Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Free, Unsullied Land by Maggie Kast

Maggie Kast is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer's memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. She received an M.F.A. in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Carve, Paper Street and others.

A chapter of her memoir, published in ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, won a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council and a Pushcart nomination. A story published in Rosebud and judged by Ursula Leguin won an Honorable Mention in their fantasy fiction contest.

Kast’s essays have appeared in America, Image, Writer's Chronicle and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, was released from Fomite Press in November 2015. An excerpted story, “The Hate that Chills,” won 3rd prize in the Hackney Literary Contests and was published in Volume 12, Issue 2 of the Birmingham Arts Journal.

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About the Book

Nineteen-year-old Henriette Greenberg takes her first steps away from an abusive home on the dance floor of a Chicago jazz dive in prohibition-era Chicago and is enraptured by this new music. Struggling to escape a mother who doesn’t like girls and a father who likes young women all too well, she submerges herself in bad sex and political action. 

She meets and falls in love with Dilly Brannigan, a graduate student in anthropology. Ignoring his warnings, she travels to Scottsboro, Alabama to protest the unfair conviction of nine young black men accused of rape. She adopts Dilly’s work as her own. A powerful funeral ritual gives her hope of re-writing her family story but tempts her to violate an Apache taboo, endangering her life, her love, and her longed-for escape from home.

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Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Do you have a "day job"? If so, what do you do?

I teach writing and rhetoric part-time at Columbia College Chicago.

What genres do you write?

short stories, novels, memoir, critical essays

Is there a genre that you've been wanting to experiment with? If so, what is it and what attracts you to it?

I'm working now on a novella. I had a story that needed expansion was was not wide-reaching enough for a novel. Then I read Ian McEwan's piece about characteristics of a novella (and I love his "On Chesil Beach,") and it made me want to try this form. He considers it an ideal length.

What authors/books have most influenced you?

David Grossman's To the End of the Land, William Maxwell's So Long, See You Tomorrow, J. M. Coetzee's Slow Man, Richard Yates' Adventure Road, and many more.

When did you first consider yourself an author?

I started writing after a lifetime career in modern dance. I think my admission to the low-residency program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, which coincided with the publication of my first story in The Sun, made me feel like a writer.

What are your goals as an author? Where do you see yourself in five years?

My goal is to continue making stories, in whatever form. I hope to be alive and still writing in five years. In other words, the goal is in the process for me.

What is the biggest obstacle you face as an author and what do you do to overcome it?

My biggest obstacle is the desire for success, a lust which detracts from the process itself. It takes attention away from the present and looks to an unpredictable future.

Does your family support you in your writing, or are you on your own?

Different parts of my wide-ranging family support me in different ways: some read my work, some would rather not. With my first book, my daughter, an arts manager, helped enormously with marketing and publicity. A son who lives in Vienna, Austria, got me a reading at Shakespeare and Company in that city, a great gift. Four members of my San Francisco family came to a reading there. a cousin in Berkeley had a wonderful book party for me at her house. Friends and colleagues have also been very supportive and helpful.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

Natalie Goldberg's, from one of her books. When someone asked her, "How do you write?" she mimed the act of writing. In other words, in only way to write is to do it, regularly, all the time.

What do you enjoy doing aside from writing?

Reading, cooking, yoga, TRS and barre classes at a gym, summer sun and swimming, travel but not too much.

What made you decide to self-publish?

I have never self-published. My first book was published by Wipf and Stock, a religion and academic publisher in Eugene OR, and my second by Fomite Press, an independent publisher with a wide-ranging and excellent list in Burlington VT.

What is your writing process?

I write when I get up in the morning, nearly every day.

How long does it take you to write a book?

First draft to publication: seven years.

Do you write about real life experiences, or does everything come from your imagination?

My memoir was of course all life experiences, rendered as accurately as my memory would allow. My novel is historical and makes use of historical events, like the Scottsboro trials of the 1930s and beyond as well as my mother's letteres, but many of the events are entirely fictional.

Have you ever gotten an idea for a story from something really bizarre? Tell us about it.

I have four non-realist stories: a fairy tale, a bible story, a ghost story and a magic realist story. They've each been published separately and I would love to see them come out together one day as a chapbook. Each is bizarre in its own way. In some cases the the source material itself was bizarre (a Grimm tale, Jonah and the big fish) and in some the bizarre source was in my head.

How do you market/promote your work? Have you found something that works really well for you?

Still learning on this one. Recent discovery: allow at least a year from the time a book is accepted to publication date, because that's when you do your most important marketing work. Best place to spend your marketing resources: Grub Street's Book Launch Boot Camp in Boston MA.

Do you have any advice for other authors?

Write. All the time.

Do you have anything specific you'd like to say to your readers?

I hope you enjoy my books, and I welcome any questions or comments you have. You can reach me via the "Contact" menu item on my website, If you have a book club, and time and place allow, I'd be delighted to attend a meeting where one of my books will be discussed.

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