A companion blog to my memoir, "Sting of the Heat Bug"
Mary Carroll Moore is a well-known artist, author and teacher and a former member of Shepaug River Writers, where she helped critique chapters from my memoir Sting of the Heat Bug. She has something like a dozen books to her credit, with more to come. Mary, welcome to my blog.
Mary, somewhere along your multifaceted career you must have been confronted with a choice: painting, writing or teaching. You chose all three, and more. In fact, your novel, Qualities of Light (Spinsters Ink, 2009), is richly informed by your knowledge of painting. You used your teaching skills in your instructional manual, Your Book Starts Here (Riverbed Press, 2011). Would you encourage would-be writers to pursue other disciplines in order that they might enrich their writing?
I find that switching between different art forms gives me a break and also brings me new energy. When my writing goes dry, I often garden or paint and let the ideas simmer. Often I will get a flash of what to do with a sticky passage in my novel, as I work on a painting. This speaks to novelist Dorothy Allison’s suggestion that writers need “necessary boredom” to write imaginatively. I think that forcing the words out is a mistake, at least for me. My creative brain needs to explore randomly as well as linearly.
You’ve also had some major life challenges that you address in How to Master Change in Your Life: Sixty-seven Ways to Handle Life’s Toughest Moments (Eckankar Publications, 1999). Would you like to talk about that?
I had cancer twice, my business went bankrupt, and I’ve been through divorce. All these events humbled me, took the chip off my shoulder. That made me write better. I became more compassionate toward my characters. I also saw how life traumas transform people more than happy times do.
Did your health challenges directly lead to your eight titles in the food and health genre, including Cholesterol Cures (Rodale Press) and Healthy Cooking (Ortho Publications)?
Actually, these books came before my health crises. I was known as an expert in the natural foods field and was approached by several publishers to write books and a syndicated newspaper column. That led to more books.
You’ve been writing for more than 40 years. How did you begin? Who encouraged you?
I wanted to be a painter, not a writer. I loved to read, though. When I came back from studying cooking in France for a year, I was asked to write a monthly food column for a magazine. I discovered how much I liked to write. The food writing supported me for a decade or so, then I moved on to other nonfiction and fiction.
You have helped thousands of writers by teaching them a technique of constructing a visual storyboard for their novels and memoirs. Please explain the W-shaped storyboard: whose idea it is, what the highs and lows of the W mean, and why it works.
The W storyboard is used by many writers. It’s the simplest template to test a story structure. I believe the W image originally came from Joseph Campbell, but it’s built on the idea of three acts, which started back with Aristotle, who said that human beings crave the emotional catharsis of beginning, middle, and end. It’s been used in more movies than I can count.
You offer a variety of services for writers: editing, coaching, workshopping, etc. How can people take advantage of your expertise, whether online or in person?
You can visit my website here for a full menu. I offer coaching to writers in three ways: full manuscript evaluation at any stage, where you get a report of structure strengths and areas to rework; a weekly retainer program for those wanting regular coaching on a manuscript-in-process; and 12-week online classes where I teach basic storyboarding, chapter building, and whole-book revision.
Above is one of your paintings. Do you write when you’re not painting, or do you teach when you’re not writing, or do you garden when you’re not teaching? In other words, what comes first?
Depends. Right now, it’s high summer so I garden in the morning, teach in the afternoon, and write in the evening, if I can. With lots of breaks in between. I spend a week doing nothing but outdoor landscape painting in August, then work on those painting starts all winter in my studio.
Are you working on a book now? Can you talk about it?
I’m working on a sequel to my debut novel, Qualities of Light. Working title is Search & Rescue. It’s about a small plane crash in the Adirondack Mountains of NY state that changes a community, and especially the Fisher family, who decide to shelter the pilot, a fugitive wanted for manslaughter. The family believe she’s innocent but they risk their lives trying to help her.
Who are some of your favorite authors, and why?
Too many to list here, so I’ll mention just a few recent ones. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell; loved the weaving of six separate stories. The Storied Life of A.K. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, for its marvelous characters. I enjoy the Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, set in a small village south of Montreal. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and anything Jhumpa Lahiri writes. Same for Alice Munro. I’m listening to an audio book of Laura Lippman’s And When She Was Good which is very good.
Writing is a personal and often lonely occupation. How do you deal with that?
Gardening. Being with family and neighbors. Reading. Teaching—my students give me lots of literary companionship.
What is your writing routine like? What times of day or night do you write, and for how long before you close the lid on the laptop?
It varies. I like best to write first thing in the morning, but that’s also prime gardening time, especially in hot weather. Second choice is afternoon when it’s too hot to be outside. Sometimes at night, I’ll get energy to revise a chapter. I exchange chapters with three different online writing groups, small (2-3 people each). I also take classes regularly, to keep myself learning. Right now I’m taking an online class in Flash Fiction and in the fall I’m signed up for a Screenwriting course online. I think it helps my writing momentum to have to produce each week for these classes.
What is your most important piece of advice for writers?
Believe in yourself. Find ways to support that belief. There’s a million messages to stop writing, that it’s a waste of time, that nobody cares. Your voice is important. Get it out into the world.
Amen. Thanks for taking the time for this, Mary. Good luck with your writing, and with all you do.