Stuffing myself with food press. I receive and read Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and Saveur, recently added the hip, charming and irreverent Lucky Peach. I couldn’t resist one issue of the woman-centered Cherry Bomb. Every Wednesday I buy the New York Times for its Food section, and I bemoan the “spoiler” effect of emails from cooking.nytimes.com (but I still get them). I was thrilled to have excerpts of my essay, “Sugar, Sex and the Andalusian Cadence” published in the spring issue of Cook’s Gazette, available at www.cooksgazette.com. The death of Gourmet is a loss I still mourn.
- When did you begin writing?
I began writing in the early nineties, shortly after my husband died. I think my first writing impulse was to find someone to talk to. Then my sister gave me a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, with its suggestion of morning pages (3 a day, don’t stop and don’t look back for a couple of weeks). About page 2, each day, a poem broke into the middle of the text, and I began to cultivate them. I took a poetry class but eventually realized that stories were what I liked best. My first career was in modern dance, and at that time I was doing liturgical dance (dance in churches and temples). I wrote about what I knew best: religion and dance, and my first publications were in Image Journal (about the sacred in contemporary choreography) and Religion and the Arts (about dancing in sacred space).
- Did you have support at the beginning or during your writing?
I have been very fortunate with support all along the way. As soon as I found myself writing 3-4 hours a day, I considered applying to an M.F.A. program, and was very happy to be accepted to the low-residency program of Vermont College of Fine Arts. My mentors there were supremely helpful: David Jauss, Ellen Lesser and Abby Frucht. After graduation it took a long time to find an enduring writing group, but now I’ve been in one that meets regularly (well, most of the time) for about ten years. The writers are excellent and the critique is intense, as it should be. In addition I spent about 15 months in Fred Schafer’s novel group, where both his lectures and his manuscript critique taught me much about everything from sentences to emotional continuity. A weekend novel workout with Kevin McIlvoy shaped and honed my novel, encouraging me to reach for greater tragedy and greater comedy.
- What the best thing that’s happened to you while promoting your work?
The best reading is a conversation. When I was doing readings of my memoir, The Crack between the Worlds, I learned to start by announcing that interruptions were contributions, and comments would be welcome at any point. I broke into the reading myself to ask if anyone had similar experiences. I found this made for a much livelier experience for all then simply reading from my published text. It also involved the audience much sooner that the traditional reading plus Q & A. I value communication with readers highly and will always respond to messages and read reviews. Readers can find me on Facebook, on Twitter @tweenworlds, on Goodreads, on my blog, http://ritualandrhubarbpie.blogspot.com, and soon on a new website at maggiekast.com.
- Are there any particular books or authors that inspired you?
For a historical novel with broad sweep and portrayal of a distant place and time, there is nothing like Naguib Mahfouz’ three-volume Palace Walk. Though this is a work of fiction, it also satisfies today’s “reality hunger” with its evocation of turn-of-the-20th-century Egypt, where women were confined behind shutters while their men caroused. The same element of reality can be found in David Grossman’s To the End of the Land, for which the author made the same dangerous hike through Israel that his protagonist makes in the book. I also admired the latter for its use of two rapidly shifting points of view. Bravery in terms of form and style always inspires me, so the sudden intrusion of the author into J.M. Coetzee’s Slow Man is one of my favorite literary moments. Coetzee also shares with Milan Kundera the ability to integrate philosophic reflection into fiction without losing sight of humor. All these continue to inspire me.
- How many books do you read per month?
I read 2-3 books per month, and I do keep an annotated bibliography to help me remember what I read and how I reacted. I’ve started adding some of these to Goodreads (in less personal form). My notes vary from a few sentences, mainly to spur memory, to more lengthy analyses of structures I strongly admire (Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, for example), to drafts of review essays I am writing for publication.
- Here is the elevator pitch for my forthcoming novel, A Free, Unsullied Land:
A young woman of the Depression years seeks escape from her abusive home through immersion in jazz, political protest, and love for an anthropologist whose work she is adopting as her own, when a funeral ritual tempts her to violate an Apache taboo and risk both her love and her life.