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E.B. Moore, Author of An Unseemly Wife, Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. E.B. Moore is the author of  An Unseemly Wife. Here is what E.B. had to say about reading, writing, and how family stories inspired her writing.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I came to writing by accident.  After college and art school, I worked as a sculptor hammering and welding large bronze sheets, but the body can only put up with so much, before it gives out.  Mine did, and returning to college, (at the same time as my youngest daughter), I stumbled into another creative outlet— poetry, always with narrative, mostly with a farm theme mirroring how I grew up.

Finishing Line Press published my twenty-six page chapbook, New Eden, A Legacy, the chronicle of my Amish great grandmother’s catastrophic trek west in a covered wagon. Readers wanted more of “Ruth’s” story, and much to my horror, a novel seemed the only answer. After years more sweat and schooling at Grub Street Writers, I finished An Unseemly Wife.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

An Unseemly Wife by E.B. MooreStoking the furnace is an important part of writing.  You’ve got to eat.  The biggest problem is limiting the time spent surfing the frig.  I’ve been known to rationalize eating as research.  Pickled pigs’ feet appear in my book, so to get the exact flavor and the feel of its gelatinous substrate housing the meat, I needed a sample.  Hard to find unless you’re in Amish country. I went to Lancaster PA, and more appealing things beckoned: sour cherry pie, pecan, shoofly, custard, whoopee pies, not a pie at all.

Reading is actually more useful, serving as inspiration when I get bogged down.  I keep special books on a handy shelf so I can read snippets.  Sometimes just a paragraph or two is enough.  These are at the top of my pile: March, by Geraldine Brooks, Grapes of Wrath, Lord of the Flies.

My day starts early.  4:00am is the sweet spot; I’m sharpest then, and it limits interruptions.  The only problem:  when my friends go out to dinner, I’m ready for bed.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

When I was a kid, my mother told me her family’s story often.  One was how Aaron bundled his pregnant wife Ruth and their four littles into a covered wagon, and against their Amish faith, joined the dreaded English heading for free land in Idaho. On the trek, they faced Indian attacks, pestilence, and prejudice leading to betrayal, and they were left alone on the trailside fighting for their lives.

Mother wanted to write this story, but a brain tumor took her memory before she wrote more than a cryptic list of incidents.  Living with me after her operation, she’d ask over and over to hear about Ruth.  My kids would cover their ears and run from the room. “No, no, not the wagon of death again.”

In the end, the characters nattered at me until I wrote them down. And yes, my life has changed.  I’m now a slave to new characters who intrude whenever it suits them.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I’m reading The Violet Season by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.  I came across her historical novel because she wrote a wonderful blurb for my book.  Hers is a captivating story of family trials as they struggle for control of a violet farm.  I had no idea there was such a thing as farms that raised only violets.

Kathy brings me into the scenes with intriguing details and dynamic conflicts as Ida tries to protect herself and her daughter from the dictates of overbearing men who should be protecting them.

Since writing my own book, I read more carefully, watching how the author develops character and plot.  It’s harder to get consumed by the story, but when I do, as with Kathy’s book, it’s a thrill.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?

The most surprising discovery came as I questioned my uncles and cousins for their slant on the family catastrophe.  It turned out, reports of my great grandmother’s unseemly behavior (resisting her husband’s demand to leave the farm and put the lives of their children at risk) had come down only through the female side of the family.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Early on, men would have seen her message of self-reliance as reactionary, a message that would encourage women to disobey their husbands. Even my brother had been left in the dark.  My son, on the other hand, knows all.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

In the early morning dark, before I’m fully awake, ideas for scenes float in, and I write them on a pad without turning on the light. If I wake fully, the ideas will disappear.  Later, after breakfast I flesh them out on the computer. After lunch, comes editing time, quick before my eyes roll back in my head, and I hit the couch for a nap.  Then more editing takes the rest of afternoon until I no longer trust my judgment. Late edits usually have to revert to earlier versions.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

My title started out as A Wager Of Bones. Then my wise agent, Alice Tasman, persuaded me that at first glance, it didn’t tell enough about what was inside the book. I resisted, chewing on suggestions like a cow on a cud, but couldn’t gag them down.

‘Wife’ should be in the title, Alice said.  I stomped around in a most unseemly manner, and there it was, the word that described Ruth best.  When I told Alice, she jumped on it, and to my delight An Unseemly Wife was born.  Not wanting to lose ‘A Wager Of Bones,’ I used it to head the book’s third section.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

School reading was hell.  Words and letters traded places on the page and I stumbled along wondering why everyone else in first grade could zip through See Spot Run before I turned the first page. Being dyslectic made all of school a struggle, but outside reading, where speed didn’t count, took me on magical journeys along with Grimm, Kipling, Dickens, and many others.  Being a writer didn’t cross my mind until my fifties.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

I’m part of an amazing community of writers in the Boston area.  Many of them, too many to mention here by name, are instructors at Grub Street Writers and can be found on the Grub website, and others can be found on the blogs:  beyondthemargins.com  and  deaddarlings.com  Take a look, their books are varied and well written, something for everyone.

What’s next?

