Ten Questions - OpenBook Toronto

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OB:

Tell us about your books,Twice in a Blue MoonandTending Memory.

MP:

Both books are works of fiction and deal with the places of the imagination.Twice in a Blue Moontells the story of two women separated in time by a century and a half, but whose lives intersect. Elizabeth Barnes is loosely based on an historical figure that lived in Eastern Ontario and was known as the Witch of Plum Hollow. The modern character, Aley Pierce, is a writer. Both women become objects of witch-hunts because of their unique talents.

Tending Memorytells the story of Michaela, a teenage runaway who envisions herself to be a gypsy, although she doesn’t look like the gypsy traveller she claims to be. Pale as the moon, body rake-thin, hair cropped short and the colour of corn silk, she weaves with gypsy ardour the tale of her Rom heritage and her olive-skinned parents. The book explores the themes that home is not a location but a place we carry within us, and that factual truth alone does not tell the full story of who we are.

OB:

Do you have a specific readership in mind when you write your books?

MP:

Any reader who enjoys how a story is told, the language, the rhythm of the words as much as the plot. I write for people who like to be challenged by ideas and are willing to step outside the norm when reading.

OB:

How did you research your books?

MP:

My mother and grandparents often told me tales of the Witch of Plum Hollow when I was a child, and many of these anecdotes are woven into Twice in a Blue Moon. It is family lore that we are descendants of Elizabeth Barnes, and so the stories took on special meaning to me. Although the genealogical connection is dubious, I grew up believing I had a bit of magic in my veins. I always read a lot of non-fiction to prepare the back-story of a novel, and to be able to include the details that make a story “feel” authentic. Gypsy history and culture are central to the plot and themes ofTending Memory, and forTwice in a Blue MoonI read accounts of the witch trials in Europe and Salem. I also attended a Winter Solstice ritual, had my fortune read, and tried my hand at water dowsing.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MP:

I love to escape into the imagination, and can do that anywhere I can take my laptop. Noise doesn’t bother me. A coffee shop is one of my favourite places to write. However, I also enjoy isolation and take personal retreats two or three times a year where I can focus for long stretches of time on my writing. My ideal writing environment is a cottage setting near water. I love to go kayaking, and the surroundings of rock, trees, and lake give pause between the writing – they allow me to work out the next step of story and reenergize.

OB:

What was your first publication?

MP:

My first fiction publication was a short story called “Tea” in a small magazine calledPotboiler.

OB:

Is there one book you think everyone should read?

MP:

That’s hard to say, since everyone’s taste in books is so different. I love the writing style of Jeannette Winterson, and my favourite book by her isWeight, a modern retelling of the myth of Atlas and Heracles.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

MP:

Order in the Universe, a collection of short stories by Canadian writer, Veronica Ross.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

MP:

My first novel,The Shunning, has long been out of print, and I went online to search out used copies. I came across a message board where a woman listed the novel as a “fave” book she had read as part of her OAC English class many years earlier, that she has never been able to forget how much she enjoyed it. I found it gratifying to know that a story I had written more than a decade earlier had made such a lasting impression on a reader. It speaks to the power of words.

OB:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

MP:

I had two mentors early on in my writing. Both have since died, but I still hear and heed their advice. Donald Gordon would tell me to “Cut! Cut! Cut!” when it came to the editing stage of a piece, and George Cadogan would tell me to listen to my muse.

OB:

What is your next project?

MP:

I am currently working on the revision of a novel tentatively called Dead Girl Diaries. It is great fun to write, and touches upon perhaps one of the greatest taboos in our society, our deaths. The main character, Maxine, is a “ghost” of sorts, reflecting upon her life but also looking ahead, journeying the strange and unexpected geography of the afterlife.

Marianne Paul 2012