"I was a archaeologist for many years and I would move from project to project and I had a few different chapters in my life that I shared with my friends," McLaren said during a phone interview from outside a bookstore in Edwards, Colo. "I would write these letters and made 30 to 50 copies and sent them to people I wanted to keep in touch with. This was before Facebook."
Over time, McLaren found out that two or three of her friends would throw a party when they received one of her letters.
"They would invite their friends over and read the letter at the dinner table," McLaren said with a laugh. "I developed a following of people who didn't know me who thought my letters were funny, and that planted a seed in my head that said maybe I could turn this around and, instead of paying for postage, maybe make a profit."
She began writing her first book, "The Church of the Dog," a story of redemption and rediscovery, more than 14 years ago, and, just a few weeks ago, released her third novel, "How I Came to Sparkle Again."
McLaren will be at Dolly's Bookstore, 510 Main St., on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 2 p.m. to do a free book signing.
"When I decided to begin writing, I was an art teacher at the time and had a room in the back of an old drafty house where I would paint and do stained glass," McLaren said. "I thought, what would happen if I approached a book the way I approached my painting? Which meant I wouldn't necessarily finish it and if I did, I wouldn't keep it. It would all be about the process."
So, McLaren sat next to the fire and started to write.
"I had so much fun that first day that I began writing while I was in the bathtub," she giggled. "'Church of the Dog' was written in the bath.
"I did it to entertain myself, and figured it was no Hemingway or Harlequin Romance, but someone would probably like it," McLaren said. "I went to the library and the librarian set me up with a book called 'How to Get Happily Published.' And I sent off my book like I was going for the lottery."
She didn't expect any results, but the book was published and McLaren began her career as a writer.
Still, McLaren was not really a stranger to writing and had developed an appreciation for it when she was a teenager in Enumclaw, Wash.
"I had 30 pen pals all over this world when I was 13," she said. "I wrote the letters by hand on that really thin paper we used for air mail, and there was just nothing like getting a letter in the mail from another country in an envelope with all these exotic stamps. It was like getting a present."
Writing those letters also taught McLaren how to do rewrites.
"If something interesting would happen to me, I would retell the story to my pen pals, and in doing so, I would distill the words down each time, which made my writing tighter," she said. "I feel sorry for the kids today who will never have that pen-pal experience."
Between "Church of the Dog" and "How I Came to Sparkle Again," the author penned "On the Divinity of Second Chances" in 2009, which tells about a family whose individual members re-create themselves, which gives the family a new outlook on life.
"There has been a lot of growth in who I am as a person between the first book and my last book," McLaren said. "'How I Came to Sparkle Again' is different than my other two projects."
The story is about Jill, who lives in Austin, Texas, and after finding her husband in bed with another woman, decides to head out with her friend Lisa to the ski slopes. She meets a cast of unique characters who ultimately help her find inner peace.
"At the time I started the book, I was living and teaching on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in North Central New Mexico, and that was a tough gig," she said. "Sometimes I would pull into the parking lot and cry because I didn't know if I could make it through another day."
About that same time, McLaren, whose life companion is her dog Big Cedar, rediscovered skiing and bought a season pass at Wolf Creek Resort in Colorado.
That's when things in her life began to change.
"First off, I felt one million times happier," she said. "Secondly, I met a group of 10 men on the slopes who took me under their wing and taught me to ski better. They became my little lewd brothers."
As McLaren got to know these skiers, she found herself intrigued with their life stories. "One had served time in San Quentin and experienced a lot of tragedies," she said. "He was so much deeper than I thought ski-bum guys were.
"Anyway, I developed an idea about a woman in crisis who finds herself in a ski-resort town who is saved by a group of unlikely angels," she said.
Within that story emerges the writer's fascination with unconventional family forms.
"I've never married and I've never had kids, so I thought it would be interesting for this woman to come about finding a family in an unconventional way," she said. "That's how the story emerged."
McLaren has already completed her fourth book and is looking forward to starting her fifth, but splits her time as a third- and fourth-grade teacher in Easton, Washington.
" the time I get home I'm frazzled, so I write on the weekends and during summer vacation," she said. "It's hard to juggle those two worlds, but I've found that when I don't write I get funky and depressed. When I do write, I feel happy, inspired and completely sane.
"So, I think people are born to do things, and I was born to be a writer, but, then again, I don't know, because I really don't know how the universe works," McLaren said with a laugh.
Author Kaya McLaren will be at Dolly's Bookstore on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 2 p.m. to sign her new book "How I Came to Sparkle Again." Admission is free. For more information, visit www.dollysbookstore.com .