Vail books: Author Kaya McLaren |

Vail books: Author Kaya McLaren

Besse Lynch
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyVail books: Author Kaya McLaren second novel is "On the Divinity of Second Chances"

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –Kaya McLaren, who will be in the Vail Valley Friday, never intended to publish her first novel, “Temple of the Dog.” She was just writing for the joy of the process, for entertainment rather than a finished product. Despite her intentions, it was published and she was soon on her way to being a rising star in the book world.

“On the Divinity of Second Chances” is McLaren’s second novel, which made it onto the InieNext List, a monthly selection of buzz worthy titles chosen by independent booksellers all over the country.

McLaren, who will visit The Bookworm Friday, says she has always been the type of person to grab at life’s chances. Though born in Washington state, she has lived all over the west, and has made attempts at a number of careers (and some just plain jobs) including, archaeologist, massage therapist and teacher. All of those experiences inform the work of her latest incarnation as author.

Vail Daily: Your first novel “Church of the Dog,” was originally published in 2000, and now you have a new novel, “On the Divinity of Second Chances.” How has your experience in writing and publishing a novel changed the second time around?

Kaya McLaren: In 2002, I had this idea about turning “Church of the Dog” into a screenplay. I read a lot of books about screenwriting and even met with David Darch, a screenwriter who won a Sundance award. All of that made me much more aware of good plot structure, and showing instead of telling.

VD: Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?

KM: It never occurred to me that I would write a book one day, but when I look back, I see that I always was a prolific writer. When I was 14, I had 30 people all over the world that I would write to. It was my way of escaping my small logging/farming town. In retrospect, that’s when I learned about revision, because I would write the same stories to all or many of them and became really good at boiling down a story to its best parts.

Later on, when I was an archaeologist, I would write illustrated Xerox letters to all the people I wanted to keep track of. I found out that two people would throw a party when they received their letter and read the letter at the party. That’s when I realized I could turn the equation around so that instead of paying Xerox fees and postage, I could get paid for writing.

I imagined my book would be more a book of letters about my crazy life. When I started writing “Church of the Dog,” it never occurred to me that I would finish it or share it. I started writing it by the fire on a snowy day when it was too cold to go into my back room and paint. My television was broken and I needed some entertainment.

I enjoyed spending time with my imaginary friends so much that day that I worked on it every night in the bathtub after that (no, not on computer). When I finished, I thought, well, it’s not for everyone, but someone might like it, so I went to the library and checked out “How to Get Happily Published” and followed her directions. I thought of it like a lotto ticket.

VD: Spirituality seems to play a prominent yet not overwhelming role in both of your books. How do you accomplish that balance?

KM: When it comes to spirituality, I truly don’t presume to know anything. I consider everything. I consider that anything is possible.

When things come up in my own life, I wonder, is that divine orchestration? Is that dumb luck? Did I make that happen with my own free will? Was that my destiny?

I don’t know how the universe works. There are times when believing that there’s divine order to it all brings me comfort – like I can relax and trust everything to fall into place. But there are other times when I look around at the suffering in this world, and I don’t want to believe there’s any divine order in that, so believing it’s all luck and what we do with it, that comforts me.

There are times when my will has moved mountains, and there have been times when my will was powerless.

VD: “On the Divinity of Second Chances” is set in a ski town in Idaho, much like our own Vail Valley. Is this a setting you are familiar with or did you have to conduct some research?

KM: I was a massage therapist in Sun Valley for a couple years.

VD: Each of the characters in “On the Divinity of Second Chances” has her own distinct quirkiness. How did these unusual personalities come to you?

KM: My characters are a blend of parts of me and parts of people I’ve met. For instance, Lightning Bob, the ranger who lives in a lookout tower and writes bad poetry is inspired by Lightning Bill (yes, that’s what it says on his name tag), who writes much better poetry and made me look through his hair to verify it was all there and without a trace of gray, so I could see for myself that yes, getting hit by lightning on a regular basis keeps him young.

I had friends that lived in a treehouse, so that’s where I got the idea for one of my characters living in one. I used to cross country ski a couple miles to a grange hall where I would drink wine and tap dance to Van Morrison with a couple women, one of whom had been in a group called “the Thunderellas.” How could I not use that?

And the two cardinal rules of gift giving – 1. Thou shalt giveth his wife no gift with a power cord and 2. Thou shalt giveth his wife no gift associated with cleaning directly or indirectly in any way – are compliments of my father, who came up with those gems after giving my mother a vacuum cleaner for Christmas… twice.

My life is very, very quirky, and I see the humor in it. These unusual personalities don’t come to me as much as they simply are me. Ha!

VD: What is your writing process like? Do you start with a singular idea, or do you have a plot in mind before you begin?

KM: I start with setting and what it is I want to say in the big picture. The characters come to me next, and the plot comes to me last. I struggle with plot, because frankly, I don’t really like problems. I’ve been an elementary teacher in some tough places, and I just think the world has enough problems without me making up some imaginary ones.

VD: Are you working on anything new at the moment?

KM: I turned my third manuscript in last January and will be rewriting it this summer. It takes place in a Colorado ski town in winter. There’s lots of ski culture. You’ll love it. It’s called “How I Came to Sparkle Again.”

I’m also working on my fourth and fifth now, one set on a winery and goat ranch near the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, where I worked for three years, and the other set at a summer camp. The camp where I worked when I was in college was about to go under, and this group of women, mostly in their 50s, 60s, and 70s rallied to save the camp. I returned one summer with them as a volunteer and ran the teen program.

There’s a story there somewhere – in all the turning points we all had at camp that were significant enough to make us care enough to come back and ensure the opportunities for those turning points were available for other young people.

Besse Lynch works at The Bookworm of Edwards. E-mail questions or comments about this story to

What: Meet and greet with Kaya McLaren, author of “On the Divinity of Second Chances”

Where: The Bookworm of Edwards

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Cost: Free.

More information: Call 970-926-READ or visit

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