My work is not autobiographical, but many of my ideas sprout from my memories and experiences. I like to take a pinch of personal experience and stretch it like taffy—to make a point or to bring a scene to life.

For example, in Up There, heroine Ariel Lee moves to the Twin Cities to hide from the wind. Thinking about where I could locate Ariel, I recalled the Minneapolis apartment that my daughter once lived in. It was a peculiar living space and exactly right for Ariel and my daughter (who was one of those sleepers who used blackout curtains). The apartment had a bedroom with no windows except a transom window in the clothes closet, which apparently had been a door before the old Georgian house was divided into apartments. As Ariel’s mother described the dark bedroom, “It’s like sleeping in a cave.” Perfect for my sleepy daughter and Ariel. There was no way the tempting wind was going to get to Ariel in that room.

Sometimes ideas strike on my neighborhood walks as in the case of Down Dog Diary, one of my cozy mysteries. I wanted a way to show the soft heart of a teenage thief in the book. When I spotted a piece of statuary on a neighbor’s lawn, I found the inspiration to illustrate the boy’s great feeling of responsibility for his younger sister. The statue was of a young boy kneeling on all fours so his kid sister could use him as a step to reach a water fountain. And that’s what my character did in a scene at a local park.

Essayists and satirists often take license to present their perspective. I myself have stretched the literary envelope, or as my four-year-old grandson calls it “the paper cage.” I once wrote an op-ed piece for USA Today about buying an island to escape paying taxes. No, Ms. IRS, I do not own and have never owned tax-haven property in the Atlantic, and I have never assessed coconuts to finance an island’s infrastructure. But it made an interesting way to discuss how we all hate paying taxes, but we sure need them.

We writers may exaggerate and inflate. We may borrow and steal. We may trust you with our souls. Our stories grow and change course. That is what makes storytelling and the reading of stories so compelling.


Up There, which explores love, small-town life, the environment, and one woman’s quest to find herself, is available in paperback and eBook. This post is a “Story Behind the Story” of Up There. Find other inside peeks into my work in On Writing.