Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Author Interviews: Rae Meadows

Photobucket Yesterday I posted my review of Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows. Today, I am thrilled that Rae has taken time out of her schedule to answer some of our questions.

GJR: How did writing about the Orphan Trains come to be incorporated in Mothers and Daughters? How much research went ensuring that you got the mood of the trains and the desperation of the families’ right?

Rae Meadows(RM): My mom first told me about the orphan trains, and I was amazed I hadn’t heard about them before. I actually wrote Violet’s section first, so for me it felt like the anchor to the novel. The orphan trains are a fascinating, yet seemingly little known part of our history. I spent time online looking at photographs and visiting sites dedicated to orphan train riders and their descendents. I also did a lot of reading, both of first-hand accounts of orphan train riders and about the history of social welfare in this country. The Orphan Train Movement was the first to “place out” children—as opposed to the giant warehousing of children in institutions. Although the results were not always good, especially for the earlier riders, it was an inspired experiment, which, in turn, helped to shift attitudes about how children should be treated.

GJR: I like that you started with Sam because of where you were in your life when you began thinking of the story. Besides Sam, whose story did you connect with or have an affinity for?

RM: I certainly connected with Sam because of her similarities to me, but I admired Violet for her boldness, maybe because she is very different than I was as a child. Iris was a later addition to the novel. She is so very unlike my own mother, but I came to appreciate her for her willingness to change and her refusal to feel sorry for herself.

GJR: You left the ending a bit open ended, which I didn’t mind, except I did want to know if Sam did look into Violet’s history or not? Was her family history going to be her new passion? As a woman, how important do you think knowing your family history is?

RM: I think the sense of rootedness and continuum that knowing one’s history brings is important, particularly for women whose roles have evolved so much. I have spent countless hours trying to trace leads of my father’s family about which little is known. I actually began this novel process wanting to write about my grandfather, the youngest of eight children, born into rural poverty in Barren County, Kentucky, where Violet is from in the book. I think for someone like Sam who is anxious about being a mother and an artist, overwhelmed by options, knowing one’s history can be liberating. It provides a larger framework for our humanity, and it can take us out of ourselves.

GJR: We get to know Sam from her point of view and how she’s consumed with being a new mother and nothing else matters, but yet we get another view of Sam from her mom, Iris. Things are slowly revealed about Sam via Iris that made me like Sam more. Do you think our views of ourselves are hampered by what we think society believes a mother and wife should be?

RM: I think those conceptions still seep in, regardless of how much we think we are past them. Sam battles with herself and is unable to get perspective on motherhood, even as she is a smart, talented, and capable woman. It’s almost as if when she became a mother, she lost confidence, and in so doing, lost her conception of herself.

GJR: Each one of these women had a different relationship with their mother. Do you feel that we are shaped as mothers and daughters by our relationships with our mother?

RM: Absolutely! I think you are right in that each of the women struggles with her relationship to her own mother, both wanting to break free and wanting to be mothered, and this manifests itself in how they themselves mother. I wouldn’t have known how much being a daughter would affect being a mother before having children. I think we all like to think, at times, I’m going to do things differently than my parents, and then we become parents and end up similar in ways we wouldn’t have guessed. This certainly happened to me. I never thought I’d be a stay-at-home mother with kids the center of my universe. And here I am.

GJR: If you were to come back and visit Ella in 20-30 years, what would her view of Sam as a mother be? How would Sam view herself?

RM: My hope for Sam is that she will be able to find more balance in her life, to right her listing ship, and I think when she returns to her art this will happen. Not that she won’t still be an obsessive mother, perhaps. I think Ella will both chafe at Sam’s mothering and be appreciative of it. I think Sam will always be self-critical, but I hope she will have empathy for herself and know that she was best mother she knew how to be.

GJR: What are you currently reading? Any favorite authors or books you return to time after time?

RM: I’m been reading some books by friends like Emma Straub’s Other People We Married and Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin, but next on my list is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I do like to go back to old favorites because I always learn new things from them. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (Norton Critical Editions), Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and as you know from my novel, To the Lighthouse (Oxford World's Classics) by Virginia Woolf are three that come to mind. I’ve been thinking about going back to Middlemarch (Oxford World's Classics) but I have a baby sleeping next to me these days so I have to read by flashlight. Needless to say, my pace is very slow, and I’m afraid it might take me all year.

GJR: What motivates you to write? How do you avoid the dreaded writer’s block? How do you get over writer’s block?

RM: I’m thankful that I have never had true writer’s block, when I was completely unable to write. But I certainly struggle with procrastination and distraction. (If I could just get one more load of laundry done, then it will be the perfect time to sit down in front of a blank screen.) With Mothers and Daughters, I made myself write two pages a day, and didn’t waiver until a draft was done. I don’t always love to write, but I love to have written, and that’s what motivates me.

GJR: Can you give us a glimpse of who/what your next novel focuses on?

RM: I am currently a stay-at-home mom with a new baby and a three-year-old, so I decided to take a little time away from writing. But I’m thinking about my next novel, tentatively titled The Girl in the Photograph. I’m envisioning a multi-point-of-view novel, part of which takes place during the Dust Bowl.

GJR: When you write, do you have to have background noise or total quiet? Has this changed as you’ve developed as a writer?

RM: There was a brief time while I was in grad school and living alone when I wrote with the TV on, which now seems a little gross. I like it quiet to write, but not the block-all-noise-with-headphones variety. Ideally I like writing near a window with the ambient noise from outside, but these days I’ll take what I can get!

Thanks to Rae for taking time to answer our questions! For more about Rae, please visit her website and her facebook page.

Mothers and Daughters is on sale on March 29, 2011.



Deborah Batterman March 17, 2011 at 3:53 PM  

The title of the book (with the theme it suggests) got me curious; the review piqued my interest; the insights culled from the interview make it a must read.

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