Friday, May 2, 2008

Louisiana Saturday Night with Bev Marshall

I'm very excited to share my in-depth interview with Louisiana author Bev Marshall. We all know time is precious to a writer so I appreciate Bev's detailed response to my many questions. Don't skip a word. There's wonderful, interesting info in every sentence.

1) Tell us a little about yourself and that wonderful little town of Ponchatoula. I've been there once and thought it was so charming.

I grew up in Mississippi and married my high school boyfriend, who became a pilot in the USAF and we’re still happily together forty-three years later. During his military career we moved from coast to coast to England, and after retirement, landed back here in Ponchatoula, where he began a new career as a pilot for Delta Air Lines. We fell in love with the town ten years ago. There’s Old Hardhide, the caged alligator downtown, antique stores, crafts and art galleries, and the famous Paul’s CafĂ© where we often eat great country lunches with the colorful locals. There are deer in my backyard, egrets, blue herons, a red-tailed fox, rabbits, and the requisite Louisiana armadillos. Perfect setting for writing and I hope to die here someday . . . but not any time soon.

2) What do you write and tell us about your path to publication.
I began my writing career in non-fiction, penning lifestyle pieces for various military publications. After earning a Masters Degree in English with a creative writing thesis at Southeastern Louisiana University, I began publishing literary short fiction. When one story I was writing grew longer and longer, I realized I was writing a novel and that as a gregarious storyteller this was the genre for me. My three published novels are WALKING THROUGH SHADOWS, RIGHT AS RAIN, and HOT FUDGE SUNDAE BLUES. The path I traveled on to publication is a serpentine one, winding from encouragement from Tim Gautreaux here in Louisiana to Douglas Glover and Nicholas Delbanco at The New York Summer Writers Institute to my agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM in New York. I met my first editor at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, published with MacAdam Cage and moved to Random House for books two and three.

3) How much do you know about how your books are going to be structured, who the characters are, and what the plot is going to be, before you actually start writing, and how much comes to you during the writing process?
My father, a great storyteller with a prodigious memory, trades stories for food. I feed him pot roast and he tells me a story or gives me an idea for a character. Some of my stories, however, begin with a voice, a story idea that is vague and often not the story I write. I’m not schizophrenic (at least I’m not on medication) but I hear the voices of my characters and rely on them to tell me their stories. Although I have a concept of how the story will end, it oftentimes isn’t the ending I supposed. I love the surprises that continually arise during the process of writing. I’m a reviser junky. I wrote WALKING THROUGH SHADOWS from one point of view, that of the young girl Annette, and then threw out over 200 pages and rewrote it from the points of view of five different characters, so I learned early on that imposing a specific structure on a book isn’t the best course for me.

4) Who are some of the writers who influenced you?
Like most English majors I fell in love with the literary giants like Shakespeare, Dickens, Proust, Faulkner, Porter, Welty, and so on, but I was most influenced to write my stories when I began reading the work of contemporary Southern writers like James Wilcox, Ellen Gilchrist, Clyde Edgerton, Lee Smith, Kaye Gibbons, Barry Hannah, and Larry Brown. And today I’ve fallen in love with writers Silas House and Ron Rash, and too many others to name who are writing fine fiction today.

5) If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
Were I a beginning writer today I’d deliver the same advice I gave to myself all those years ago: Read read read, believe in myself and my work, be dogged, and most importantly, have the courage to write through the fears and the angst that writers encounter when they write from their hearts. I tell my students who receive rejections that rejections are only opportunities to try again. Hope cures disappointment.

6) Do you have or have you ever had a critique group? What advice do you have for those writers who live and breathe critique groups?I’m still in the writers group I co-founded nearly twenty years ago. I value my critique group and rely on them for revising, support, and fun, too. Through the years I have learned that a group needs guidelines to function successfully, and having seen many groups fail for various reasons, I wrote a guide for writers groups entitled, SHARED WORDS, which includes advice for maintaining a successful book club as well. I will be selling them on my web site as soon as I can find the time to set that up. For the moment they are only available at Bayou Booksellers in Hammond.

7) Do you blog? How does blogging fit with your writing and has it helped you market your writing? Can you tell if your website/blog has raised your profile as a writer?
I admire faithful bloggers and wish I were one of them. I’m a lackadaisical blogger on our writers group blog, The St. Tammany Writers Group, at blogspot, and I write journal entries on my own website. I learned that the journal on my website receives the most hits there, but as to whether it raises my profile, I haven’t a clue. I enjoy posting and that’s primarily why I do it. I feel connected to my readers and other writers each time I post a new entry.

