Twenty Questions

For the upcoming Get Lit! book festival, Aug. 16-20 in Spokane, I answered 20 Questions, some of which they will post. I thought I’d share my answers here with you, too:

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Bringing characters to life on the page. Reading beautiful writing.

What is your motto?
Love is a verb.

Can you describe yourself in three words?
Ever reaching higher.

What is your favorite (or least favorite) word and why?
“Islamopanderer” is my favorite. Some conservative bloggers intended it as an insult against me for writing “The Jewel of Medina,” and I love it.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Hyphens are my weakness.

Who are your favorite heroes/heroines of fiction and why?
Capitola in “The Hidden Hand,” for her A’isha-like feistiness and spunk. Lily Barth in “House of Mirth” for her refusal to live or love by society’s rules. Ellen Gilchrist’s heroines for their outspokenness. Lena in the “I Am Curious” films, for her sexual and intellectual rebellions. I do love an ornery woman.

Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in real life (dead or alive) and why?
Salman Rushdie, for living, and writing, courageously. Benazir Bhutto, for daring to dream a better world. Hillary Clinton. Oprah Winfrey. Gloria Steinem. A’isha, the protagonist of my first two novels, for defying the constraints of her culture to reach her highest potential.

Choose three people, dead or alive, to invite to dinner. What would you talk about?
Jesus, Muhammad, and Michael Smith. Michael has a lot of questions for these two.

What are your favorite names and/or how do you name your characters?
I dislike novels with names that are obviously contrived (such as in Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland”). It’s corny and distracting. Unless, of course, Tom Robbins is doing it.

What is the first job (or the best job) you ever had?
First job: Working at McDonald’s. I lasted three days. Best job: Writing novels.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
Creating visual art.

What has been your favorite journey?
Chasing the blues across the USA on the back of a BMW touring bike, sumer 2006. We hit most of the blues towns: Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Clarksdale, Miss., and then swung around to New Orleans, the East Coast cities and Maine. I discovered Asheville, N.C., and lobster rolls, and read “Look Homeward Angel,” “Zorba the Greek” and “Candide” on that bike.
Hiking the Continental Divide Trail through Montana, summer 1989. Nine hundred sixty-one miles of aching feet, but the views were spectacular and I realized that I could overcome any obstacle to reach my goal.

What would be your perfect day?
Warm, on the ocean, writing in the morning, lounging on the beach with Mariah in the afternoon, drinking fruity drinks with umbrellas in them, and making love with Michael under the stars.

What makes you laugh out loud?
Human nature!

What is your greatest extravagance?
I have a passion for fashion.

What item are you never caught without or what item is your most treasured possession?
The Yogo sapphire ring Michael gave me for my birthday this year is my most treasured possession, and the 1901 Schimmel upright grand piano I bought from Lucien Hut in Missoula. It has lovely warm tones, especially in the lower registers. I have spent more money moving the beautiful behemoth around than it cost me to buy!

What is the oldest item of clothing you still wear…what’s the story?
I had a lovely antique mink fur pillbox hat given to me by a friend. I wore it all the time. Then a young woman I knew in Missoula showed up bald and very thin at a bar. Her head looked cold. I knew she’d been in chemo, although she told a cockamamie story about parasites encountered on her trip into the third world. She complimented me on my hat. I invited her to try it on. She looked so beautiful in it that I, seized by a generous impulse, gave it to her. A half-hour later she was bald again. “What happened to the hat?” I asked. “It was too hot so I put it in my purse,” she said. I wanted to shout, “Give it back!!!”

Do you have a good scar story?
My heart is deeply scarred by love but I keep trying.

If you could choose what or who to come back as, what would it be?
I’d want to be my daughter Mariah’s child or grandchild so I could spend even more time with her than I’m going to get in this life.

What would you like to be your epitaph?
“So many books, so little time.”

Bonus: Finish the sentence, “If I ruled the world …”
Poverty and hunger would be distant memories — and so would wealth.