Interview with novelist Ann Goethe

Novelist Ann Goethe is here today and we’re
chatting about her new southern literary fiction, Goner.
Bio:
At
age fifteen, Ann Goette won second prize in the Louisiana State Poetry Contest
with a cowardly poem about racism. She kept writing. Her first published poem,
as an adult, appeared in the Southern Review.
From
age twenty to about forty Goette was Distler. Early works and two plays, Coming
of Age
and Something in the Air Feels Like Tomorrow, were published
under Distler. In 1990, Goette’s wonderful, brilliant (former) agent, Sandra
Dykstra arbitrarily changed Goette to Goethe during the whirlwind-bidding
auction for her first novel Midnight Lemonade.
Among the five or six serious bidders were Little Brown and Company, Delacorte,
and Hyperion (a brand new publishing house). The latter two offered an almost
unheard of amount of money for a first novel by a forty-five year-old female
nobody. Goethe went with Delacorte and, to this day, suffers seller’s regret.
Goette
to Distler then back to Goette and now Goette and Goethe. Notice, all this name
changing doesn’t much come up for male writers; no whining intended.
Ann
Goethe/Goette/Distler’s poetry has been published in such journals,
anthologies, and magazines as: The Lowdown,
Outerbridge, Inkwell, Clare, Third Wednesday, No Business Poems, Reflections
on the New River
, Arts Alive!, and Bark Magazine. Finishing Line Press
published her collection of Poetry, RIVERBOW,
in 2015.
Her
stories and essays have appeared in The
Crescent Review,
The Broken Plate, Love After 70, Southern Distinction Magazine, Half
Tones To Jubilee
, Slipstream, Rockhurst Review, Earth’s Daughters, The
New Orleans Review
, and ISBN.
Her novel, MIDNIGHT LEMONADE, was a
finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discovery Prize.
She
wrote the libretto for TRAVELS, an opera
performed by Opera Roanoke, she has also written more than twenty plays for
young people. The National Association of Secondary School Principals made COMING OF AGE, Goethe’s musical about middle
school children, into a film.
Goette
is active with the ReNew The New River committee, and the Giles Early Education
Project, she was recently named “Outstanding Volunteer” for her region. She is
a member of the performance group Web Six. She resides in Virginia, with her
husband (of another name), on a peninsula encircled by the ancient New River.
Welcome, Ann. Please tell
us about your newest release.
About
GONER: If your relatives weren’t the people you thought, would it change who
you are? Or does family myth serve a larger purpose to cement us together?
Novelist
Ann Goethe—whose first novel Midnight Lemonade was nominated for the
Barnes and Noble “Discovery Prize”— explores the relationship between family
myth, shadowy truths, and reality in Goner.
As
four sisters gather at their father’s deathbed, childhood memories come flying
back, along with secrets from their enigmatic mother’s past. And since where we
come from says a lot about who we become, will these secrets bring the family
closer together or tear them apart?
What inspired you to write this book?
Examining the
custody of a story: who owns a story and how the story might change by virtue
of that ownership, has always fascinated me. Also I grew up in a Deep South caught
in the throes of great change. During my own school years black and whites
attended different and very unequal schools. Black people couldn’t eat in white
restaurants or use white bathrooms. The laws allowing those injustices were
struck down in time for my two younger sisters to attend integrated schools. (Despite
all the battles, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, segregation remains
tenaciously and covertly enshrined, not only in the South of course, but
Southern racism is more prideful, traditional.)
My sisters and I were always acutely aware of how we fit and did not fit into
our beloved South. Though he was too kind and gentile to be a racist, our
father embodied the Old South with his story telling and romanticizing of The
Civil War. Our cerebral Northern mother was fast talking, fast moving and
extremely impatient with the pace of change (or lack thereof) in the
‘backwards’ south. My sisters and I–both as natives and misfits–dipped our
oars deeply into the waters of change. We were witnesses. In 2016, after two
years of writing only poetry, I woke up on a New Year’s morning with the urge
and resolve to lay all of the above down as a novel.
Excerpt
from Goner:
These
eager soldiers were no different than her father had been when he left for the
“war to end all wars.” He had been one more bright, optimistic farm boy off to
see the world and to defend innocent women and children from the evil Hun. He
had returned home a different person, dark. Was Margaret’s father really the
only dad who talked to his children about the last war? His stories of a
comrade’s skull top sheared off, brains exposed like a bowl of cereal, and of
another soldier trying to pack his own intestines back into his shattered torso
were illustrations in Margaret’s childhood nightmares. Didn’t these boys—waving
to get her attention, extending their clammy hands for rum Cokes and beer–know
about the mud and gore, the boredom and horror? If they knew the stories, then
they probably thought that this time
would be different. Naturally, each generation thinks it is unique, and so the
wheels keep turning. Boys go off to war, expecting to return as full men,
brides ascend the altar sure they will be happier than their mothers—who had
expected the same.
                                  from page 3 of goner
What exciting story are you working on
next?
The
November elections!
When did you first consider yourself a
writer?
I was 14 and it
was my third day at boarding school. Our brilliant, and intimidating, English
teacher arrived in class enthusiastically waving an essay I had turned in the
first day of class. She read it aloud to the class, praising every few lines,
laughing out loud, and repeating lines she especially loved. I was a writer!
When she handed the essay back to me, she had given me an F, alas. The paper was marked with A+++ for content & originality, F for penmanship, F for
spelling F for neatness. Still, for
the first time, I knew I was a writer.
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?
For over twenty
years I rose each morning at 4 to grab a couple precious hours of writing time before
jobs and children got their ‘pound of flesh.’ There have been periods—since the
publication of my first novel bought me the time to write full-time—that I
have, indeed, been a full-time writer, such a dream-come-true. Yet, the
richness of having full days and nights unfold with unlimited writing time, and
no one to answer to, came to feel excessive, selfish. Gradually, I’ve scattered
those hours like coins into a wishing well and find I spend much more time on
politics, community organizing, and sticking my nose into the lives of my friends,
my children and their offspring. A day that I write all day makes me so happy,
and now is so very rare.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
If I wake up
with a writing idea, my self-imposed rule is that I stay in my nightgown until
the idea is put down in a rough draft. The best thing about the writing
profession is the dress code.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
From before the
time I could read, I knew I wanted to be a writer. My mother was a journalist
and my father was a storyteller; words were always an addiction and a wonder
for me. When I was about ten I veered and wanted to be a veterinarian and
a writer. After seeing a vet take our dog’s temperature, I decided that I would
just stick to writing.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
I live beside
the ancient New River in Giles County Virginia. Our County is beautiful, filled
with amazing nature and good neighbors, but many of our people are poor; there
are dark pockets of despair here. A small group of us decided that the best way
to help change that culture of despair was to begin with our very youngest
citizens. We think we have been making a difference. All the income from Goner goes to the Giles Early Education
Project.
Thank you for visiting today!

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