A Writer’s Process (10)

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Friends often lead to new friends. I’ve said that before in a post. Here on the blog with me is Martha Moore—author extraordinaire. I met Martha through a friend, Sharon Van Zandt. Martha is the author of Under the Mermaid Angel, Matchit, and Angels on the Roof.

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At the end of the post, I’ll announce a special giveaway. For now, let’s welcome Martha to the blog.

El Space: Welcome, Martha. And now, please share four quick facts about yourself.
Martha: When I was four, I found it exciting that an old tin door pressed into the grass could open a buried room protected from the Texas hot sun. I could follow my grandmother into this damp, chilly underworld and retrieve my favorite treats: watermelon pickles and sweet pickled peaches. When I was five, I met my first children’s author, Edna Walker Chandler, when she talked to my grandmother’s third grade classroom. I could not believe that this ordinary woman wearing a house dress and black shoes, had such stories buried inside her.

p-LighthouseWhen I was ten, I looked out our kitchen window one early morning and saw that during the middle of the night, my father had filled the backyard with boats, old peeling paint kinds of boats, including a wooden houseboat, or what seemed like a small house, to me. My mother cried at my father’s new venture, but my sister and I saw a playground. As a teen, I loved exploring caves dug into the rock at Palo Duro Canyon, a beautiful canyon that magically opens up in the flat stretch of land and sky near Canyon, Texas. Today, I still enjoy the magic of the unexpected. Recently, a giant sunflower miraculously sprung up in the midst of the zucchini plants in my backyard garden.

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El Space: Great stories! So what inspired you to write Under the Mermaid Angel?
Martha: When I was about eleven, the woman next door became my friend. My mother did not like her. She was too flamboyant and wild. Sometimes she drank beer and she stood at the ironing board ironing playing loud music on the radio. I was amazed that she even ironed her panties. She laughed a lot and she was funny. I loved her. Many years later, I began writing stories, or I suppose scenes, with someone like this woman and a thirteen-year-old girl named Jesse. At the same time, I was intrigued by a mystery at the junior high where I taught. The teachers were talking about a young girl who refused to remove her long coat even though it was very hot both inside and outside the school building. I wondered why a girl might find it hard to let go . . . of a coat . . . or perhaps something deeper. That girl became Jesse.

After a time, I realized the stories fit together, but something was not working. Why was Jesse the way she was—somewhat isolated and bereft of imagination? For example, she looked at the moon and saw it as a barren, vacant place. Her older friend, Roxanne, saw it as magic. I could not figure out Jesse’s problem. I heard a writer say to write about your deepest pain, the thing you could never tell anyone. I searched within myself and found a deep buried secret. That became Jesse’s secret, the thing she could never tell anyone. I let my own emotional “fuel” drive the story, the longing, the loss and the final emerging into a world where imagination can remember the past.

El Space: For those of you who are curious, here is the synopsis of Under the Mermaid Angel:

Thirteen-year-old Jesse leads a pretty boring life in just about the most boring place in the universe — otherwise known as Ida, Texas. She cannot forget the death of her baby brother seven years ago, and how she just couldn’t pray for him when he was sick. She never talks about it though, not even to her best friend, which is something she doesn’t have, anyway. But all that changes when Roxanne moves into the trailer next door. Thirty years old, with her fake fur coat, wild red hair, and romantic notions, Roxanne is a revelation to Jesse. Why has she moved to Ida, of all places? Their growing friendship will change Jesse’s life, giving her back a vision of hope beyond the mundane world around her.

Martha, have you noticed a theme in your writing? If so, how does it play out in Under the Mermaid Angel, Matchit, and Angels on the Roof?
Martha: I suppose all of my books have themes of loss, of love and friendship, of starting over. Jesse has the “hidden” loss of her baby brother which is fueled by guilt. Her friend, Roxanne, is kind of a flawed guide, leading Jesse into a better future. Like a female Moses, or a teacher, or parent, or any other kind of leader, it is a future that she, Roxanne, cannot enter herself. In the book Matchit, Matchit, the bad luck boy who got his name from his father’s good luck in a poker game, too has loss. He finds himself living for a time in a junkyard. Even in the junkyards of our lives, we can discover goodness. We may have to go back into a flawed life, but we can enter a future armed with treasures that give us a new start. Shelby, in Angels on the Roof, feels the loss of a father. She is disgusted with what she sees as a loony mother, who is obsessed with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. It takes a while and a guide in an old woman to help Shelby uncover a truth that reveals her mother’s love.

El Space: What excites you about middle grade fiction?
Martha: I do not have anything wise to say about middle grade fiction. I just like being on that bridge. The middle grade self inside of me feels alive and real. It’s about getting in touch with the deepest roots of ourselves where life feels most raw and painful and at the same time, most hopeful.

El Space: What advice do you have to help fiction writers step up their game?
Martha: A writer once told me to “write what you can write.” I think there is truth in this.

Thanks, Martha, for being my guest! Thanks also to everyone who stopped by to read this interview. I read and loved Under the Mermaid Angel (Laurel-Leaf Books), and I want someone to have a chance to get this book. So, here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m giving away a $15 Amazon gift card to a commenter who must agree to purchase this book. And yes, you must be a follower or a regular commenter of this blog. So, folks, the comment lines are now open.

UPDATE: Since I have two giveaways this week, I will announce both winners on Friday.

Palo Duro Canyon photo from tpwd.state.tx.us. Sunflower from Wikipedia.