Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mary Vensel White, The Qualities of Wood

AUTHOR:                  Mary Vensel White                 
BOOK TITLE:                  The Qualities of Wood                 
PUBLISHER:                  HarperCollins Authonomy

Please tell us about yourself?                                   
I live in Orange County, California, a place known for its fabulous weather and crazy housewives.  But I went to college in Denver and Chicago, so I do have distant memories of being cold and wearing shoes that covered my toes. I have four children close in age and for many years, the only writing I did was grocery lists and pleas for help. I still do those, but the kids are in school during the day so I can write longer things too. The Qualities of Wood is my first novel.

When and why did you begin writing?                                   
I started writing when I was an adolescent. I wrote poems about heartbreak and yearning, poems I’m glad no one has ever seen. In college, I started working on short fiction and even had a few stories published in small journals. I actually wrote The Qualities of Wood while I was in graduate school, along with two other novels. I sent it out, even had an agent for a while for one of the other books, then I became a full-time mom for several years. When I pulled the books back out and started working on them again, The Qualities of Wood was the one that seemed to rise to the top.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It’s funny, but in many ways, it’s still hard to think of myself that way. Having the book published, especially by such a big publisher, is very gratifying. I know that people are reading it because they tell me. But it’s all still a bit surreal, and suddenly, I don’t have very much time to write at all! 

What inspired you to write your first book?
The first novel I wrote was heavily autobiographical (most are, I suppose), and it centered around a young woman and her search for her biological mother. The novel focused on three main characters—the woman and her two mothers—and how their meeting affected the course of each life. I was adopted as an infant and when I was twenty, I found my biological parents. That novel has been restructured and edited many, many times and during this process, it became less and less autobiographical and I feel, much stronger. I hope to get the book out there some day; I think it has real worth. Of course, at the time I wrote it, there weren’t many stories like it and that has changed!

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t know about a message, but the main theme of The Qualities of Wood is perception. I was intrigued with relationships and memories, and how everything is filtered through our own lens. Things not being what they seem to be, people and history at the mercy of each person’s interpretation.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?  (Has anyone ever realized it?)
The book isn’t really based on anything from my own life, except for the setting. When I wrote the book, I had just moved to Chicago and I was interested in the urban landscape versus a more natural, country setting. In the city, nature is really contained in small areas and it isn’t until you head out and are surrounded by trees and greenery that you realize what you’ve been missing. The first image of the book was just this: Vivian’s plane landing amidst fields of green and her mind sort of relaxing, spreading out.

What are your current projects?
I’ve just finished a novel called Fortress for One. It’s about Gina, who, over the course of a weekend in March, is disrupted from her life of routine by a shock from the past and the promise of a changing future. That's the short statement. The book moves from Chicago to Korea and back again, as we follow Gina on a liberating journey of discovery. I’m also working on a collection of interrelated short stories called Human Stories.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
For me, the most difficult thing is still just in finding the time to sit down and do it. I can almost always find time to do a blog post or something short like the answers to this Q&A, but to find enough uninterrupted time to work on a novel is hard. It takes so much concentration and you really need a long block of time. I’ve got ideas collecting in my mind for a new novel and so far, I haven’t even found the time to start a notebook and get them down on paper. When I’m working on a novel, I really have to shut the rest of the world out and devote myself to it, often for weeks at a time.

Do you ever have problems with writers block?  If so how do you get through it?
So far, I haven’t had this problem. For me, I almost have too many ideas and not enough time to work them out. Maybe that will change one day…I look forward to a time when I am sitting at the computer, waiting for inspiration!

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
My first job is mom, which, as mothers realize, is a full-time job with endless responsibilities. Now that my kids are school-age, I spend a lot of time driving around town. Baseball and soccer practices, dance classes, music lessons and the never-ending play dates—I sometimes miss the days when we just sort of hung around the house or walked to the park, even if one of them would invariably fall into the mud or have a fit. I read quite a bit, always have, mostly fiction but I like history, essays, other things. I like to exercise—aerobics, yoga, and I do a bit of running. Our family sometimes does races together. I like to travel when I can, and watch movies, and I never say no to a day at the spa.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
One of the few authors whose work I seek out is Per Petterson, and because I just finished I Curse the River of  Time the other day, I’d have to choose him as my favorite for now. His writing is about family and relationships, and the difficulties of making it through life, basically. They unravel almost like a mystery, but the mystery is the characters and what they mean/have meant to each other, what has happened between them and how they will move forward. He writes in a simple, true manner, pointing out small details and searing images that will stay with you. He notices things that are beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time. It isn’t often I read a book slowly on purpose, because I don’t want it to end. And it isn’t often that I cry over a book and think about it for days afterwards. He’s a wonderful writer.

Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?
I posted the novel on, a site run by HarperCollins for unpublished authors. Books are rated accorded to member support and at the end of each month, five books are chosen for the “Editor’s Desk” and receive reviews from a HarperCollins editor.  After almost a year, my book reached the desk and was sent for review. A couple of months later I received a very positive review and shortly after that, I was contacted by the editor who had read and reviewed my book. By strange coincidence, he had just been put in charge of the authonomy site, and he was looking to start a new imprint with books from the site and wanted mine to be the first. The book was released as a digital original in January and will have a print edition if sales warrant it. HarperCollins is hoping to publish 10-12 books from the site each year.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. - please share your public links.
 You can access all of my information (Facebook, Twitter, blog) through my website at It’s all there, and I’d love to hear from you!

A girl is found in the woods and a tangle of secrets unravels. Can Vivian trust her impressions? Can she trust anyone?
When Vivian and her husband Nowell are enlisted to prepare his late grandmother’s house for sale, they decide to take a break from city life. Nowell leaves before his wife to begin work on his second mystery novel, and by the time Vivian joins him in the country, a real mystery has begun. A local girl has died in the woods behind the house. Nowell’s brother, a shiftless and rough sort, arrives with his new wife, and details begin to emerge about the girl. Vivian is enmeshed, even after the death is ruled an accident. She can't forget it, can't ignore the strange behavior of the lonely bachelor who lives nearby. Meanwhile, cracks appear in her marriage, as Nowell loses himself in his work and Vivian seeks purpose and truth.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great interview. I had a similar journey to novel writing- through angsty poetry and shorter fiction- and wonder how common that is.