Interview with Maria Thompson Corley

Describe your desk
My desk is actually a stool. To explain: I've been a pianist for years, which means I have to be careful about repetitive stress. Also, since I've been a pianist for years (as in, being a musician is my day job), I don't have huge financial reserves. The only way I can keep my hands and wrists at an angle that doesn't result in injury is to sit on two cushions stacked on a dining room chair with my laptop on a stool.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up near Edmonton, in a little town called Leduc. Well, it's not so little anymore, relatively speaking--20,000 people is a lot more than 3,000, which was the population when we moved there in the late 60's. Being one of the very few black people in a small town influenced me for better and for ill. On one hand, the people there are very supportive of my endeavors. On the other, I had first-hand knowledge of the "n" word. I think I would have been an introverted misfit anywhere, though.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote my first novel at 14. No one will see that book, however! I wrote poems in elementary school, wrote in my diary, and even wrote letters to people instead of speaking to them. I started writing freelance posts in 2008, starting with Broad Street Review, and adding Huffington Post very recently. I do this sporadically--being a musician is rather time-consuming! Over time, I've become very comfortable with verbal communication, but writing is still my primary form of connecting with people.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
My first novel was published by Kensington. My follow up didn't fit the genre, though, and after a false start with a new agent, I decided to focus on being a pianist with young children, especially since I couldn't seem to find time for anything else. I had been querying and revising Letting Go for years when I got an urge to do a solo recital. something I rarely do anymore). The idea of constructing my program from music mentioned in the book, introduced by readings from my novel, came next. I got an offer from a publisher, but the contract was unsatisfactory. This was followed by another near miss with a publisher, then a nudge (which may or may not have been a message from God--yup, I said that) to go ahead an publish it myself.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My first novel had a female protagonist whose life was very different than mine, and yet, people who'd read the book would come up to me and say, "I never knew that about you!" This novel has clear autobiographical aspects: Cecile, the female protagonist, is a black pianist who studies at Juilliard, my alma mater. It's fun to know what really happened, and what didn't. That said, Langston, the male protagonist, whose point of view is presented in alternation with Cecile's, is imaginary. I got the idea about writing a book that incorporated aspects of my life from my mom, who will undoubtedly wonder, more than any other reader, what happened and what didn't.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing is meeting new people--I know I create them, but in doing so, they seem alive, so it's kind of like meeting them--then manipulating their lives. Muahaha!!!
What do your fans mean to you?
I am so grateful for even the possibility of having fans. It's humbling, it chokes me up, and makes me feel deeply blessed. I love both of you so much!
What are you working on next?
I have a new book that isn't about humans, based on a historical figure. I've barely begun that one, at this point. I also have two books I am going to revisit. I feel I've grown that the process of writing and rewriting Letting Go has helped me to grow a lot as a writer, and I'd like to apply my knowledge to two books I wrote way back when, which were represented by an agent but never sold. I still love those characters.
Who are your favorite authors?
Ian McEwan and Toni Morrison are at the top of my list. I also enjoy Wally Lamb, James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston--actually, there are many people whose way with words intimidates and inspires me.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
There's so much to do! I don't have the luxury of thinking about whether or not I'm going to get up in the morning. It's a given.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I'm a musician, as mentioned, so I practice a lot. I have two kids, one autistic, and both of them are a delight, so I try to interact as much as possible (I say try, because my daughter is 19, and she's as busy as I am, these days). I teach piano, I play the organ at a church, where I also direct the choir. I love to watch movies, when I can, and read (of course). I keep up on current events. I like to cook, although I don't have time to get too elaborate. I also love to keep up with my friends, something I do less than maybe I should. I love people! Real or imaginary, the ones I know and the ones I only read about--humans are wonderful and scary and unpredictable and amazing. They inspire me.
Published 2016-07-26.
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