I’m finishing another Amish novel. The book follows Joshua (an alias I use for my grandfather, this story based on his escapades) as he escapes his father’s secret whippings. Joshua, eleven and alone, starts on a ten-year journey, descending into the underbelly of the American west, while his mother, at home on the farm, struggles to accept God’s will: her son is dead. But questions haunt them both, and the answers force them to confront the unexpected snake in their Amish garden.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

About E.B. Moore: E. B. Moore grew up in a Pennsylvania fieldstone house on a Noah’s ark farm.  The red barn stabled animals two-by-two, along with a herd of Cheviot sheep. After a career as a metal sculptor, she returned to writing poetry. Her chapbook of poems,New Eden, A Legacy, (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was the foundation for her novel, An Unseemly Wife both based on family stories from her Amish roots in Lancaster. E. B. received full fellowships to The Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo.  She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Out of Twenty: Martha Woodroof, Author of Small Blessings, Answers 6 Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  authorMartha Woodroof and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Martha Woodroof is the author of  Small Blessings. Here is what Martha had to say about reading, writing, and making a bucket list helped her publish her novel.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I got my first rejection letter at the age of twelve from the poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly. As it was a personal letter asking me to send in more stuff, I took that as encouragement. I’m both a college dropout (Mount Holyoke) and a grad school dropout (the University of Virginia). My first real job was as a teacher’s aide in a pilot Head Start program in Greensboro, North Carolina. Since the turn of the century, I’ve been attached to WMRA, the Little Public Radio Station that Can, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and actively freelanced for the NPR Culture Desk and for npr.org.

Before that – among a lot of other things, I co-owned restaurants, did a bit of acting, was fired as a magazine editor, hosted local TV talk shows and anchored the news, wrote a book called How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to a Real Life and a Pretty Good Time, cooked for an artist’s colony, was a country music disc jockey and a psychiatric occupational therapy aide, taught preschool, published a bunch of essays, was a morning drive-time personality on a tiny AM radio station, ran a college bookstore coffee shop, directed a college’s co-curricular programming, and failed to sell cars.

I finished an early draft of Small Blessings a couple of years ago and then put it away to work on some radio and non-fiction projects.
I’ve never been all that frightened of failing (which is lucky, as I have failed a lot). It seems to me we are each responsible for living our own lives kindly, productively and well; figuring out what we need and want to do with our time and our talents, and then going after those things full-tilt. With this in mind, when I hit my early sixties, I made a bucket list. As I’ve done (and failed to do) a lot of very different things, my bucket list had one item on it: Publish Small Blessings! I’d recently reread the novel, re-fallen in love with its people, and the one thing I really wanted was to land them a better gig than life in a cardboard box in my home office.

How Small Blessings came to St. Martin’s is a long, funny story involving some more major non-shyness on my part and (as any first novelist will tell you) a giant helping hand from the serendipity gods. One auction later, Small Blessings and I had fetched up at St. Martin’s, which is publishing heaven as far as I’m concerned.

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof - JacketAs to the stories I want to tell: I want to explore the lives of ordinary people who have ordinary problems and somehow things happen that bring out the best in them. I am, and have always been, an optimist!

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

My process is not very mysterious; it’s what I think of as the Just Do It school of writing. I get up every morning and write for a couple of hours before I do anything other than give my email a cursory look. As soon as I start to interact with the outside world, the inside of my head turns a pinball machine and I lose my ability to hang out in my imaginary worlds.

As to rituals and food: Coffee. Brought to me in continuous supply by my husband, Charlie, who is bucking for sainthood.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Q: Is writing fiction fun?
A: Yes!

What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?

I’m a long-term sober alcoholic/addict (hallelujah!). Sobriety has taught me that there’s always another chance. Or conversely, as the Doobie Brothers once put it: “You always have a chance to give up. So why do it now?”

If I had to be stuck on a desert island with only one book, it would be The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. In one particular letter, someone asks Ms. O’Connor (who was a seriously devout Catholic) what our duty in prayer is. Ms. O’Connor replies something to the effect that our duty is to figure out what we want and ask for it. The italics are mine, as I read this at a point in my life when I was not yet sober and so was really floundering. And even though I wasn’t even a person of faith at the time, I remember those words hitting me like a blow. Our duty is to figure out what we want…

At the time I was clueless about who I was, let alone what I wanted. That moment with Ms. O’Connor began an ongoing process of learning to accept myself exactly as I am in the world as it actually is. This has been both challenging and, at times, very scary. But – yowza! – it’s also, in my opinion, the most alive way to live. How can we possibly be happy without first being our real selves? So – back to Small Blessings – in general, I think I’m interested in writing about nice, well-meaning people who are willing to face the extreme challenge of accepting themselves as they really are and, in the process, learning what it is they really, truly want.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

My mother read aloud to me way past the age when I could read on my own. She was an English professor who loved literature, and she made Dickens and Shakespeare and Jane Austen as real to me as second grade. I think that’s when I fell in love with words and their power to tell other people’s stories.

Long years reporting in the NPR system only fueled this love. Stories allow us to inhabit the lives of people we will never meet (or who will never exist, in the case of fiction), try on their viewpoints, experience their struggles and triumphs, feel their emotions. I can truthfully never remember not wanting to be a story teller in some form or other.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

I love all my characters, and I was surprised by how much I missed their company once Small Blessings was finished. Writing Agnes Tattle (Tom Putnam’s mother-in-law) was a real blast, because she is so no-nonsense and straightforward.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

About the Author: Martha Woodroof was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Small Blessings is her debut novel. She lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley. Their closest neighbors are cows.