Name Margaret Mendel
Where are you from?
Though I was born in California, most of my childhood and informative years were spent in Washington State. In the mid 60s I moved to San Francisco where I lived more than a decade before travelling to the East Coast of the USA and settled down in New York City, where I now live.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
As far back as I can remember I’ve been interested in deviant behaviour and always wondered why people acted the way they did. Initially I thought I’d get a degree in Criminology. However, circumstances and what was offered at the local college landed me in the psychology department. While living in California I graduated with a BA and a Masters in Psychology. In the 1970s I worked in a program with the Chronic Schizophrenic population who were being released from the Psychiatric Facilities.
When we relocated to New York, work took a slightly different twist and I began to work with adults with developmental disabilities. I remained involved with that population for the next 20 years. During that time I was a caseworker, a psychotherapist, a family counsellor, and an administrator.
I am married. I have two wonderful adult children and two fantastic grandchildren. I have been writing forever and always try to bring my interest in human behaviour into my stories and novels..
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My latest news is that my second novel “Pushing Water” was published in January 2017. It’s a story based in Viet Nam in 1938 to 1941. Here is the blurb.
VIETNAM, 1939. Sarah, an expat, working as an Archivist for the French Colonial Government in Hanoi, is devastated when she finds a Vietnamese co-worker murdered.
Sarah is determined to find the killer. She suspects she knows what prompted the murder when she discovers a secret document in a packet of poetry the co-worker had borrowed from the archives.
The papers include a secret colonial communication outlining a direct order that will bring about devastating hardship for the Vietnamese people.
Sarah’s life is further complicated by the arrival of an old friend, Julia, who brings with her remembrances of a past Sarah would rather forget. Then Albee, Sarah’s part time lover comes on the scene. He claims to be an archaeologist working on a dig in China, though Sarah suspects he is a fulltime communist revolutionary.
Sarah attempts to deal with her problematic personal life, wishing for her solitude to return, when a friend of Sarah’s is arrested and executed for revolutionary activities. Heartsick Sarah decides to return back to the States. Though there is one more hurtle to overcome. The world is in a chaotic mess and within one devastating day nothing will ever be the same again.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Though I’d always had a regular 9 to 5 job, like many authors, writing was something I did in my spare time; after work, on weekends and even getting up many mornings at 5:00 AM to write for a couple of hours before waking the kids and husband to begin the day. Then, and it was on a whim, I applied to the Sarah Lawrence Writing Program. I thought it was a long shot, not really believing that I’d get accepted. But I was accepted and there in was the dilemma of what to do next. Full time? Part time? After some serious consideration, my husband and I both came to the same decision. I would quite my job and attend the writing program full time. For me it was a dream that had come true.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
My initial response to this question was, “when I published my first novel.” Though that is not true. If I had not considered myself a writer for all those fallow years, all those years when there were no publications and only rejections, then why did I keep writing? The answer is that I’ve always loved playing with words. Even as a small child, before I could read or write, I pretended to write, scribbling my feeble words on paper, writing pretend words on the bumper of our old dusty car.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first attempts at writing are two tomes that are now stuck in the back of a closet. One is a ragged science fiction novel that I wrote during a very dark time of my life. The other is a scramble of incidents that occurred in my protagonist’s life as she dealt with a divorce.
Fish Kicker, my first published novel was the result of learning about a woman down on her luck in Alaska. She earned a meager living kicking salmon off the back of pick-up trucks during the summer. This intrigued me and I built a story around this character. Well you know what they say, character certainly drives the plot.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
With me, at this point, writing style is, ‘if it works, do it’. Music inspires me, gets me motivated when I first start a novel. Coffee keeps me going. Meditation slows me down and helps me dig deeper into a character or a complication with a plot. Some days I write whatever comes out, fast and furious, while other days I labor over an outline that I will rarely, if ever, refer back to.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The title for my latest novel “Pushing Water” came from a quote in a non-fiction book “THE LOTUS IN THE SEA OF FIRE, A Buddhist proposal for Peace,” written by Thich Nhat Hanh. My novel takes place in 1938-1941 in Viet Nam. And I introduce my novel with a quote from Thick Nhat Hanh: “In the river current, it is not the water in front that pulls the river along, but the water in the rear that acts as the driving force, pushing the water in front forward.”
