Friday, August 12, 2016

Author Interview: Mary Morony

 Today I have Mary Morony for an interview. She is the author of Done Growed Up

Mary Morony is an author who can write about tragedy from the inside and guides her readers through it to compassion, humor and recovery. She brings Southern charm, irreverence and wit to bear against subjects as vast as racism and as personal as alcoholism, alw
ays with a heart and soul that makes her work undeniably appealing.

Her Apron Strings trilogy, a series of novels that moves from the South to New York City and back between the 1950s and the early 21st century, draws on the life she knew growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a time when Virginia was still very much a part of the Jim Crow South.

One of six childrenshe was born into a family and a culture that would give her some of her best material. It was a time and place of segregated schools and water fountains, as well as restaurants and movie theaters that prohibited black customers. With five siblings in an extended family of alcoholics – including both parents and their African-American maid – Morony’s survival skills came to include a sharply honed sense of humor, which she herself has called her greatest talent and her biggest foible

But amid the chaos, the woman who was the family servant also became Morony’s inspiration, teaching her love and acceptance with warmth, humor, and unending patience – and becoming the model, finally, for a central character in Apron Strings.
Morony has crammed more into one lifetime than most people would in five -- married four times by the age of 35, divorced three times and widowed once, she finds no shortage of material for her novels in the everyday lives  aroundher. Keep your eyes open, she says, and you’ll find tragedy at a wedding and hilarity at a funeral.

“Funerals, you’d be surprised,” she says. “I see some of my favorite human interactions at a funeral – there’s an honesty there that you don’t find in other gatherings. My mantra is: If it doesn’t kill you, it will make a good story – and even if it does kill you, it will make a good story for someone! I can and have found things to laugh about in death, divorce, mental illness, and most of all, people’s pettiness – including my own.”

Telling stories, Morony says, became her lifeline for survival over a lifetime.  With alcoholism and bipolar disorder in her family, with deaths and divorces, and children of her own to raise and educate, she says, “I have lived a life chock full of stories, and I do mean chock full.”

Her husband Ralph, of now almost 30 years, came into her life from Ireland – “I had to import him!” she jokes – between marriages. Like the four children he helped raise – three from her earlier marriages – and their menagerie of dogs, he is well acquainted with her relentless sense of humor – even if,  shepoints out, she may be the only one laughing. A sense of humor, however, actually seems to be a shared family trait, since even after decades together, he still makes her laugh – “that is, when I don’t want to dismember him for some reason or another.”

Morony says she likes big projects, has a hard time reining herself in – “ask anybody who knows me” – and seldom does things in a conventional time frame. This may account for her not having finished her B.A. – in English, with a concentration in creative writing, from the University of Virginia – until she was in her forties, by then with four children: one in graduate school, one a sophomore in college, one in high school, and the youngest in nursery school. 

The university, however, gave her the opportunity to focus on the path that led to Apron Strings, a distillation of her experiences: a Southern childhood, in a world where everyone drank; where divorce was the “D” word and nice people didn’t get one, even though her parents’ marriage was in pieces; and where the one adult who could show her unconditional love couldn’t sit with her in the movie theater or a restaurant. Later came her own experience of marriage, divorce, births and deaths, and seeing people she loved suffer from what she calls the bipolar “demon,” their lives turned upside down by a terrifyingly unpredictable brain disorder

And therein, she says, lies the saving grace of her writing: As her characters grow and learn, she is able to refract her own life’s struggles, defeats and victories through them. A life that could have mired her in suffering has bred instead a writer full of wit, compassion, and the wisdom that comes from living and often laughing through it.

It’s perhaps telling that her and Ralph’s courtship began with a joke. One day as they were working together – he’d come from Ireland as an employee of the family – he told her a joke. She laughed, even though she hadn’t understood a word he said (“I came from a culture where you laughed on cue, even if you didn’t have a clue what the joke was about”) and then told a joke of her own.
Ralph looked at her, she says, “as if at any moment I might explode, or at least fly out the window on a broom. I protested meekly that I thought my joke was funny when I heard it. He said, ‘I thought it was funny when I told it.’”

Yes, they had actually heard the same joke, thought it hilarious, and retold it across their cultural divide – and the rest is history. Today, they are living on a farm in Orange County, Virginia, with their two Great Danes – and  two guinea fowl.

At a time when Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has newly reminded us just how recent are the wounds of a racially divided culture – and of how that history that still spills into our world today – Apron Strings is a winning lesson in how pain and loss can become inspiration and compassion. Morony’s characters and settings are captured with sensitivity and an eye for realistic detail, her plots skillfully crafted by one who has “been there.”  More than just novels, these books are guides to making lemonade from lemons over the course of generations.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

How old are you in the 4th grade? I think nine. It was seven-thirty in the morning. I had

just remembered that I was supposed to write a story for homework. I remember pulling up a

chair to the small Queen Anne drop leaf table at the very end of the long living room– a

decidedly unusual place to write. With a few pieces of notebook paper and a pencil in front of

me, I sat staring out of the window unsure what to write. For reasons still unclear I didn’t even

try to write anything I just continued my reverie occasionally twiddling my pencil and starring.

When the call for breakfast brought me back to the room, I quickly wrote down a story before

heading off to my oatmeal. Later that day my story was taped to my classroom window a sign

that it was the best of the day. That’s when I decided that this writing gig was just what I

wanted to do.

How long does it take you to write a book?

My last book If It Ain’t One Thing…the third in the Apron Strings Trilogy took less time to

write than Done Growed Up took to edit. Daily, I was eagerly looking for emails from my

editor—I love the editing process, the working out of issues that don’t quite add up logically

and the polishing of the prose. She had gotten waylaid in another project. In the morning of

November 1st, I was about to have a full-on hissy fit. I got an email announcing the start of

NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month Challenge. Taking up the challenge seemed

like a far more positive approach than blowing my excellent editor out the water.

Only vaguely aware of the challenge, I did a little research and discovered there were

almost 2,000 people in Charlottesville and surrounding area signed up to start their novel.

That cinched the deal for me. I was not going to officially sign-up. I don’t know what I was

thinking anyway I am not a joiner. Nevertheless, I challenged myself to write the third novel

in the series by the end of November. I wrote about 30,000 words by the end of the month

about a third of the finished novel, but came pretty close to frying my brain. I didn’t even look

at the manuscript until late January. I finished the novel in May which it turns out is about how

long it took me to write Done Growed Up and Apron Strings. The answer is six months.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I almost never sit down to write unless I am inspired. Making myself write when there is no

spark is a recipe for some for my worst writing and a sure fire way to gain tons of weight as I

have a habit of looking for my lost muse in the refrigerator, so I don’t do it. If I am inspired, I

can sit down in the morning at 8-ish and look up surprised to see my husband come in the

door from work at 6-something completely unaware that so much time had passed. I like that

much better.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

When I get stuck with a plot problem, or I can’t get a character to do what I want I take it to

bed with me or for a walk. Not like a ritual, but I go over the sticking point in my mind before

either a walk or bed and then don’t think about it again. Usually, when I return the solution is

at hand.

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

I have a whole life story in my head about people I see in the airport, on the street

because of something they did or said. Life, to me, is like a smorgasbord for stories. I take a

little of this and a lot that, add a bit of something and before I know it I have a character or


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