Today I have an exclusive interview with the wonderful author Maryanne O’Hara! You can read my review of her novel, Cascade, that I posted yesterday by clicking HERE. After the interview, there’s a paperback up for giveaway, so don’t miss out!
Hi Maryanne! So happy to have you stop by Oh, for the Hook of a Book today and offer some insight into you and your writing. We are excited to have you…how has everything been going for you?
Maryanne: Thanks for having me! Life has been very busy, especially since the paperback released on May 1, but it’s all good. And it’s spring! So yes, all is well.
Erin: Wonderful news, and I think in Ohio we’ve completely went from winter to humid summer! But it’s so nice outside, let’s have a sit under a shade tree with a tall glass of iced tea and discuss!
A: Originally, I wanted to write a short story about artists who painted for Roosevelt’s New Deal arts projects in New York in the 1930s. I am fascinated by that decade—there was so much uncertainty, so much social change, so much drama.
Q: Have you always been a fan of history, or do you feel your book is more a look into society and human nature and that was the catalyst?
A: I do love history but yes, I am primarily interested in human nature. Cascade just happened to be a 1930s book. The next novel dips into the 50’s, 60’s, and 70s, but primarily takes place in the present. Or so I think! It’s only partly written, at this point.
Q: Art is a big part of Cascade as your protagonist must choose between love and passion. I love art myself. How do you feel art fit into life at the turn of the decade? Do you feel artistic pursuits were more highly respected than now? Why?
A: The reason I first became interested in this time period was because I had seen an exhibit at the National Archives in DC, in late 1998 calle A New Deal for the Arts. I loved that our government had, in the thirties, decided that it was just as important to put artists to work as it was to put bridge builders to work. I also loved that for the first time, our government said, “art is for everybody.” As for artistic pursuits being respected—it’s up and down, but fortunately there are always people who care about art.
Q: How do you feel that women’s artistic endeavors were viewed at the time and what women trailblazers did to overcome that gender issue? How did you address this in your book?
A: Woman are still trying to overcome the gender issue. Read Meg Wolitzer’s “The Second Shelf” essay for more on that: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/on-the-rules-of-literary-fiction-for-men-and-women.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 In Cascade, I tried to show the times as they were. Women were respected painters, but there was always the modifier—in the Jackson Pollock movie, at one point Pollock says to Lee Krasner, “You’re a damn fine woman painter.”
Q: Describe 1930 Boston in your own words. What of that did you try to nestle into your book? How does it compare to today’s city?
A: Boston has always been a scrappy sort of city, and unfortunately corruption comes and goes and never completely goes away. In Cascade, I reference the fact that the governor gave jobs to his Boston voters and bussed them out to the country, rather than give the jobs to the people who were being displaced.
Q: In your book, you write about a fictionalized town based primarily on several small, real towns that were flooded in the 1930s by state engineers causing disasters? How did you research this? Handle the topic? And do you think this would ever happen today?
A: The history of the Quabbin Reservoir has been well-documented so I had lots of source material. In fact, these drowned towns happened all over the country, all over the world, so it was also easy to fictionalize my town, which made writing about it a lot more freeing. As for whether it would happen today—you can’t get much more recent than the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China, which was completed in 2012, and displaced over a million people. Earth is facing a water crisis, so who knows what will happen in future?
Q: I love postcards! I saw on your blog the various postcards you write about and feature as a theme…I especially liked the story of the postcard your publisher found on e-bay and your eerie discovery. Can you talk a little about that particular card for my readers? Thrilling! Also, what makes you love post cards so much and do you think it is a lost art and method of communication?
A: One day, I took a ride out to the Quabbin Reservoir and got stuck behind an antique maroon Ford and it seemed a bit spooky—a maroon Ford makes an appearance in the pages of Cascade. Much later, after I’d finished writing the book, and my agent sold it, Penguin’s art department was working on designing the cover. They originally thought it would be good to use old postcards in the design. They had acquired some old cards randomly, from eBay, etc. One of them portrayed a maroon car! Cool coincidence, BUT what they’d sent me wasn’t the whole postcard—it was just the photo, the “Greetings from” part cropped out. A month or so later, when we were deciding on art for the inside pages, I asked about that maroon car photo. At that point, Penguin sent the whole card, and that was when I saw that the photo was from Belchertown, MA. The Quabbin Reservoir’s legal address is Belchertown, MA.
I do love post cards. There is a wonderful coffee table book, compiled by the British artist Tom Phillips, called, “The Postcard Century,” and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts recently featured a postcard exhibit. Fortunately, people still do send them, and people love to receive them. I often send handwritten postcards to bookstores and libraries, to introduce myself and the book. Also, when I sign copies of Cascade, I give people a postcard and ask if they’d be willing to send a card to a friend, to spread the word about the book the old-fashioned way.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring or in-process women authors? For those that are moms, or have a busy lifestyle, what do you recommend for them in order to “fit it all in” and make those dreams come true?
A: Set aside time to write, the same way you would set aside time to go to the gym or take a shower. Seriously. Make it happen. Even if it’s only an hour, a half hour, fifteen minutes. Something. Carve out that time for yourself, set a timer, and don’t attend to anything else while you are writing. Don’t “just throw a load of laundry in,” don’t answer the phone. Other activity distracts from the focus, from the world you’re creating.
Q: Can you explain your road to publishing? What were your biggest successes? And your biggest challenges? What tips, stories, or tidbits do you have to share with other authors?
