Friday, June 8, 2018

Interview with novelist Ann Goethe

Novelist Ann Goethe is here today and we’re chatting about her new southern literary fiction, Goner.

At age fifteen, Ann Goette won second prize in the Louisiana State Poetry Contest with a cowardly poem about racism. She kept writing. Her first published poem, as an adult, appeared in the Southern Review.

From age twenty to about forty Goette was Distler. Early works and two plays, Coming of Age and Something in the Air Feels Like Tomorrow, were published under Distler. In 1990, Goette's wonderful, brilliant (former) agent, Sandra Dykstra arbitrarily changed Goette to Goethe during the whirlwind-bidding auction for her first novel Midnight Lemonade. Among the five or six serious bidders were Little Brown and Company, Delacorte, and Hyperion (a brand new publishing house). The latter two offered an almost unheard of amount of money for a first novel by a forty-five year-old female nobody. Goethe went with Delacorte and, to this day, suffers seller’s regret.

Goette to Distler then back to Goette and now Goette and Goethe. Notice, all this name changing doesn’t much come up for male writers; no whining intended.

Ann Goethe/Goette/Distler's poetry has been published in such journals, anthologies, and magazines as: The Lowdown, Outerbridge, Inkwell, Clare, Third Wednesday, No Business Poems, Reflections on the New River, Arts Alive!, and Bark Magazine. Finishing Line Press published her collection of Poetry, RIVERBOW, in 2015.

Her stories and essays have appeared in The Crescent Review, The Broken Plate, Love After 70, Southern Distinction Magazine, Half Tones To Jubilee, Slipstream, Rockhurst Review, Earth’s Daughters, The New Orleans Review, and ISBN. Her novel, MIDNIGHT LEMONADE, was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discovery Prize.

She wrote the libretto for TRAVELS, an opera performed by Opera Roanoke, she has also written more than twenty plays for young people. The National Association of Secondary School Principals made COMING OF AGE, Goethe’s musical about middle school children, into a film.

Goette is active with the ReNew The New River committee, and the Giles Early Education Project, she was recently named “Outstanding Volunteer” for her region. She is a member of the performance group Web Six. She resides in Virginia, with her husband (of another name), on a peninsula encircled by the ancient New River.

Welcome, Ann. Please tell us about your newest release.
About GONER: If your relatives weren’t the people you thought, would it change who you are? Or does family myth serve a larger purpose to cement us together?

Novelist Ann Goethe—whose first novel Midnight Lemonade was nominated for the Barnes and Noble “Discovery Prize”— explores the relationship between family myth, shadowy truths, and reality in Goner.

As four sisters gather at their father’s deathbed, childhood memories come flying back, along with secrets from their enigmatic mother’s past. And since where we come from says a lot about who we become, will these secrets bring the family closer together or tear them apart?

What inspired you to write this book?
Examining the custody of a story: who owns a story and how the story might change by virtue of that ownership, has always fascinated me. Also I grew up in a Deep South caught in the throes of great change. During my own school years black and whites attended different and very unequal schools. Black people couldn’t eat in white restaurants or use white bathrooms. The laws allowing those injustices were struck down in time for my two younger sisters to attend integrated schools. (Despite all the battles, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, segregation remains tenaciously and covertly enshrined, not only in the South of course, but Southern racism is more prideful, traditional.) My sisters and I were always acutely aware of how we fit and did not fit into our beloved South. Though he was too kind and gentile to be a racist, our father embodied the Old South with his story telling and romanticizing of The Civil War. Our cerebral Northern mother was fast talking, fast moving and extremely impatient with the pace of change (or lack thereof) in the ‘backwards’ south. My sisters and I--both as natives and misfits--dipped our oars deeply into the waters of change. We were witnesses. In 2016, after two years of writing only poetry, I woke up on a New Year’s morning with the urge and resolve to lay all of the above down as a novel.

Excerpt from Goner:

These eager soldiers were no different than her father had been when he left for the “war to end all wars.” He had been one more bright, optimistic farm boy off to see the world and to defend innocent women and children from the evil Hun. He had returned home a different person, dark. Was Margaret’s father really the only dad who talked to his children about the last war? His stories of a comrade’s skull top sheared off, brains exposed like a bowl of cereal, and of another soldier trying to pack his own intestines back into his shattered torso were illustrations in Margaret’s childhood nightmares. Didn’t these boys—waving to get her attention, extending their clammy hands for rum Cokes and beer--know about the mud and gore, the boredom and horror? If they knew the stories, then they probably thought that this time would be different. Naturally, each generation thinks it is unique, and so the wheels keep turning. Boys go off to war, expecting to return as full men, brides ascend the altar sure they will be happier than their mothers—who had expected the same.
                                  from page 3 of goner

What exciting story are you working on next?
The November elections!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was 14 and it was my third day at boarding school. Our brilliant, and intimidating, English teacher arrived in class enthusiastically waving an essay I had turned in the first day of class. She read it aloud to the class, praising every few lines, laughing out loud, and repeating lines she especially loved. I was a writer! When she handed the essay back to me, she had given me an F, alas. The paper was marked with A+++ for content & originality, F for penmanship, F for spelling F for neatness. Still, for the first time, I knew I was a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
For over twenty years I rose each morning at 4 to grab a couple precious hours of writing time before jobs and children got their ‘pound of flesh.’ There have been periods—since the publication of my first novel bought me the time to write full-time—that I have, indeed, been a full-time writer, such a dream-come-true. Yet, the richness of having full days and nights unfold with unlimited writing time, and no one to answer to, came to feel excessive, selfish. Gradually, I’ve scattered those hours like coins into a wishing well and find I spend much more time on politics, community organizing, and sticking my nose into the lives of my friends, my children and their offspring. A day that I write all day makes me so happy, and now is so very rare.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
If I wake up with a writing idea, my self-imposed rule is that I stay in my nightgown until the idea is put down in a rough draft. The best thing about the writing profession is the dress code.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
From before the time I could read, I knew I wanted to be a writer. My mother was a journalist and my father was a storyteller; words were always an addiction and a wonder for me. When I was about ten I veered and wanted to be a veterinarian and a writer. After seeing a vet take our dog’s temperature, I decided that I would just stick to writing.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I live beside the ancient New River in Giles County Virginia. Our County is beautiful, filled with amazing nature and good neighbors, but many of our people are poor; there are dark pockets of despair here. A small group of us decided that the best way to help change that culture of despair was to begin with our very youngest citizens. We think we have been making a difference. All the income from Goner goes to the Giles Early Education Project.

Thank you for visiting today!

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