|Posted by Alana Woods on May 5, 2013 at 5:15 AM|
Today I have as my guest one my fellow Goodreads Boomer Lit group members. I’ve just reviewed her first book CONFESSIONS OF AN INSTINCTIVELY MUTINOUS BABY BOOMER and wanted to find out more about her and what prompted her to write her memoirs.
Alana: Marsha, I’ve got to ask—Confessions of a mutinous baby boomer ... Why mutinous?
Marsha: It's funny, Alana, that your first question is about mutinous. I can't tell you the variety of responses I've received about that word! One reviewer said, ‘This book may have the most intriguing title of any other book I've read in the past year’, and another started off her review with, ‘At first I was put off by the title, since Boomers are by definition a mutinous generation’, but went on to say how much she liked it! I suppose what she said was exactly my point: Boomers ARE by definition a mutinous generation. One of the meanings stated in the dictionary is ‘refusing to obey or submit to control’. Well, that sounds like Boomers to me! I thought the word that stood out was instinctively, but I guess not!
Alana: Instinctively hardly registered on me. It was definitely mutinous that piqued my interest. I’m a Boomer myself but I have to say that as a member of Goodreads Boomer lit group I’m learning so much about what being one actually means.
Seeing how we’ve dived straight into the book let’s stick with it for a while. Let’s talk about the parables. How did you remember all of those episodes in your life that you’ve written about? Did you keep a diary?
Marsha: Good question. Yes, I did keep a diary from time to time, especially when significant things happened. For instance, I wrote about the process of birthing our son, Matt, a week or so after he was born. When I dug through old papers and found what I had written I was a little taken aback by how accurate it was concerning what I had experienced physically and emotionally. I don't think I could have written that chapter on such an earthy level had I not documented it so soon after it occurred.
Alana: I can so relate to that. Just a week ago I was at the birth of my newest grand-daughter. What an experience! It immediately became one of the precious moments in my life. Sorry, I couldn’t resist telling you that.
Marsha: How lovely for you and congratulations. I'd like to suggest to you that you take the time to write down exactly how you felt while it's still fresh! Of course there were many stories I shared that I had little or no documentation about and I'll tell you how I remembered. I went to this beautiful spot on top of a mountain and would sit, staring off into the clouds. I would let my mind wander back and when I remembered something I'd jot it down on a legal pad. For instance, the sequences that were about some of the extraordinary things I witnessed when I was a young operating room nurse and also in the ICU. I didn't want to write those chapters until I could walk through those doors again and look around each room—the sounds, the smells, all of it. That took being by myself, in the quiet, to unearth those memories.
Alana: What beautiful photos! Did those episodes have significance at the time? Was it immediately apparent that they were life lessons?
Marsha: Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. I think there are moments in everyone's life when something happens and it's like a two-by-four just hit you across the head—you know it's significant! But there are other situations that it takes the passage of time to see that one seemingly unimportant moment was really a defining moment after all.
Alana: And when did you start thinking of them as parables?
Marsha: That came about with the tomato plants. When the incident that I call The parable of the tomato plant happened I went right inside, sat down and wrote it out long hand that very day. That was about a year and a half before I began writing my book, but it was ‘the seed’ for what was to come.
Alana: I query in my review the revealing of other people’s personal details. It’s something I guess you can’t avoid if you’re being candid in a memoir. How did you tackle that?
Marsha: I would never use someone's actual name and reveal personal details without their permission. There were miscellaneous people in my life, particularly when I was a young woman, who I either didn't want to use their real name or couldn't locate them to ask permission. And these people were not those who I based the stories around—they were more incidental characters. It's really my family and a few close friends that we're talking about here.
Marsha: My husband and long-time business partner, Bob Rector, who is also a writer, told me to ‘keep it honest’ from the beginning, and he stuck by me on that all the way.
I'll tell you a quick story that best sums it up, Alana. You recall that there is one chapter about our son when he was a teenager. It was a tough chapter to write and it might be tough to read, I don't know. But Matt is now a grown man and very happily married.
Alana: So how did you approach it?
Marsha: I sent the chapter to him before including it in the book, to get his permission to be as personal as I was about what we had experienced during that troubling time. After he read it he told me, ‘I was holding my breath, wondering if you were going to pull your punches or not. I was so proud of you that you didn't. Yeah, mom, include it. It might help some other parent going through the same thing’.
Alana: Wow, how wonderful of him.
Marsha: That meant SO much to me. As you can see, I've had a lot of encouragement about keeping it honest ...
