The Short Story
I was born in Menomonie, WI, and moved to Madison when I was 16.
And then I went west and landed in Palo Alto. I now divide my time between Madison and the San Francisco Bay Area. Lots in common - vibrant, progressive. Lots different - weather!
I love weather. I gain energy from thunderstorms, and peace from snow. I like walking in summer rain as much as walking on a foggy ocean beach. I like sunsets on the lake. I like weather.
Fall in the Midwest, that's my favorite season. Colored leaves crunchy dry beneath my feet. The clear air, the last sharp smells of life.
I like dogs. When I was afraid of dogs, I was bitten twice. If you like dogs, they won't bite you.
The Cozy Story
It began on a warm summer night in a little northern Wisconsin town. I was conceived in a butcher shop (which my parents had converted to an apartment) and, nine months later, born at 3:43 AM on April 20th, a curiosity from the start because of my full head of thick curly hair.
My first identity crisis might have come when I was three weeks old when my mother officially changed my name from Antoinette to Lucy. She didn't want her girls to have boys' names - my sister Charlene was Charlie, and I had become Toni. I easily grew into Lucy and never minded a bit.
My first social crisis came when I was expelled from nursery school, a small collection of select students who were observed by a college education class in a university setting. My older sister had been the model child so Mrs. Smith eagerly awaited my arrival. But I was a naughty girl, and within weeks Mrs. Smith called my mother to come and get me--I was running wild through college classrooms and having much too much fun. My mother argued that I was a teaching example for the college students--they needed to learn what to do with a child who needed more stimulation than the standard painting and numbers. Mrs. Smith was shamed into taking me back.
My first physical crisis resulted from a climb to the top of the maple tree in the park across from my childhood home. Thinking on it now, it was probably a kind of neighborhood hazing. I was maybe seven years old. I remember gleefully climbing, branch by branch, wanting to please the neighbor kids, and after the long climb to the top, looking down at their faces, feeling jubilant. But that’s when I realized that I had to also climb down, where they waited, judging. I sent a tentative foot out to find a branch and felt empty space. I froze. The faces below me blurred. I recall my father climbing the tree to save me, but my mother tells it differently--I fell out of the tree, unconscious. When you’re a writer, everything--real or imagined--is grist for the mill. The importance of this experience--whether or not I remember it correctly--has become for me both the fear of heights and the embarrassment of not measuring up. When I want to write something from a fearful point of view (physical or social), I can put myself back up in that maple tree and look down.
My first "claim to fame" was when I was about six or seven, sitting in my parents' kitchen with three siblings while my dad fiddled at the stove mixing chocolate. We were the taste testers for what Dad (Charles Sanna) soon patented as Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa. It was the first hot chocolate to be made by adding only water, and it launched a new grocery category. Somebody had to do it!
My life dream was born when I was eight. While my mother set my freshly shampooed hair into pin curls one Sunday evening (I have naturally curly hair, but controlling my natural wildness was an ongoing endeavor), I watched a TV host interviewing a novelist. It was then I realized that writing stories was something one could DO (instead of growing up to be a snake charmer or a Pope, for example), and from then on, writing became my life focus.
My first publication came in fifth grade. The poem was about Patrick M., whom I considered my boyfriend from the beginning. In first grade he walked me home from school then sat in the crab apple tree in my back yard telling me the same dumb knock knock joke every day and of course I laughed to let him know how clever he was (Knock knock. Who’s there? Boo. Boo who? Crybaby!). In second grade he carried my books, and in third grade he threw snowballs to get my attention while letting the other boys know he was one of them. But in fifth grade he gave a Valentine card to Patricia and I wanted him back. On St. Patrick’s Day that year, when he came into Mass with green hair, Sister Consuela took him by the ear and escorted him from the Church and told him not to come back until he was blond again. By the time he arrived in the classroom, I had written a poem, “Beware of the Square with Green Hair.” I remember every word of it, but I won’t bore you here. The point is that the good Sister caught me passing the poem to Patrick, and the next thing I knew, it was published in a teacher’s magazine. My first publication, caught in the act.