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
No message. The story and the research took me to places I never thought I would go. I visited Viet Nam and several other Asian countries during the writing of “Pushing Water”. I learned a great deal about the history of that area, tasted food that is only available in that part of the world and in the end realized how much of this world I do not understand. Honestly I don’t know what the readers of “Pushing Water” will come away with when they’ve finished the book. I supposed the reader will either slip it onto a bookshelf where it will gather dust, or perhaps the reader will decide to loan it to a friend.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
A great deal of research went into writing this novel. The story is based on no one that I know. The characters all came to me, and though this may sound corny, they chose to be in this novel.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
At this point writing is so much a part of me that it has gone beyond a career. It is who I am. I write.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I would change nothing. I wouldn’t know what to change.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always had an interest in writing. Perhaps I was born with a writing gene. Though I don’t know if there is such a thing. Yet, writing has been like a driving force in my life. I am dyslexic and none of this has come easy to me. I’ve struggled and worked hard to master writing and reading. I’ve had to overcome some pretty serious self-doubts, but the writer in me continued encouraging me to keep at it.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
There is a big letdown when a major piece of writing is finished. Luckily this year when I completed getting my novel ready for publication, I had the Christmas and New Year Holiday to buoy me up during this downtime. I always have a collection of work sitting in the wings of my writing theater. It also helps that I have signed a contract for a collection of short stories, Patches, that will be coming out sometime early next year (2018). That means I’ll have some more revision work to do down the road. In the mean time, there are two unfinished novels that I’ll be working on next. One is titled “Wild Mushrooms” and is about a woman who makes her living gathering wild mushrooms in Alaska and will contain the character from my first novel Fish Kicker. The other novel is about a husband/wife who own a floundering private detective agency in NYC. The husband has Parkinson’s disease and they take on a scruffy young man from the neighborhood to help them out. Not sure where either one of these stories will go, but I’m having fun with them.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I get into trouble when I forget that character drives plot. But then I have to admit that it is the challenge of writing that keeps me so interested in this process.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No, I travel because I love to see new places. I don’t necessarily travel because of what I’m writing. Though I have been to all the places that I’ve written about, there are places that I’ve visited that I haven’t written about. Well, not yet.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My publisher, MuseItUp, provided the cover for the novel. Charlotte Volnek was the artist hired to do the work.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
A tremendous amount of research went into writing “Pushing Water.” It is my first Historical novel. The story line was tricky from time to time, fitting in characters, dealing with a time period I knew so little about and then blending them all together. I actually found it a lot of fun exploring and reading about what was happening during that time.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Outside of what my research taught me I learned that keeping at the writing was the only way that a novel gets written. I broke my ankle half way through writing “Pushing Water.” At one point I thought I’d never write again. My spirit was so low I was about to give it all up. I couldn’t sit at the computer because my ankle swelled and throbbed. I tried writing lying down with my ankle elevated. I was miserable. Little by little it all kind of worked itself out. Even with the discomfort I wrote every day, and eventually the novel got finished. If I’d given up, I certainly wouldn’t be a guest blogger on your website today telling you about my new novel.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you want to write, write. Make friends with other writers. But nothing will ever take the place of getting the words spilled out onto the page. Writing programs can teach you some things; writing workshops are good for feedback, though nothing can take the place of the hard work that goes into getting a short story or novel written.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
All I can do is share my craft with the reader. What they take away, what they love or what they don’t like about my offerings is up to them. All I can say is that the end product, a novel, a short story, was the personal journey that I took before they opened my book.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first book I remember reading is a biography of Abraham Lincoln. I was in the 5th grade. This book stands out because it was the first time I realized that history and story could be mixed. At that point writing came alive for me, literature was something tangible and I found it fascinating.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
“NO MORE REVISIONS” I believe this is self-explanatory.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I am an avid photographer. I take a camera with me everywhere I go. I have gotten into quilting, knitting, crocheting, painting, drawing but photography is the only other art form, besides writing, that has kept my interest over the years.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I enjoy a good mystery series. I’m also a sucker for a well-photographed nature show.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I am not picky about food and pretty much like eating everything. I’m a very good baker and cook, as is my husband, and we enjoy cooking together. I have no favorite color, though I personally look best in colors that have a blue or purple hue. If I had to decide on a color, I doubt if I’d ever purchase something orange. Music is very special to me. I love the Blues, Jazz, heavy rick’n roll, classical music and country western.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I might have gotten into Archaeology. Perhaps I might have pursued a career as a photojournalist.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My blog is: http://www.pushingtime.com
Also you can view some of my photos on Flickr at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/margaretmendel/