Interview with Kaya McLaren
Tell us about your books: I wrote CHURCH OF THE DOG fourteen years ago. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I never intended to publish it. So, to me, it’s a little awkward and uncomfortably personal. It has some lovely moments in it. That’s what I can say about it. There’s something very genuine about that book. But I’ve grown, so in a way, my feelings about that book are similar to seeing my high school senior picture on my grandma’s wall. CHURCH OF THE DOG is about a semi-psychic art teacher that comes to live in a tiny ranching town in Eastern Oregon. She settles behind Edith and Earl, who in their late 70’s fall in love with one another again. Their estranged grandson comes home and reconciles. It’s lovely. It really is.
ON THE DIVINITY OF SECOND CHANCES will always be my favorite book, I think. I love those quirky characters and the beauty of their imperfection…the beauty of trying to get it right. Everyone gets a second chance in the way they need it most. Isn’t that what we all hope for? What is a miracle, but a second chance when you need it most? In this book, Phil retires from the financial markets, and finds his new identity in learning to play the bagpipes. His wife, Anna, finds herself annoyed by everything he does and to cope with her hot flashes, sleeps on a lawn chair in the back yard. Inspired by menopause, she’s taken to painting raisins. Their oldest daughter, Olive, has just broken up with a snowboard bum boyfriend and discovers she’s pregnant. She eventually goes to live with Anna’s mother, Pearl, who likes to tap dance and shoot things. Olive’s sister, Jade is a massage therapist who sees her sassy spirit guide, and remembers people from past lives. And finally, the youngest sibling, Forrest, has been in self-imposed solitary confinement in a tree house in the Sawtooth Mountains, but redeems himself. I really love that book.
HOW I CAME TO SPARKLE AGAIN is my new book, the one that’s released on October 2, 2012. I think it’s more conventional in a lot of ways and will appeal to a broader audience. I love the characters in this book, too, because many were inspired by pieces of my friends, blended, and reassembled with pieces of me. Jill returns to a ski town named Sparkle, after finding her husband in bed with another woman. There, she ends up on Lisa’s doorstep. Lisa, meanwhile, is having an epiphany about holding out for true love, and eventually finds it in her long-time next-door neighbor and friend, Tom, who lives in a place they all call “the Kennel” where the residents name their dogs after beer. Tom hires Jill to work on ski patrol, but to make ends meet Jill takes another job babysitting Cassie, who just lost her mom to cancer the summer before and believes she receives messages from her through heart-shaped rocks. Cassie’s father, Mike, is picking up the pieces of his life as well, and finds hope for better tomorrows in his growing friendship with Jill. Although there are some heartbreaking moments, it really is a fun and hopeful book.
Where do your ideas come from for your books: My life. People I know. My books are very character-driven, and my life is always full of characters, so I’m lucky like that.
What is your favorite word? Why? “Dinner!” I like to eat.
Who or what inspires you? Life. Friends. Adventures and hardships and beauty. I see beauty in so many things. My great big funny family. I wish I could share them with the world. By writing, I kind of can. I take little pieces of them, little bits of things they would say and weave them right in to my work.
Paper/hardback or eBooks? Why? I’m a paperback girl. Light, easy to hold, easy to carry. They won’t electrocute me in the bathtub where I do most of my reading or run out of batteries on a river trip. And I can give them away when I’m done, which I love to do. Perhaps when I’m older and my eyes go, I’ll appreciate the eBook feature where I can change the font size, but at this point in my life, the last thing I want to do in my spare time is look at a screen of any kind.
How would you spend a perfect day? In the summer, bareback and barefoot on the back of a big, fat, mellow horse wandering through some vast expanse of nature, followed by at least two good dogs. But in winter, knee deep in champagne powder with a whole crew of laughing friends. In either case, there would be a big dinner in the evening with lots of food, friends, warmth, laughter, and wine.
What are you reading right now? I’m reading my fourth manuscript, THE EMBERS. It’s due in less than two weeks, so I’m re-reading it and polishing it up. Lately, though, I’ve been rereading my favorite book of all-time, SOLAR STORMS by Linda Hogan. At the same time, I’m slowly working my way through BLINK, and an anthology of poetry called FOR LOVERS OF GOD EVERYWHERE.
How did you celebrate your first book being published? On the day my first book was published, I went to work at the Sun Valley Lodge and massaged people. Some guy was there doing some painting, and I don’t know how it came up, but I told him, and he was really, really happy for me. I’ve often thought of how funny it was that this stranger gave me the sweetest moment of that day. My parents and my uncle sent me flowers to my first book event. That was sweet. And my soul sisters threw a party for me after my book event in the town where I used to live. When Penguin republished my first two books, I celebrated by buying a skateboard, and then taking a trip to Costa Rica where I learned to surf.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? What are they? In the winter, after a long day of teaching third and fourth graders, I love to crawl into the bath and read. I stay there for hours.
What is the writing process like for you? Well, sleeping in is important. That space between dreaming and waking up is a really creative space where I get ready to write and come up with ideas. Then I have to get up and right to it while my brain is still calm and clear. If I try doing other things first and coming back to it, my brain is usually too busy and distracted. Sometimes a run will clear my mind, especially if I’m listening to instrumental music. I picture the scenes I will write like a movie with a soundtrack. If it’s not too warm, I put on my magic writing socks—these beautiful striped wool socks a reader knit for me, and something about them calms me down and helps me focus. For this book, I have one notebook full of notes I took when interviewing different people or organizing ideas. I also made an index card for each chapter using a specific color for each character and clothes-pinned them in rows on my curtains—one row for each day, in the order they happen. That was great. In the last month, my writing process has been rough. I’ve had to evacuate my home due to wildfire and wildfire smoke. I have no routine and waste a lot of mental energy figuring out where I’m going to be tomorrow, and I can’t see my index cards all over my curtains.
If you could meet any other author, who would it be? Jane Goodall. She’s my hero. What a phenomenal soul. But if I could meet two authors, I’d like to go eat dessert with Sarah Addison Allen. Her books were like life rafts for me last winter when I was going through a cancer scare and had to have a surgery. It was such a great reminder about what a blessing a good escape can be sometimes.
Can you tell us about any of your upcoming projects? You bet! I’m putting the finishing touches on THE EMBERS, about a group of women who try to save a summer camp from going under, but really save themselves and each other. It’s good. It’s really good.
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