I’m delighted to welcome Mary Rowen to sit in the armchair today.
Mary and I met during the early days of Twitter, and a few years later came to write literary fiction/women’s fiction for Evolved Publishing. She is kind, generous and talented, and her stories are brave and hopeful, with exquisite characterisation.
After the interview, I found myself—not for the first time—wishing we lived closer so we could go for a cuppa. Mary’s answers about novels being somewhat auto-biographical and not leaving readers in despair at the end of the story made me think. (I really hope my novels don’t reveal autobiographical details!) I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I do.
In the Armchair: Mary Rowen
What do you write and why?
I write women’s fiction because it’s the genre I most enjoy reading. As an English major in school, I read lots of classics, and it was hard not to notice how many of the authors were male. Which isn’t to say the work wasn’t excellent, but when I had more time to choose my reading material, I sought out more books by women. Then, when my first child was young, I stopped working to care for him, and joined a book group that read mostly women’s fiction. The people in that group were serious readers, and some were writers too. When we met, we’d analyze and discuss the stories in depth, and I realized I had stories I wanted to tell. My first attempt at a novel was a complete disaster, but it was a terrific learning experience.
What’s your writing process?
It’s fairly standard. I start with a general concept and type whatever comes to mind until I’ve completed a draft with a rough beginning, middle, and end. Usually, that takes about six months. I try hard to write every day and close everything unnecessary on my computer while writing, to avoid distractions. Once I have a draft, I leave it alone and let it “cook” for a month or so. Then, I go back in and start storyboarding and revising, often with the help of writing groups and/or other trusted friends. One book (Leaving the Beach) took over ten years to complete, but I love the process and feel very lucky to be able to create fiction.
Has the pandemic changed your writing process?
Yes. At the beginning of 2020—which now feels like a decade ago—I had some ideas for a new novel and began sketching out main characters and plot points. But of course, everything changed in March. My job ended; both kids came home from college; my husband began working from home. No need to go into more detail, because every human on earth is living their personal version of this. I’m thrilled that It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way was published by Evolved in September 2020, and I’m hacking away at the new novel, but I’m taking life one day at a time.
Which authors have influenced how you write?
In a perfect world, I’d write more like John Irving. I love how almost all his protagonists share significant parts of his own biography. And how his stories have helped him be more honest about his own history, and vice-versa. Writers of fiction can claim their stories are pure products of imagination, but I don’t know if that’s truly possible, or even desirable. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but a lot of autobiographical information always finds its way into my writing, and I’m forced to reflect on that, especially while revising and editing. And I think that helps me grow as a person.
Could there have been other endings to your stories?
Yes, but they all end with a sense of hope. Real life can, of course, be tragic, and when I was younger, I thought the best writing—in books, films, etc.—was the most realistic writing. The darker the better. But now I realize that most people don’t read books to have the sadness and horror of the world reinforced for them. I want readers to be able to relate to my characters and feel their pain, but don’t want them to feel despair at the end of the story. I want them to close the book knowing that life will go on and that at least some characters have changed in positive ways.
Erin Reardon gets her first kiss from Jim Morrison and loses her virginity to David Bowie. When she flunks out of college, Bruce Springsteen comforts her, and Elvis Costello breaks her heart in Europe. So what happens when she finally meets a rock star in the flesh? Erin’s a lonely misfit with an eating disorder and a wild imagination. She believes she was born to save—and love—at least one tortured musician, and is willing to risk almost everything to fulfill that destiny. Buy it here.
Singer-songwriter Christine Daley hit the streets of Boston and became a minor celebrity—with a local radio hit—in the 90s, but a “brief” career break to marry and start a family changed all that. Now, sixteen years later, she’s a frustrated suburban housewife, struggling to reestablish her sense of identity. After filing for divorce, forty-six-year-old Chris quickly learns that the challenges she faces are even greater than anticipated. Her two teenage children suddenly seem to need their mom more than ever, and neither of them is thrilled about her getting back on the music scene. Meanwhile, her soon-to-be-ex-husband is throwing every possible obstacle in her way. Adding to the stress is technological progress, which has radically changed both the music industry and the dating world. Is there room in this new mix for Chris? Buy it here.
Molly keeps rushing into relationships with the wrong men. A violent incident during her teen years skewed her judgment, and now she’s drinking too much, taking foolish risks, and allowing a predatory male to sexually harass her at work. A chance encounter with Fred Flaherty, her 72-year-old divorced neighbor, leads to a tentative friendship. Fred, a Cold War veteran and ham radio operator, has suffered considerably over the decades, but also dreams of a better future. As summer becomes autumn, the two neighbors share stories of personal loss, bond over their passion for Jim Croce’s music, and develop trust and mutual respect. This is fortunate, because winter is about to bring on challenges neither could have predicted. Buy it here.
I’m drawn to stories about women facing and overcoming challenges at various stages of life. Music, musicians, and music fans tend to find their way into my work too. Other interests include feminism, body image issues, parenting, and current events. I blog about that stuff and more whenever I can. My essays have been featured on numerous sites and blogs, including Mutha Magazine, The Girlfriend, Passager, Feminine Collective, and Huffington Post. I was raised in the Massachusetts Merrimack Valley, graduated from Providence College, and live in the Boston area with my family and pets