Saturday, May 9, 2015

Legacy: An Anthology Interview with Maureen Foley

Yesterday I posted a review of a new anthology of short stories, Legacy. If you've not heard of it yet, please check out yesterday's review for more information about the anthology. But for today I have the pleasure of conducting my first ever author interview with Maureen Foley, who has a short story, "Bound by Water," in Legacy.

From her site: "Maureen Foley is a writer, teacher, and artist who lives on an avocado ranch by the sea with her husband, writer James Claffey, and daughter.  Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Caesura, Santa Barbara Magazine, Wired, as well as in numerous literary journals. Her novella, Women Float, is a coming-of-age story set in Carpinteria, California,  and was published in June 2013 by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.  In 2013, she started Red Hen Cannery, a small-batch, artisanal jam company. She is currently working on a new novel about the experience of loss and new motherhood. For more information, visit:"

After reading Ms. Foley's story "Bound by Water," I asked a few questions about the why's and how's of writing. I appreciated her detailed answers, and so I've included them in full. Welcome Maureen Foley!

1. If you had to write a six word autobiography, what would it say?

 In avocados and words, she trusts. 

2. Who/What inspires you to write?

I can only answer this question on the basis of today. Meaning: my inspirations are varied and mercurial. My first and foremost muses are my husband, also a writer, James Claffey, and my stepson and daughter. They make me endlessly interested in the world. I am a voracious reader of anything newsworthy, low-brow to hard news, from a variety of sources including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and then my local papers, the Santa Barbara Independent and Carpinteria Coastal View. I am fascinated by true stories and have written about many peculiar things as a journalist, from pet psychics to wine country weddings to Michael Jackson to contemporary art. My curiosity is boundless.

 Lately, I've been really noticing the nature in my immediate surroundings, on the avocado ranch. Right now, the avocado orchard has this record-breaking blossoming happening; my backyard is awash with pale chartreuse puffs of blossoms (avocado blossoms are green.) I can literally hear the bees at work from my front doorstep. Having my daughter has forced me to slow down: holding he as a baby, waiting for her to wake up from naps, sitting with her while she slowly eats lunch. I started hearing bird songs. I'd never noticed them before. Now, I can identify a Nuttall's woodpecker or a scrub jay or a kite or a hawk from its call. In a more direct way, I've rediscovered Sharon Olds' The Gold Cell and I just read Elisa Albert's After Birth. They're both so good I almost want to give up writing altogether because who can top them? 

3. Why did you write your short story, "Bound by Water."

I wrote it because it made so much sense to me, as a farmer's daughter, to link this land to my daughter. Those two things, and perhaps writing itself, are my only legacy. As a Zen Buddhist, I believe that this present moment, right now, is heaven. So, even thinking about what we leave behind, as this great thing, feels a bit forced. But from a practical sense, the land will always outlive us, as individuals but also as the human species. In Zen there is also a great emphasis on lineage, what we learn from the ancestors, and knowing where you come from and what great teachers lived before you. In some ways, isn't that the same as DNA, but in a spiritual sense? I will leave my words, land and genetics to my daughter. I'm not sure there's anything else that matters, after I'm gone, for better or worse. Last, I wrote it because there is something naturally "of the earth" about giving birth. It forces you to be part of a much larger cycle. Mine happened to take place in a hospital operating room and I think I'm still figuring out how to reconcile the anger I felt around such a medicalized rite of passage, with the great beauty of my daughter's life itself. 

4. "Bound by Water" is a nonfiction piece. Do you mostly write nonfiction? 

My flip answer to anyone who asks me what kind of writing I do is: I write for anyone who pays me. That answer always seems to make people smile, but it's not totally true. While I haven't always gotten paid to write at all, there was also a moment, post-MFA in creative writing at Naropa, when I paid the bills with my freelance writing. Granted, my overhead was miniscule at that point, but I wrote and wrote and wrote journalism to cover rent and food. My first job out of college was as a news reporter for a group of community newspapers in Marin County, north of San Francisco. So, in a way, nonfiction comes very naturally to me. I'm just now becoming interested in personal essays, however. But I like to play with different genres. My first big publication was a chapbook of poems, Epileptic. I've also published a fictional novella. I also have a nonfiction manuscript about my bike trip across the West with my cousin that I'd like to see published (and I've already published sections of that as a comic strip graphic memoir.) I sometimes wish that I could just choose one form and go with it, but it doesn't seem like that's my personality. 

5. Many readers also dream of being writers. Do you have any advice about the process for new writers?

I just heard this great TED talk thing on NPR about a woman who battled some serious personal illness by playing a game where she pretended she was a superhero. I was thinking about that today as I biked home from dropping off my daughter at day care. Then, I tried to imagine what my slogan as a writing superhero would be and I remembered a pin I once owned with a typewriter and a skull and crossbones on it. It said, "Write hard, die free." I also thought about the various rituals I would complete, each day, to move me closer to my current deadline goal.What am I trying to say?  In a nutshell: your audacity trumps talent, so keep going. You can get paid (pretty well, sometimes) to write. You will succeed if you can break a writing project down into bite-size lumps and stick to self-imposed deadlines. You are a writing rockstar, although you alone may be the only one to see it for a while. 

To be more concrete, I found an MFA program really helpful but I don't think it's necessary. Naropa has amazing summer classes that are open to the community and are inexpensive if you take them for no credit. Community is more important than a degree, so find your people, find your readers, find a group of writers or a teacher to work with. Listen when people don't understand what you're trying to say. Be humble. Take note of a good editor's feedback. I also really enjoy reading Poets & Writers, and submitted quite a few things to publications looking for writing in the classifieds. It's a great place to see what's happening in writing, locally and nationally. I think the best thing for a new writer is to see their name in print, as soon as possible. I also recommend marrying a writer. Seriously! Nothing keeps the romance of writing alive like the romance of a writer. Another well-known poet I know, gave me this advice: marry well. She didn't elaborate, but in her case she'd married a very successful, quirky minimalist painter. I do think a strong partnership with someone who has a real regard for your talent can be critical, but I know that's also a huge miracle to find a kindred creative spirit. Last, I don't think age matters at all. My most successful writing student, Juanita, had always wanted to write and took to it as a grandmother. Now she's off and running! She's fearless and amazes me constantly. I'm just so glad she took the writing plunge finally.

I love hearing writing advice or about the writing process from experienced authors. There's nothing like advice from someone who's been there. Thank you so much Ms. Foley for taking the time to speak with us today and for taking part in the excitement of!

If you are interested in reading more author interviews from Legacy, see the schedule here for those past and to come. 


  1. Thanks for the great interview! I love the advice about marrying another writer... I agree!

    1. I love how her answers are so detailed - thoughtful.

  2. What a wonderful interview! Thanks.

    1. :) Her great answers made the whole thing!

  3. I love this interview! I recently discovered Ruth Ozeki, who is also a Zen Buddhist, and I really like the whole idea behind it and want to learn more about it. Plus, Maureen included avocados in her six word, which is pretty awesome. Thank you so much for participating!

    1. I love six word autobios and it's no easy task to make them meaningful. Avocados was brilliantly used!

  4. I'd love to check out more of Maureen's writing! I loved her nonfiction piece in this collection and am inspired by her curiosity about the world.

    1. Me too. I like the writing style that seems to come along with those who have such curiosity and wonder.