When did you decide to become a writer? As a result of some tragedies in my life I joined a creative writing group at a local fine arts center here in Atlanta. I didn’t have any intentions about writing except as an outlet for grief. The first exercise we were given was to describe following someone. I immediately connected with what some writers call a “widowed image,” of a night I was on patrol and a woman jumped out in front of my squad car, ran up to the window and ask me to help her find her man whom she had “cut.” I received a lot of encouragement about the piece and that woman’s fictional counterpart, as well as her fictional family, become central characters in what would eventually become a novel. So I guess I never really “decided” to become a writer. I just wrote.
Which authors do you most admire? In no particular order: Flannery O’Conner, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Marilynne Robinson, Kate Atkinson, Richard Price, Steinbeck, Dickens. Wait! The list will go on forever so I’ll just stop with the above.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? I am very proud of my son and his family. They are living their lives according to a high moral and ethical standard and are really fine people. But I don’t credit myself with that but I hope I made a contribution to their ability to think ethically. While I was on the police department I helped to establish some programs in the department that I was very proud of. We began a team of officers called the H.O.P.E. Team. They were a team of officers responsible for establishing relationships and acting as liaison to members of Atlanta’s homeless community, attempting to bring people into services, facilitating their coming out of homelessness. Additionally, we developed a training program for law enforcement that was designed to teach officers skills to interact with people who have a mentally illness and are in crisis, teaching de-escalation skills.
Describe the perfect day. Waking up at home in bed with my funny, smart, generous husband, we sometimes can get our big ol’ dog, Quinton, to come up between us and have a snooze for a few minutes. We get up and have our coffee and breakfast. Then I would write for two or three hours and the work would be flowing. And on a perfect day my son, my beautiful daughter-in law and my grandkids, Gabriel and Sadira would come and we’d eat lunch and go for a hike. Or if we were at the ocean we’d go to the beach and swim. Then Rick, my husband, and I would have a whiskey and I’d smoke one or two cigarettes. I love whiskey and cigarettes and on a perfect day they would be non-toxic and good for your health. Then Rick would prepare dinner as he usually does, being the cook in the family, and he and I would eat, listen to music and we talk. If we were traveling we might take a brief evening walk with Quinton, and if we’re at home we’d read or watch a documentary about music or a movie in which older people are the heroes.
Who are your heroes? Obviously Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has had a huge impact on the lives of Americans as well as the rest of the world and I cry whenever I go to the King Center and Museum and see the wagon that carried his body through the streets of Atlanta and the small suitcase he carried to Memphis. Marilynne Robinson for her fiction that bravely and intelligently tackles religious themes. And the men and women in law enforcement everywhere. And my father.
If you hadn’t gone into law enforcement, what career would you have chosen? Ethnomusicologist, like Zora Neale Hurston or Alan and John Lomax. Or a writer of non-fiction, writing about American music like Gary Giddins, Elijah Wald, Peter Guralnick, or Robert Palmer.
What advice would you give an aspiring author? To show up almost everyday and to write before one’s internal censor takes over; write and then come back and edit.
What words do you live by? Be kind.
What makes you laugh? The unexpected, when something seems out of whack, some incongruity but then resolves in an unexpected way, delightful surprise, which can be found in the profane as well.
Describe yourself in five words. Intense, curious, persevering, communicative, focused.