Alana: You’ve obviously had some tough times in your life but you’ve overcome them. You come across as an indomitable spirit but do you see yourself that way?
Marsha: Ha! Yeah, I guess I do! The photograph of the little stinker of a girl on the cover of my book is me!
(The photo of adult Marsha below is the one she considers her current 'Mutinous' photo.)
Alana: It’s a fabulous photo. I love the look on your face.
Marsha: I was born with that attitude and frankly it's been a lot to live up to at times. I expect myself to be world-conquering material and when I miss the mark I'm terribly disappointed in myself. To answer your question, yes, I do rather think of myself as indomitable, but often I'm not. It's part of what my book is about really, making sure that you remember how you overcame tough times so that you can pull from that part of yourself when tough times come again.
Alana: Well, you’ve certainly done that in spades. What prompted you to write the memoir?
Marsha: Actually it didn't start out as a memoir at all. Initially it was going to be a series of vignettes about remembering life's lessons. I've been in the unusual situation of experiencing the normal side of life as a wife, mother and daughter in a middle-class neighborhood, while at the same time living BIG dreams! Among other things Bob and I traveled the globe doing something that had never been done before: producing an original play, Letters from the Front, that entertained American troops and their families around the world for fifteen years. Quite a contrast!
Alana: I’m sorry to say I’d not heard of the play until reading about it, but I Googled and found the website. What an undertaking is all I can say! Oh, and congratulations on seeing it through and it being so successful.
Marsha: Thanks so much, Alana, and as you could tell from reading the book, it took years of persistence before it was successful, which gave me a keen awareness of what it takes to overcome life's obstacles. I wanted to share what I had learned in the process. However, when I presented the first draft to my in-house editor (Bob!) he told me that he liked it very much but thought it was going to leave the reader unsatisfied.
Alana: How so?
Marsha: He explained that I had introduced so many extremely personal issues in my parables and then moved on too quickly. For instance, there is an early chapter about my mom being sick with breast cancer. Bob said that I needed to let the reader know what happened to my mom and how it affected me. He told me to connect the dots in my book, to give it a narrative flow as an overall story, even though each chapter can basically stand on its own. At that point I had to rethink the entire structure of the book, but I'm sure glad I did. The second draft was twice as long as the first and very close to how the final book turned out. Certainly a memoir in a way, but with a different twist I think.
Alana: Definitely a different twist. And there’s nothing quite like good advice. Given all the parables you write about why did you choose the tomato plant as the book’s sub-title? Why not Letters from the Front, which dominated your life for so long?
Marsha: Because my book started with the tomato plant story. About 18 months after I wrote it I found myself about as lost as I had ever been. We had been hard hit by the economy, like so many other people, and I was feeling pretty beat up by life. Not indomitable at all! I found the hand-written pages of The parable of the tomato plant tucked away in a drawer, next to where I would sit in the den and look out at my garden. When I read it I cried, smiled at the silliness of life and felt more hopeful. There have been very few changes to that parable from when I first wrote it. You see, I didn't write Letters from the Front, my husband did. I produced it. When I read The parable of the tomato plant that day I realized that I was a writer and it was time for me to write a book. I suppose I felt I had to leave it in the title to honor that moment. (I took a picture of the very first tomato that popped out—it was a cherry tomato.)
Alana: And a magnificent one it is! You now live in the mountains and I have a vision of you in a little log cabin surrounded by mountains and fir trees? Am I close or a way off track?
Marsha: Well, you were pretty close concerning where we lived when I wrote my Mutinous Boomer book! It was more of a cottage than a cabin, there were initially fir trees, but they were taken out by a tornado! We recently moved to a lovely spot very near the mountains but with a good deal more room than the cottage!
Alana: Do you have any projects on the go at the moment. Another play perhaps, another book?
Marsha: I will definitely write at least one more Mutinous Boomer book and I have an outline for another writing project that I've been working on. I am a writer now, there's no going back from that.
As far as plays, Letters from the Front is the love of my life in that category! There is interest in touring it again, which I would love to do. There is no better or more appreciative audience in the world than our troops and their families. We shall see.
But, Alana, since you've read my book, you know I try not to write a script for my life. Try is the operative word here! My personal goal is to allow myself to feel the wind change, God's wind in my life, and let it fill my sail and take me where it will. It sure has taken me to some amazing places so far!
Alana: Marsha, I can only agree with you, it certainly has. May I say it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you.
Marsha: Thank you, Alana. The pleasure was mine.
Take this link to my review of Confessions of an instinctively mutinous baby boomer
Kirkus Reviews of Confessions
Categories: Alana Woods interviews