I’ve led a storied life in more ways than one. I’ve gone places and done things that astound me, looking back on it. Where did I ever find the courage? The willpower? Much of it I would advise against, were I to go back in time and have a heart-to-heart with my younger self. But good or bad, it was all grist for the mill, so I regret none of it. (Though I feel fortunate not to be haunted by compromising photos of myself online, having come of age in the pre-Internet era). The beauty of fiction is you can reshape past events however you please. I wasn’t popular in high school but got to hang out with the cool kids when I wrote for the phenomenally successful teen series Sweet Valley High in the early years of my career. Trust me, you wouldn’t have wanted to live through some of what I lived through, but hopefully you’ve enjoyed the novels that came of it.
If you Google my name, you will see my Cinderella story: welfare mom to millionaire. Every word is true, though the reality is I was a starving artist for a much longer period of time than I was on welfare. With two young children to support on my own, I often had to forgo buying office supplies and stamps to send out the articles and short stories I wrote on spec, in order to put food on the table.
The lean years were the making of me, though. When I wrote my first adult novel, Garden of Lies, the story of babies switched at birth, one of whom grows up rich, the other poor, I knew what it was to go hungry. I knew what it was like for Rose putting on the skirt she wears to work every day, ironed so many times it’s shiny in spots. Garden of Lies went on to become a New York Times bestseller, translated into twenty-two languages. I attribute its success in part to my having suffered.
I’ve also had my share of romantic ups and downs. More grist for the mill and the reason my fictional characters tend to be of the folks-this-ain’t-my-first-rodeo variety. I’ve been married more than once. At one point, I was married to my agent. His client list boasts some notable names, and just recently I was struck by the realization that I had dined with two of the famous people depicted in the movies The Theory of Everything and Selma: professor Stephen Hawking and Coretta Scott King, respectively. How extraordinary! I witnessed history and saw it reenacted on film.
I met my current and forever husband, Sandy Kenyon, in a Hollywood meet-cute, which seems fitting given he’s in the entertainment industry, as a TV reporter and film critic. He had a radio talk show in Arizona at the time. I was a guest on his show, phoning in from New York City, where I live. He called me at home that night, at my invitation, and we talked for three hours. It became our nightly ritual, and when we finally met it was love at first sight, though we were hardly strangers. We married in 1996, and he became the inspiration for talk-show host Eric Sandstrom in Thorns of Truth. Though, as Sandy’s fond of saying, he never killed a coanchor while driving drunk.
I am blessed to have loyal readers from all walks of life and all four corners of the globe, ranging in age from fourteen to ninety-four. One, a prisoner doing time on a drug offense, sent letters commenting intelligently on my novels, which I was happy to know were available in prison libraries. Shortly before his release, he sent me a Mother’s Day card. I had written a few times in response to his letters, but would hardly describe myself as a pen pal, let alone a surrogate mom. I think he regarded me fondly because he felt he knew what was in my heart, which I pour into the pages of my novels. That is the greatest compliment of all and the best part of what I do for a living, worth more to me than fame or fortune.
I hope to enjoy many more years of doing what I love. Stay tuned.