in drama school and as one of the original actors on Dark Shadows. When I turned to fiction with Dark Passages, I was able to incorporate everything I knew about the behind-the-scenes world of Playboy and live soap opera in the 1960s. . . that’s very rich material! I also tend to write funny and it reflects my take on life. I’m essentially a happy person with a robust sense of the ridiculous . . . and I do love taking a poke at artifice and complacent thinking. Down and Out in Beverly Heels is about a homeless woman, but however harsh her life becomes, she deals with it in a very resourceful, humorous, upbeat manner. My work as a writer is very much character driven and dialogue comes naturally . . . is that a surprise?
Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little about it?
I’m currently writing a sequel to Down and Out in Beverly Heels because I love the character. I sometimes wish I were Meg Barnes! She’s tenacious, fun, resilient and so appealing to me. I’m writing in the mystery romance genre, but I tend to choose plots that have serious underpinnings, in this case sex trafficking. I guess I need a bit of fire in the belly when I write and dealing with the harsh realities gives my character some bite and purpose. I like that.
What fuels you as an author to continue to write?
I can’t not write. It’s as simple as that. It’s hard and sometimes I wonder what I could accomplish channeling that time spent writing into some other endeavor, but I keep writing. For one thing, you learn things about yourself you never suspected.
Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I write a synopsis that is very complete and then I outline. However, invariably by chapter 6 the characters take off on their own. It’s easy to write yourself into a corner that way, but at a certain point you have to trust your characters to figure things out.
What inspired you to write Down and Out in Beverly Heels?
Down and Out in Beverly Heels is about a woman who leads an enviable life until it all comes crashing down when it’s revealed that her husband is a conman who has fleeced her and her friends . . . she loses everything she’s worked so hard for and ends up living on the streets of Beverly Hills is what she calls her “Ritz-Volvo.” The novel is inspired by an experience my brother had when he unwittingly hired a man in the witness protection program, who was an embezzler . . . and my own experiences meeting women living on the edge, “homeless and hiding it.” It takes so little: career meltdown, bad investments, catastrophic illness or accident, natural disaster, etc. I think we all live with the apprehension that we could lose everything in a blink of an eye. The “What if” factor is the springboard to imagination, making me ask myself what I would do if the worst happened? How would I cope?
What kind of research did you do?
For a number of years I’ve volunteered serving weekly meals to the homeless in my community and volunteered in other capacities where I’ve assisted people in need. Without prying, I’ve come to know a few women who are living on the edge, who have lost everything, but are not recognizably homeless . . . what I have come to call “homeless and hiding it.” I drew on all those experiences in writing this novel. I also stockpile clippings and read up extensively on any of the matters that touch my characters. One of my characters is an FBI agent and I spent some considerable time talking to a friend who is an FBI agent.
Do you base any of your characters on real people?
Several reviewers have referred to my array of “quirky” characters. I think my acting training comes in handy in building very specific characters with lots of backstory and dimension. I haven’t based any of my characters entirely on real people, but as I write about them they become very real to me. One of my favorites is Ariana, a former actress with great style, who is completely batty . . . and I realize she sprang from my memories of a great friend who was a fashion designer. Believe me, the fashion designer would never recognize herself, but I blush when I think how similar they are in their eccentricities.
Is the book part of a series?
The sequel is almost completed. I’ve pulled in my favorite characters from the first book and developed the wonderful relationship between Donna and Meg. Donna is essential to Meg, I realize, and a great foil. Only now do I realize how much I’d like to change a few things in the first book that would make this sequel easier . . . but alas, I have to move on within the confines of the characters I’ve already established.
If you could be one character from any of your books, who would you be and why?
I feel a great kinship with my lead character, Meg Barnes. I’m sure friends who read the book think she’s based on me . . . if only! I admire her tenacity, resourcefulness and great sense of humor. She’s much freer and looser than I am. She’s brave and can endure hardships that I’m afraid would break me. Perhaps I’ve just written the woman I’d like to be, but frankly I’m a bit envious of her.
Is there a specific place in the house that you like to write?
I’m blessed to have an office in the back of my house that looks onto the garden and is awash in sunlight. Writing is a lonely business, but there’s comfort in looking out at trees and my rose bushes . . . and having my cat, Daphne, curled up on the window bench. At odd times she’ll get up and meander across my keyboard, but you can’t blame a cat for being a cat.