Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interview with author E. B. Moore about her new novel: An Unseemly Wife

Author E.B. Moore

 Interview by Endicott student Ellen Pulitzer

E.B. Moore’s first novel “An Unseemly Wife” is a harrowing tale, based on the lives of the author’s great grandmother and her family. It is a novel that began its life as a chapbook of poems entitled New Eden, A Legacy (Finishing Line Press ‘09). It is a story passed down from mother to daughter, of an Amish housewife and mother – Ruth – whose way of life is suddenly uprooted by the western expansion in the United States. In 1867, going against doctrine, Ruth’s husband decides to move the family from their quiet farm in search of free land in Idaho. A pregnant and overdue Ruth must pack up with their four children and follow her husband on a journey that forces her to make some serious sacrifices.

E.B. Moore was kind enough to take the time to do an email interview with me, in which we talked about her process in developing this book through Grub Street’s Novel Incubator Program.  She fleshed  this story out first through poems, which she later turned into pages of an inspiring journey.


EP: The title of your new book An Unseemly Wife  is an interesting one. How was it chosen? 
EBM: The title came from collaboration with my agent, Alice Tasman. Originally the title had been A Wager of Bones, but she felt, at a glance this didn’t tell enough about the book. The novel follows Ruth as she resists obedience to her husband’s decrees, a very unseemly way to behave in their 19th century Amish fold. As the story begins, he bundles her and their four children (she is pregnant and overdue with their fifth) into a covered wagon, and against their faith, joins the dreaded English heading for free land in Idaho. On the trek, they face Indian attacks, a deadly pestilence, and prejudice leading to betrayal that left them alone on the trail-side fighting for their lives. Through it all her resistance takes many forms and brings her to question more than her husband. 
EP: I'm of the understanding that this book is based on your great grandmother's life experiences. What compelled you to write this book? 
EBM: My mother was fascinated by the story and told it often. She wanted to write it herself as a warning to my girls and me to trust in ourselves, but a brain tumor erased her memory before she could do no more than jot a cryptic list of incidents. So, even though I was a metal sculptor at the time, I gave it a try. My rendition started as a chapbook of poems called New Eden, A Legacy (Finishing Line Press ‘09). People who read the poems kept asking for details. The idea of a full narrative horrified me: too long, I’d get lost, besides, I didn’t know the details. But I joined Jenna Blum’s Grub Street novel class and in a matter of weeks became addicted to writing fiction. After more and more classes including Grub Street’s year long Novel Incubator, I finished the book. 
EP: What do you hope the reader will take away from her story? 
EBM: As it is with any art form, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder,
so I expect each reader will take something different from Ruth’s story. I’ll be interested to know what those interpretations are. 
EP: Is the character Ruth Holtz fictional, or was that the name of your great grandmother? 
EBM: Since this is a novel, I changed the names to protect the innocent along with the guilty. 
EP: I'm aware that your mother gave you the gift of the oral family history. Has your great grandmother's story affected your life in any profound way? 
EBM: Yes, it has. When I was a kid, “Ruth’s” strength inspired me as much as it did my mother and served as a bond between us. Mother had a scale model of the Conestoga wagon built and placed on her mantle as a constant reminder to be strong. After she lost her memory, she’d look at the wagon (then placed on my mantle, since she lived for ten years with my kids and me) and every day she’d say, “Tell me the wagon.” The kids would run from the room, hands over their ears. “No, no, not the wagon of death again.”
For the last six years, I’ve immersed myself in writing Ruth’s experience. This attempt to bring her to life has brought me to a generous new community and turned me into an author with a second book slated to come out from NAL/Penguin in the near future. 
EP: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? What was it like working in the Novel Incubator program? 
EBM: For me, writing is an everyday event, or I get crabby. If the words don’t flow, I read snippets of favorite books like March by Geraldine Brooks, or Grapes of Wrath. Many others overflow the bookshelves and stack tables and chairs around my loft. Reading all kinds of books helps every aspect of writing. This is why I’m part of several book clubs and writing groups. 
I took part in Grub Street’s Novel Incubator Program during its first experimental year when Michelle Hoover and Lisa Borders taught as a team. They led ten students through a yearlong program equivalent to an MFA. Each student came to the class with a completed novel, and for the first ten weeks we read and analyzed each one. As the year continued, we broke the novels down into chapters, scenes, and finally sentences. I have never worked so hard or been so excited about any schooling, up at four in the morning, canceling vacations, living, eating, and breathing the novels. Everyone in the group worked to help everyone else succeed, holding all feet to the fire in the most supportive way possible. Being a part of Grub Street classes has introduced me to an amazing community of writers that I treasure.
EP: Can you tell me a little about Ruth’s cultural background? Why was this journey so monumental for her? 
EBM: One of the basic tenets of the Amish faith, as outlined in the Ordnung, (The Ordnung is a set of rules for Amish, Old Order Mennonite and Conservative Mennonite living) is leading a Plain life (no frills, no frippery) and staying separate from the world at large. Ruth’s husband, Aaron, put her in an impossible situation. She had to choose between obeying him, which was her duty as a wife, or obeying the Ordnung. No matter what she chose, she’d be in the wrong, so she did her unseemly best to keep him from leaving the Fold. 
Though Aaron said he wouldn’t break from their faith, Ruth failed to dissuade him and they joined a wagon train in Pittsburgh. For the sake of their souls, they tried to keep distant from the others, but for survival they had to depend on the group. In the process Ruth came to realize people weren’t always what they appeared, and trusting the wrong person could prove more dangerous than an Indian attack. 


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