You are the professor of creative writing at University of Evansville.  Working with college students, what are the biggest challenges?

Teaching isn’t just a “day job” to me. Teaching goes hand in hand with writing. You go in and you talk about what you love – great literature and writing. I try and teach literature that has changed my life – usually the great writers such as Faulkner, Keats, Browning, Dickens, Welty, O’Connor. I only assign students writing exercises that have worked for me. Often I test what I teach against what I do. But when you feel passionately about anything, you feel you can never do it well enough. That’s probably the biggest challenge – one could give 150% of oneself to teaching and have nothing left.

What are the biggest rewards?

If I stayed home alone all day and wrote, I would be very productive and very very…strange. I love teaching. I get to go to school and be among smart people and talk about the very things that I love: writing and literature. When I come home, I have even more ideas, more notes, and more love for writing, literature, and life. I can think of no other profession that I would love as much.

You are also an award-winning author, having published six novels (Sources of Light, Cashay, When I Crossed No-Bob, How I Found The Strong, In My Mother’s House, and When Warhol Was Still Alive).  How did you get into writing fiction?

When we moved from Mississippi to the Chicago area I was in the fourth grade. Back then, people didn’t move around as much as they do now. My classmates heard my accent and made fun of me. A lot. So I grew very quiet. That’s when I started taking notes. I made a little notebook out of notebook paper and colored yarn and recorded the weather, my overly dramatic feelings, what people said, everything. Writing became a habit. Once, my sister stole this notebook and read funny sections of it out loud to me and then to my parents. I was mad at first, but then I saw that they were entertained. After that, I started reading to them from my notebook. Years later, in high school I won a prize from Scholastic Magazine for a story called “Bees.” I got $50 and a gold pen with my name on it. I was officially hooked.

After college, I wrote for Glamour magazine. I wrote the Entertainment pages. Ultimately, I wanted to write stories that had a shelf life longer than a month.

Where do you get your inspiration when writing?

Inspiration comes from everywhere and everybody. It’s a matter of staying open to life.

What kind of reader reaction have you gotten – both from your students and from teachers and other adults?

I’ve been lucky to get some wonderful reviews and responses. I especially love getting mail sent to my publisher or emails from readers. It’s very gratifying.

What’s coming next from your literary world?

I’ve finished a novel-in-stories. I’m working on a nonfiction book based on my research in Hungary.

A college professor, successful author, mother and wife…  I don’t get it.  How do you find enough hours in the day?  Any time-saving tips you can share with us?

I stopped trying to “balance it all” years ago. Once you give up, you can relax!  Sunday is my cooking day and I tend to freeze a lot for dinners during the weekdays. This year, I also re-discovered the Crockpot!  I usually work out early in the morning, before the day gets started, so I can get everything I can out of a workday.

I get a lot of help from my family. We all have chores. My son and husband keep me set up and plugged in with the latest technology, which keeps me in constant contact and makes everything easier, especially when I’m traveling. And having in-house techies is priceless.

Favorite pastime – what do you do to unwind?

I love to cook, garden, swim, and walk our dog, Samantha. I also like to have dinner with friends and listen to my son play the drums…when he’s downstairs and I’m upstairs.

Do you have any tips for young writers?

Get out, be curious about everybody and everything, travel and take notes, and read read read.

If you read, you are most likely alert to the world on the page. Every day notice everything — in lines at the grocery store, at the airport, at school. Read alert. Live alert. This is the bumper sticker I wish I had on my car.

Do you have a female mentor?  Or do you have a female that you serve as a mentor for?  What is that process like?

Ruth Whitney, the former editor in chief of Glamour magazine was my mentor. She was a formidable woman from Wisconsin who was smart, down-to-earth, and decisive.

I suppose I am a mentor to all my students. There is no formal process. I simply spend a lot of time with students, in and outside the classrooms. Our Department of Creative Writing at the University of Evansville makes a point of empowering young writers – urging them to submit their work, go to readings to meet our visiting authors, setting up internships, and taking them to conferences. We introduce them to as many people as we can – editors, publishers, writers and graduate school directors so that they can figure out how they want to live their lives. I think mentoring should be about giving your time and providing opportunities.

Final words…  Do you have any parting advice for young females wanting to find success in their area of business?

Try and stay healthy. Travel. Observe and take notes. Take up a sport, even it’s just gardening. If you make thinking and creating a part of your routine, you get ideas all the time and something is bound to happen.