When I was in seventh grade, Sister Suzette challenged each of her students (about thirty of us) to write a book. I wrote a book of poetry and it won first prize. Maybe the good Sister rewarded me because by then I had decided to become a cloistered nun. People who know me today don’t believe it, but it’s true. It may have been the influence of Audrey Hepburn in the movie, “The Nun’s Story.” I saw it as a romantic escape from my mundane life. Patrick had moved on and was popular with the eighth-grade girls--the ones who wore makeup. I needed to find my own way, a way to be alone and write. I pictured myself in a cell for life with no human contact. Meager meals would be shoved under the cell door. Of course the back of my cell would open to a large private park where I would commune with the animals, as did St. Francis of Assisi. I mailed away to every religious order for information and seriously studied the pamphlets. My big sister, then a high-school freshman, coached me against joining the convent; she said I should wait until I got into high school and things would look different. She was certainly right, she always was. By the time I got to college, I was toying with the idea of being a cage dancer.
After graduating from St. Norbert College with a BA in English literature, I pursued graduate studies in English literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Companies would come to campus to recruit, and I diligently secured interviews with every one that had anything to do with publishing. But this is what happened: The recruiters would look at my engagement ring and my resume (stating I went to a Catholic college) and say: “We can't hire a girl who is going to quit in nine months to have babies.” That’s the way it was back then (not all that long ago).
Because my fiance, Pete, had moved back to his hometown of Barrington, Illinois, I went to Chicago to look for a position. I visited every publishing company in Chicago, and each one asked me to take a typing test. I had fast fingers (maybe from years of classical piano) and I easily aced the tests. I was rewarded every time with an offer to be part of the typing pool (this was before desktop computers). I declined again and again. When I arrived at the doors of the prestigious Scott Foresman Publishing, then the largest textbook publisher in the world, I had a strategy. I purposely fumbled the typing test. Hah! What did they do? They sent me to the editorial department to take a proofreading test. Next was an editing test. Then I was invited to meet with the head of the literary arts department. This was all in the span of a few hours. I was sent home with an assignment to evaluate a specific story for seventh-grade readers, create a vocabulary list, and write student exercises with teacher notes. I raced back to my Madison apartment and quickly completed the assignment. Leo Kneer, the head of the department at the time, used to say that I was the fastest person he had ever hired. Lucky for me, I was replacing a "girl" who had just quit because she had a baby. Go figure!
The downside was that they wanted me right away. I was one semester short of finishing grad school at UW Madison. I gave up my goal of pursuing an MA to take the dream job. Life is a series of decisions. Don't look back.
Eighteen months later, Pete and I followed my two sisters to Palo Alto, California - where Charlie was pursuing an MA at Stanford University as a Stegner Fellow, and my younger sister was working at Stanford doing research in life sciences. Soon I was happily employed at an energy think tank. But in the late '90s I caught dot.com fever and worked for a number of start-ups. After the tech bust, I spent a few years doing time with big high-tech firms and soon had enough traction to go out on my own. Along the way I’ve written my share of executive speeches, annual reports, international marketing plans, trade press articles, and more marketing collateral and messaging platforms than I want to remember. But it's been a fun ride.
Through it all, I've managed to squirrel away time for my personal writing--poetry, short stories, magazine articles, and nonfiction books. With the launch of my debut novel, THE CHERRY HARVEST, my dream of living as a novelist began. I'm back in Madison, working on the next one.
I recently had lunch with a friend of mine who told me how at peace I look. Yes, I am at peace. I feel blessed. New opportunities continue to open up for me. I have wonderful friends and a loving family. I have my health and a passion for life. I feel I can now focus on the dream that the eight-year-old girl in the pin curls had so many years ago. I’ve learned that being naughty is not such a bad thing. I continue to push limits, and if you don’t like it, I don’t care. I'm living as I wish, doing the writing I love, and loving life.