Friday, January 15, 2010
A few days ago a very excited me blogged about my experience with reading The Widow's Season and my unexpected response from the author of the novel, Laura Brodie, when I emailed her on a whim of reading high. She agreed to be interviewed by me- a very kind and unexpected surprise considering I have no professional interviewing experience and only a little blog to showcase the results.
You can purchase The Widow's Season at many retailers such as Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Also, be on the lookout for her upcoming memoir, Love in a Time of Homeschooling, which tells the story of her experience with homeschooling her daughter. You can read the first three pages on her website and I recommend this article which makes the upcoming memoir sound very promising.
1. It is an honor to be given the opportunity to interview you. Could you please give a little bit of background as to who you are?
I’m a writer, teacher and mother living near the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginia, and I divide my time between raising three lovely daughters, teaching English at Washington and Lee University, and writing all kinds of books—nonfiction, fiction and memoir.
2. Upon reading the biography on your website, I discovered that the protagonist, as well as other characters, shared a lot of details unique to you. Is it safe to say that events in your life or personal characteristics were used as inspiration?
Yes, that’s a fair statement. My mother and grandmother were widows, so I knew something about their experience before writing this book. Also, my main character is a part-time English professor just like me, who lives in a town called Jackson, Virginia, which is a thinly-veiled version of Lexington, VA, where I have resided for the past twenty years. I named my “fictional” town Jackson because Stonewall Jackson is a major figure in Lexington’s history.
Also, the husband in my book disappears in a kayaking accident, which was based on an event in my husband’s life. He once went solo-kayaking on a flooded river and realized half-a-mile downstream that the water was too dangerous to paddle. Luckily he was able to get off the water before reaching a life-threatening rapid like the one I describe in my book.
3. What inspired you to write The Widow’s Season?
When I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, many years ago, I wrote a dissertation on the representation of widows in English literature. My favorite chapter from that project was on husbands who fake their deaths in order to spy on their wives—something that comes up a lot in seventeenth-century drama. I loved the voyeurism in those plays, and that got me thinking about works where a husband’s ghost watches his wife, or conduct books where widows were taught to imagine that their husband was watching. The idea behind those books was to inspire widows to behave, and not take new lovers who would gain control of the old husband’s money.
I wanted to write a modern variation on that old theme, but one where you couldn’t quite decide whether the spying husband had faked his death, was a real ghost, or was just a figment in a grieving woman’s mind.
4. Did you learn anything while writing The Widow’s Season? Perhaps about yourself or the people you relate with?
I learned how hard it is to write a complete novel, and then find a publisher. The Widow’s Season took about six years of part-time work to complete, with constant revision. Once I had a polished manuscript and found my wonderful agent, Gail Hochman, she still wanted me to revise for several more months. Then it took a year to find an editor who would take a chance on an unknown author in this terrible publishing market. Jackie Cantor, at Penguin’s Berkley Books, told me that she had planned to read two pages of the manuscript and reject it. She had no intention of buying the book—but the opening pages made her want to read more and more, until she was hooked. She’s turned out to be a great supporter of my writing.
5. Your novel has a lot of allegorical situations. How is this significant to the storyline?
I’m not sure which situations you have in mind, but my use of the holiday seasons is somewhat symbolic. Because the novel is partly a ghost story, it opens at Halloween, and the plot follows holiday themes. Events related to babies occur at Christmas, a key love scene takes place on Valentine’s Day, and the book closes near Easter, which plays with the idea of the widow resurrecting her own spirit.
6. What would be your advice to a writer trying to get published?
If you love writing, make time for it every day and keep working on your craft, regardless of whether you are having any luck getting published. It can take years and years of work before you’ll have a book that is ready for the world, or find an audience that is ready for you. (And it’s often not a matter of talent so much as marketability.) In the meantime, keep sending stories, essays or poems to magazines, journals, and contests—agents are always scanning those places for new writers.
I’m a believer in contests because The Widow’s Season won the Pirate’s Alley/Faulkner Society’s 2005 Award for Best-Novel-In-Progress, which gave my project a big boost. That big contest supports new writers, (even high-school aged) in all genres, so it’s worth checking out on Google. Also Poets and Writers magazine is a valuable resource for all writers because it includes contests and conferences in every issue, along with great articles about the profession.
7. What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? Do you have any short-term or long-term goals?
I hope to be writing novels for many years to come. Writing The Widow’s Season was a great imaginative pleasure, and readers have been very enthusiastic, so now I’m working on a second novel for Berkley. It’s in the early phase, and won’t be available for a another few years.
8. Can readers expect any new work by you?
Yes, I have a new memoir coming out this April with HarperCollins, called Love in a Time of Homeschooling. It’s the story of one year when I gave my ten-year-old daughter, Julia, a break from her public school routine. She was burnt out on all the homework, worksheets and desktime at school, so for one year we wanted to try something different. But there are a lot of emotional ups and downs that come when a mother and daughter are bound together at home for long time. The book is filled with funny stories and ugly moments, and provides information about homeschooling for readers who might want to try it. I admire lifelong homeschoolers, but I’ve never wanted to homeschool all my kids full-time. Still, I think a lot of parents in America dream of crafting an ideal education for their kids, if only for a year or two.
9. And lastly, do you believe in ghosts?
I’ve never seen a ghost and I’m not sure that they exist, but I think the world is full of possibilities, and what really happens after death is a great mystery. I will say this—my husband, who is a very pragmatic guy with no clear belief in ghosts, once saw something in our house that he could not explain. We live in a hundred-year-old farmhouse in a hilly, rural setting and one night my husband saw a white figure pass through the main hallway. It wasn’t scary, and it might have been a trick of the light, but he viewed it very clearly. When he shared what he’d seen, my first response was: “Why’d you have to tell me?” I’d rather not know if our house is haunted—fortunately the experience has never been repeated.