Interview with Mary T Wagner

What inspires you to write?
I don’t know that I’m so much “inspired” to write as that I am absolutely “driven” to do it. It has been part of my makeup for so long that if I can’t sit down once in a while and let the words come out on to paper or a screen, I feel like the top of my head may come clean off! It's kind of ironic that I was never one of these authors who always knew that this is what they would do. I never kept a diary as a child, never wrote a journal in high school, and stumbled into my first career as a newspaper reporter when I was a sophomore in college and took a reporting class. It became one of those "lightbulb moments" when you realize you are exactly where you are supposed to be. There are times I writenow because it’s what gets me through some horrific channels, such as the illness and death of a parent. Then there are others where silliness takes hold in the form of writing about shoes, or chocolate, or the fact that particular plants have overtaken my garden and I am engaged in a strange form of combat to rein them in. And then there is the vast middle, where I try to put into words experiences I have but also feel that others are going through as well–changing careers, raising children, trying new things, learning about self-reliance, and the importance of power tools.
When did you first start writing?
I didn't take it seriously until that reporting class in college. Up until that point, I didn't think that I had any particular talent or inclination for it. But as I was casting around in my mind for a particular major to try, I recalled that over the years a few people had told me that I could write. Really, all I ever wanted to do as a kid was read books. I took to newspaper work with an incredible thirst. Not only did it give me an instant license to ask just about anybody questions, but I think it helped me to impose order and understanding on my very chaotic mind. I went from newspapers to freelancing for magazines when I started to raise the kids. Law school came after that, and I was lucky that I had a couple of good friends who pushed me into starting a blog, "Running with Stilettos," because they sensed that I wasn't done with writing yet. Writing personal essays has been so LIBERATING for me! It's so completely different from writing news and feature stories to please particular editors and markets.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I had started out with a collection of essays from my “Running with Stilettos” blog, and quickly found that while editors and agents had encouraging words to say about the submission…they felt they couldn’t sell this kind of a book by an unknown author. Then when I looked at the amount of time that would go by between acceptance by a traditional publisher and actually seeing my book in hand, I chucked the idea entirely and forged ahead on my own. I have an acute awareness of just how quickly life can turn on a dime--I've survived a couple of pretty scary accidents, one which left me in a body cast for three months with a broken back. And so I really wanted to get my essays into book format sooner rather than later so I could hand them off to my kids. Also, I didn't know how much longer I was going to keep wearing those stilettos! Obviously, I underestimated THAT since I'm still wearing them to court. I've never regretted going "indie" for a second, and I've had some truly amazing experiences as a result. One was signing books in a feather boa and a tiara, and another was riding horseback along a beach in southern Georgia. The list goes on.
What do your fans mean to you?
It is always very humbling when someone tells me that something I wrote resonated with them or made them laugh in recognition. We write to connect, and it's a gift when someone tells me I've done that. I remember a few years ago, I was going through a very rough time when my father was dying, and I dashed off a quick essay about bringing my aging chocolate lab to the nursing home where my father was in hospice care. While I wasn't looking, the dog had brought his tennis ball to my nearly comatose father and placed it by his elbow hoping that he would play. I shared the link with my writers' group in Chicago, and heard back from someone who had been going through some similarly dreadful, crushing times. Reading my story had made her feel like she wasn't alone in her despair, and I swear, every time I tell that story out loud, I get all choked up.
Describe your desk
Ha ha ha!!! It's very cluttered, with post-in notes all over the place to remind me of story ideas or tasks I'm supposed to get to or people I'm supposed to catch up with. Of course, like leaf litter in a forest, some of those naturally float to the bottom of the pile and get covered up by larger pieces of paper. There's a folded up blanket to one side of the desktop monitor, where one of the two cats likes to curl up and snooze while I'm typing. That's not nearly as distracting as when the other cat--twenty pounds covered in a puffy coat of long black hair--discovers I've sat down at the desk to write and decides to park himself in front of the screen. I've read that Ernest Hemingway loved cats and had several. I don't know how he got anything written!