A: I began writing and publishing short stories just as the market for them was really starting to shrink. My first short story was published in Redbook, when they still had a serious books editor and published literary fiction. Soon enough, they stopped their monthly short stories. Another day, I came home to a message from the New Yorker editor who always read my submissions. She wanted me to call. Naturally, I expected great news, but she said, in a terribly discouraging tone, “I just want you to know I fought for this story.” Everything was changing there, she said, and not long after, she quit.
When I decided to write a novel, I knew it would be an act of faith, that there would be no guarantee that the years of work would pay off with a publisher. Fortunately, because I’d been an editor myself, I knew to be patient with my material. When I finally finished Cascade, the time was right. I found an agent and publisher fairly quickly.
Q: I read that you were a former associate fiction editor for Boston’s award-winning literary magazine, Ploughshares. What was that like? What lessons learned do you have to share?
A: I loved finding a wonderful story—a piece that made me sit up and take notice, and pray, as I was reading it, that what had started out captivating would stay that way. As I just mentioned, patience is a good thing. Don’t send material before it is ready. You only get someone’s fresh eyes once. If there’s a part of your story that makes you cringe, that you hope we won’t notice or care about because the rest of the story is just so good—know that we will notice, and we will cringe too. I always approached the reading of each manuscript with great respect and with great hope that it would be fantastic, but there were just so many submissions that I was also looking for reasons to say no.
Q: You have written many stories (using the term I see you mainly use yourself). What intrigues you, and/or excites you, most about telling stories? What are the types of stories you most commonly write?
A: I write about people who are struggling with some kind of inner dilemma. Many of my characters are artists/musicians. They are all struggling with the ‘why am I here’ question, I suppose. Mark Twain supposedly said, “There are two important days in your life. The day you are born, and the day you figure out why.” I guess my stories dance around that second day.
Q: Tell us some of your most favorite works of art, artists, and places to go to view art (physically or online). We’d love to hear!
A: One of the most wonderful exhibits I ever attended was the Vermeer show at the National Gallery of Art in DC in 1995. There are only 34 known Vermeers in the world, and this exhibit displayed 21 of them, the most ever collected in one place. I went on a quiet winter’s day, before the show became a “must see,” and stayed for a couple of hours. I couldn’t pull myself away from paintings like The Geographer, Woman Holding a Balance, Girl with a Pearl Earring.
I’m dying to go to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam now that it’s open again after 10 years. I love every Paris museum, especially the little ones like Musée Maillol. And DC’s Phillips Collection. The Frick and MoMA in New York. I love my own city’s museums: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which I am going to today, actually! The Institute of Contemporary Art, the MFA, the Harvard museums. Many museums have great online sites now, so even if you can’t visit, you can view the art.
Q: Do you have more work in process? What else will you be writing about in the future?
A: I am working on a new novel. More people, more inner dilemmas!
Q: What has been the best thing for you since publishing Cascade? What are some of the most positive memories you’ll have?
A: Most definitely, it has been connecting with readers. I love meeting them, hearing from them via email or letter, and talking with them in person or on Skype.
Q: Best place to eat in New England? Best dishes? Best tourist places near Boston?
A: Oh, New England is such a big place. We’ve lots that’s good. But lobster in Maine is not overrated. And steamers with butter. Oh, you’re getting me thinking about summer now. Can’t wait.
Q: Where can readers connect with you?
A: I have contact information on my website; my author address is MaryanneOHaraAuthor@gmail.com.
Erin: Thank you so very much for stopping by and taking a break to talk to me, Maryanne. It was so very nice discussing your book with you. Best wishes for many more years of success!
Maryanne: Thanks so much, Erin! I enjoyed all your questions. Thank you for spreading the word about my book, and thank you to all of you who will read it! I hope it gives you a lot to think about.
We’re giving away one (1) paperback of Cascade and it’s open in the U.S. only. Please comment below, or on my Facebook link to the review, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enter by 11:59 p.m. EST two weeks from date of the post. For an extra entry follow my blog, for +2 entries “like” the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/cascadevirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #CascadeVirtualTour
A Slate Magazine “Best Books 2012″
A People Magazine “People Pick”
A Library Journal 2012 “Best Bet”
During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made
Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.
It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?
Praise for CASCADE
“The protagonist is Desdemona Hart, a woman drowning in the choices she’s been forced to make: a marriage of necessity to save her father’s legacy and put a roof over his head as he dies……trouble escalates, and so will the rate at which you turn the pages. Cascade is perfect for sitting by the fire on a chilly day contemplating the immutability of things.” –Slate: 2012 Best Books, Staff Picks
“When state engineers created the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s, four Central Massachusetts towns disappeared beneath the waters. In her debut novel, Cascade, Ashland resident Maryanne O’Hara chronicles the fate of one such (fictionalized) town and its inhabitants, notably Desdemona Hart Spaulding, an ambitious artist trapped in a loveless marriage. O’Hara, a former Ploughshares fiction editor, shapes her protagonist’s story to pose questions like: If art is not lastingly valuable, what is? Ponder that over your next glass of tap water.” –Boston Globe, Best of the New, 2012
“Gorgeously written and involving, Cascade explores the age-old conflict between a woman’s perceived duty and her deepest desires, but in O’Hara’s skilled hands the struggle feels fresh and new.” –People Magazine
Link to the Official Book Trailer: http://www.maryanneohara.com/cascade-trailer/
Author Maryanne O’Hara, Biography~
Maryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/cascadevirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #CascadeVirtualTour