Interview with novelist Martha Conway

Novelist Martha Conway is visiting today to tell us about her newest novel, a historical
fiction work titled Thieving Forest.
She’s in the
midst of a virtual book tour through Wow-Women on Writing’s The Muffin
Conway’s first novel 12 Bliss Street
(St. Martin’s Minotaur) was nominated for an Edgar Award, and her short fiction
has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Quarterly, Folio,
Puerto del Sol, Carolina Quarterly, and other publications. She graduated from
Vassar College and received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from San
Francisco State University. She has reviewed fiction for the San Francisco
Chronicle, The San Francisco Review of Books, and The Iowa Review. The
recipient of a California Arts Council fellowship in Creative Writing, she has
taught at UC Berkeley Extension and Stanford University’s Online Writers’
Welcome, Martha. Please tell us about
your current release.
My husband
describes Thieving Forest as “Little Women meets Last of the Mohicans.” It’s historical fiction, which is a
departure from my last novel (a mystery), and it follows five sisters when
their lives in pioneer Ohio are disrupted by an abduction. Four sisters are
kidnapped by a band of Potawatomi Indians, and the younger sister, Susanna,
goes after them. Meanwhile the man in love with Susanna—who is part Potawatomi
himself—follows as well. It’s a tale of survival and self-creation as each one
of these characters undergoes a kind of transformation as the journey
progresses. And it’s also a romance. Seth, the man in love with Susanna,
re-discovers his Potawatomi heritage, while Susanna transforms from a younger
sister nicknamed Princess to a woman who can fend for herself.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have five
older sisters, and I was interested in sibling dynamics. At the same time I was
reading a lot of quest or adventure stores — Patrick O’Brian and Charles
Frazier (Cold Mountain), to name a few—and wondering why there were never any
females who went off on a journey. I wanted to flip the genre. At first I
thought my protagonist, Susanna, would go off to California or Oregon, but when
I was doing research I found a book called “Tales of the Great Black Swamp.”
This swamp was in northwest Ohio, near Toledo, and it was huge —nearly the size
of Connecticut. I grew up in Ohio, and I had never heard of it! It’s almost all
drained now, but at the time it was a serious obstacle to travel. I wanted a
place that my characters could get lost in, and the Black Swamp seemed perfect
for that. And since I grew up in Ohio, the setting resonated for me.
Excerpt from Thieving Forest:
grasps the tree trunk in front of her with her bare hands, feeling for any
small holds in the rutted bark. Her mouth is so dry that it hurts. She can’t
see her sisters’ faces but wisps of their red hair, each one a different shade,
lift in the wind. Their black mourning collars and dark dresses bleed into the
color of the trees, and only Beatrice has a cap on her head. One Potawatomi
wrenches Naomi’s violin out of her hands and ties it up to the bundle of dead
chickens. Then he pushes her with the handle of a spade—their father’s
spade—and drives her and the others into the bracken and trees and the vines of
small, unopened roses that mark the edge of Thieving Forest.
What exciting story are you working on
I’m working
on the next installment of my Ohio trilogy, called The Floating Theatre. It takes place in antebellum America along
the Ohio River, which was the natural separation between the North and the
South. After being abandoned by her cousin, May Bedloe, a socially awkward
seamstress, gets a job on a ramshackle riverboat theatre and becomes involved
in the Underground Railroad.
When did you first consider yourself a
Very, very
early in my childhood. I loved to read, and from there it was a natural leap to
wanting to write. I liked writing on wallpapered walls if no paper was at hand,
much to the annoyance of my mother.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I’m not
sure I could write forty hours a week even if I had forty hours a week to
write, but I do write every day for two or three hours in the morning. I also
teach creative writing. Since I’m a very habitual person, I’ve found what works
for me is to make writing a daily routine. If it’s eight o’clock in the morning,
I should be writing.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
If I’m
feeling sluggish or blocked I eat a couple of chocolate-covered espresso beans.
That always gets the juice going again.
As a child, what did you want to be
when you grew up?
A writer!
Although I did go through a period in high school where I thought it would be
interesting to restore old paintings (I was given a back-room tour of the
Cleveland Museum of Art, and it was fascinating).
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
Just my
thanks for taking the time to read this interview! And I hope you check out Thieving Forest. I’m biased, but I
think it’s a pretty good read.
Thanks, Martha! Happy writing!

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