What are you working on next?
Oh, a veritable bouquet of ideas! The project that is closest to fruition is a book for middle-graders featuring a cat in a circus museum. I LOVED reading the "Bunnicula" stories to my kids when they were little, and I'm striving to hit those same benchmarks of humor and irony. Then, backed up on the list, is a YA novel that features no werewolves, mermaids or vampires, only human beings. And a suspense novel for grownups featuring a female prosecutor who will be much younger and thinner than me. And I'll STILL have to use a pseudonym so that the folks I see in court all the time don't fear that I'll be putting them in a story.
Who are your favorite authors?
If I had to be shipwrecked on a desert island with ONE BOOK, it would be Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” But in the past few years I’ve become enchanted with William Kent Krueger’s series of novels featuring Cork O’Connor, a small-town lawman who straddles the worlds of the white townsfolk and the reservation-dwelling Native Americans to solve crimes in deep-woods Minnesota. The detective element of the stories is always wonderfully plotted, but Cork’s relationships with his family and friends are fully half of the charm…along with the lyrical way he writes about the beauty of the North Woods. I've also recently come to appreciate Maeve Binchy, and Amy Tan. And I've long been a fan of Jeffery Deaver and Lee Child and Nelson DeMille.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Well, there's the law job of course! But when it comes to that rare quality of "free time," I love to spend it outdoors when the weather is good. I walk in the woods with the wolf-sized dog, Lucky, and the cat who thinks he's a dog, Meatball, every day I can. I've also taken up gardening in the last few years, so that takes a lot of tending. I don't read so much as I listen to books on audio disc when I'm driving to and from work. I have been utterly surprised at how much more I get out of a story when I listen to it one sentence at a time instead of blasting through the pages at the speed of light to find out how a book ends. One thing I almost never do any more at this "empty nest" stage of my life is to cook.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I literally can't remember the first time I wrote a story in high school or college, but I certainly can tell you about the first essay I wrote as a blogger in 2007! I called it "Tale of the Christmas Axes," and it centered around the first Christmas after my divorce. I'd worked like crazy to make it perfect--the tree was perfect, the fire in the fireplace was perfect, the house was clean, the food was delicious...and after all the preparations, I was absolutely exhausted by the time everybody got home. So I finally turned the rolling pin over to the kids and put my feet up and had a glass of wine while they made the Christmas cookies. It wasn't until after they left to visit their dad that I discovered that amid all the traditional cookie shapes, they'd cut out and decorated a bunch of cookies to look like little bloody axes. I laughed for the rest of the night.
What's the story behind your latest book?
When the Shoe Fits…Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances is a “best of” collection of my essays from my FIRST three collections…and a few other places. These are all “slice of life” essays, viewed through my own cracked lens. I think my life runs the gamut of many women’s experiences–motherhood, divorce and post-divorce dating, reinvention, learning to cope with things like power tools and home repairs, changing careers, elderly parents, going back to school in mid-life. And then there’s the lighter stuff like chocolate, high heels, pets, nature and the view from the back of a Harley. I’ve often been told they are inspiring and empowering, and I am always grateful and humbled when someone tells me they felt a real and positive connection with my words. It can be really, really HARD to think of changing directions when you're in the neighborhood of forty, whether its about a job, or a relationship, or an education. In my case, surviving the horse jumping accident that broke my back and put me in that body cast really galvanized me in terms of determination to take a different course. It led me both to law school and to pulling the plug on a marriage that had been on life support for a while. In the book's introduction, I make the comparison that a lot of things in life are like a pair of shoes that fit you just fine...but you can still choose to do different things with them. As in, repair them...or replace them...or treasure and maintain them...or keep looking for a pair you love more. You get to choose what to do with those shoes. And by the way, those ARE my shoes on the cover!
Published 2015-04-23.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.