8) What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
Hmmm. I don’t think I have a definitive reply to this. Each novel I’ve written, as well as my short fiction proposes different difficulties at various points in the process. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a book, a character just begins to frustrate me, and I’ll find myself feeling bored with him or her. The beginning of a piece is always easy, and generally the euphoria lasts about half way through. I don’t believe in writers’ block; I do believe in writers’ breaks. That’s when I catch up on the laundry. I’ll add here, that I positively detest having to sell the book once I’ve gotten it published. I love tours and book signings, meeting readers and talking about books, but nowadays the publishers expect the authors to come up with all sorts of gimmicks to sell books. For me promoting is the hardest part of the writing life and the part I like least.

9) What piece of writing advice have you been given that you still bring to mind each time you sit down to start a new book?

10) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you have a job outside of writing?
I am the writer-in-residence at Southeastern Louisiana University, but I only teach one class and that’s my joy and inspiration. Occasionally, it interferes with my writing time as do appearances for speaking engagements and readings. I attend book clubs, conferences, and festivals routinely and enjoy interacting with other authors and readers, but when I’m working on something, I become manic. I write all day every day, and even if I’m not at my desk, I’m writing in my head as I go about my day elsewhere.

11) What is the last book you read and why did you read it?
Amy Tan’s SAVING FISH FROM DROWNING. I wanted to read it when it first came out and then forgot about it. When I was browsing the shelves in our local bookstore, I came upon it and was thrilled to rush home and begin reading. I admire Tan’s talent to blend humor and pathos in her work. I’d also add here that one of the bonuses of being an author is that I have the privilege of reading a lot of Advanced Reading Copies of books that haven’t yet been published, and there are some great ones coming out this year like MOON IN THE MANGO TREE by Pamela Binnings Ewen, who’s a Louisiana writer, too.

12) If you could change the publishing industry in any way, how would you change it?
There are so many things wrong with the publishing industry today I hardly know where to begin. I would like it to revert to the days of yore I suppose when I imagined a tweed-suited, pipe-smoking editor who invited authors to lie on the leather couch in his office while he read their manuscripts before taking them out for martinis and fine dining. Today the sales team drives the train of publishing and it rolls through the big chains and arrives at destinations where decisions are based on nothing more than profit and loss statements. The days of nurturing first time authors and their careers are no longer and authors have become the products as well as their work. Sadly, I think most editors feel the same as the authors, but the monoliths who own the publishing houses are the ones wearing the conductors’ caps. I’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful editors and great support from my publishers, but I know scores of other authors who cannot say the same.

13) What professional organizations do you belong to and why? Or how have they benefited you?
I am a board member for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans, and a member of The Hammond Regional Arts Association, and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. They have all benefited me in various ways. As I said earlier, I met my editor at the TWF, but just as importantly, I’ve also made numerous friends over the many years I’ve attended the festival, and the same is true for the other organizations to which I belong. The contacts for a career are an obvious advantage, but that is less important to me than if I enjoy the members and believe in their goals. Organizations like these have become the last bastions of support for the arts and I’m proud to be an advocate for creative work in all mediums.

14. Tell us what's new on the horizons for you, etc.

My personal goals right now are to get SHARED WORDS out into the world via my website and to finish the novel I’m working on. It’s a sequel to RIGHT AS RAIN, working title, RAIN BEFORE SEVEN, and it’s set in the eighties and continues to follow the lives of the characters I fell in love with so long ago. It’s a great joy to work on this book. I also have a failed memoir about being a military wife during the Vietnam era which I may revise. I may also work on becoming a better blogger although I doubt I can ever aspire to the excellence on this site!

Thanks for the interview. I enjoyed answering the thoughtful questions you posed
Thank you, Bev! I'll bet you didn't enjoy answering all these questions half as much as I enjoyed reading your answers.


Erica Vetsch said...

I loved this quote. "I tell my students who receive rejections that rejections are only opportunities to try again. Hope cures disappointment." Very inspirational!

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Nice to meet another Louisiana author!

Great interview Jess & Bev.

Pamela S Thibdoeaux
"Inspirational with an Edge!"