I’m the author of six books, most recently the memoir-in-essays Can This Marriage be Saved? In these pieces, I re-examine and gain new understanding of my early life and my ill-advised marriage at the age of 20. Borrowing from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and Kafka’s Metamorphosis, how-to essays and before-and-after weight loss ads, a curriculum guide, Bible Study notes, an obsession with Tom Swiftie jokes, and women’s magazine columns and quizzes that oversimplified women’s lives and choices, I examine the many influences that led to my youthful marriage—and out of it, into finally taking control of my life.
While I write about a variety of subjects, they’re all linked by one motivation: my passion for understanding the world and finding ways to put experience into words. I’m a big advocate for processing our lives through writing with the goal of arriving at art that links to bigger issues and taps into the experience of readers, offering perspective or insight. I believe that while memoir may initially be motivated by a desire for catharsis (or revenge), somewhere during the revision process, it requires the courage, honesty, and generosity to reach out in meaningful ways to others, to remind readers that we aren’t alone in our struggles.
Writing well in any genre forces us into active engagement with our lives, roots us in time and place, helps us to carve out the impact of one event on another, understand the relevance of details to events, give them voice, order, and color, allow us to put names to what is nebulous, and appreciate the interconnectedness of the world around us. (See my blog about the intersections between art and therapy here.)
While I consider myself a literary writer, I’m fascinated by the ways that writing, in particular by women, can subversively borrow from the staples of popular culture and seemingly outrageous elements of popular writing: I’m interested in the cultural and historical commentary possible in time travel stories, the exploration of memory and forgetting inherent to amnesia stories, the examination of human ingenuity and creativity in survival literature. Just as the essays in Can this Marriage be Saved? often appear disguised in other forms, I’m always interested in playing with form and genre to find new ways into stories.
In my novel Following Disasters, I aimed to do that by borrowing from and subverting the conventions of romance novels and ghost stories to look at what we inherit from past generations and those legacies’ influences on our choices. In the novel, Maggie Owen receives an unusual gift for her twenty-first birthday: a house. For three years, she has been fleeing her childhood demons: the deaths of her parents, estrangement from her terminally ill aunt, and a betrayal by her best friend. But now her career on the road, following natural disasters and working in temporary claims offices, ends abruptly as Maggie returns home to face her past.
From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood combines subgenres and is part travel narrative, part reading memoir, part literary and cultural commentary. In it I return to beloved books from my childhood and travel to places related to favorite authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maud Hart Lovelace, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott. Along the way, I examine the way books shaped me and whole generations of readers.
Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge: A Journey to my Daughter’s Birthplace in China is a sequel to my book Meeting Sophie: A Memoir of Adoption. In Meeting Sophie, I tell the story of how I adopted a daughter from China by myself despite many obstacles. Blue Willow Bridge takes up a decade later, when Sophie and I return to China, journeying to Sophie’s orphanage and birth village, life changing experiences for us both.
My first book, After the Flashlight Man: A Memoir of Awakening, goes back full circle to my roots in the essay. One night in 1990, a stranger cut the screen out of my bedroom window while I slept and shone a flashlight into my eyes until I woke. After the Flashlight Man is a memoir in essays that tells the story of how I came to terms with this experience that threw my life into a whole new light.