Carrie’s Conversation with Martha Moody
Carrie: What inspired you to write SOMETIMES MINE?
Martha: The germ of the story came from a book group discussion about my first novel, BEST FRIENDS. Some women in the group were very distressed that the narrator, Clare, has an affair with her ex-husband. There are a lot of bad things done by characters in that novel, and I was impressed at the particular anger Clare’s actions evoked. I’m a physician, and I knew that two of my female patients were involved for years with married men. I didn’t see these patients as evil, but as sad and isolated. I thought, “Hmm, it would be a challenge to write about a mistress from her point of view.”
I also wanted to write about work. Genie, the narrator of Sometimes Mine, is a cardiologist and her lover, Mick, is a college basketball coach. Each of them is excellent at what they do, and each is defined and to some extent hidden by their role. Their mutual appreciation of their distinctive work and talents helps bond them. I’ve always liked this quote from the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer: “With his work, as with a glove, a man feels the universe.”
The third impetus for the novel was a story my social work mother told me when I was a teenager, in the early 70’s. One of her clients was a “maiden lady” who had lived all her life with another woman. When the client’s friend got ill and then died, the client was treated by her friend’s family not as a spouse or grieving widow, but as a simple housemate. This really magnified her loss. That story haunted me for years as an example of the power of society’s norms. In the book, when Mick moves into the realm of the sick, Genie has no defined role.
Carrie: In general, how does an idea for a book come to you–Does it perk slowly in your mind or does it come in a flash?
Martha: I’m a slow perker.
Carrie: Give us an idea of the plot of SOMETIMES MINE without giving too much away.
Martha: SOMETIMES MINE is the story of a long-term affair of a divorced female cardiologist, Genie Toledo, and a married college basketball coach, Mick Crabbe. It tells what happens when Mick gets seriously ill and Genie is forced to confront both Mick’s family and her own illusions.
Carrie: What is the primary message you’d like your readers to take away from SOMETIMES MINE?
Martha: SOMETIMES MINE is a love triangle between three very imperfect people. You’d expect things to turn out badly, but in an odd way each person becomes heroic. I’d like to think of the novel as a plea for accepting the complexity of people’s feelings and lives, and the surprising connections through which a person can gain strength.
Carrie: What is your favorite scene in SOMETIMES MINE? Why?
Martha: There’s a scene near the end of the book where Genie, the mistress, and Karen, the wife, sit together in the back seat of a car and reach an accord. It’s not an easy or perfect agreement, but it’s sincere. I love both those women in that scene, and that scene is why I think of SOMETIMES MINE as my peacenik book.
Carrie: What was the most difficult scene to write? Why?
Martha: Genie at one point performs a cardiac catheterization and angioplasty on a relative of Mick’s. It’s a suspenseful scene, and technically I found it challenging both to keep up the suspense and to write the details so a non-medical reader would understand what was going on.
Carrie: What is your go-to book–that one you’ve read more than once, possibly over-and-over? OR Who is your go-to author?
Martha: I have three go-to authors: Alice Munro, William Trevor, and Henry James.
Carrie: Can you offer a glimpse into your “real life” and share with us a bit of your personal life—Outside of writing, what’s important to you?
Martha: I live in Dayton, Ohio with my husband of 25 years, Martin Jacobs, a nuclear medicine physician, and our four sons. Two of our sons are in college and two in high school. In 2000, I retired from private practice after fifteen years to spend more time with my family and writing. I wonder if I have adult ADD because I can’t seem to sit still and I always do a number of different things in one day. I cook, knit, exercise (kettlebells), love being outside and crawling in caves. I volunteer seeing patients at a clinic for the working poor, and teaching writing at the local high school. Sometimes I teach writing classes for adults. In Dayton, I’ve been active in the Jewish Cultural Arts and Book Fair and I’m on the Board for The Human Race Theatre Company, a professional group that puts on all sorts of interesting plays.
Carrie: Tell us something surprising about you and/or something very few people know about you.
Martha: I love Israel, in all its imperfections, and the last two summers I organized an English summer camp for grade school students in Deir al Assad, an Arab Moslem village in the Galilee. (A lot of people don’t realize that Arabs make up about 20% of the Israeli population.) This summer (2010) we’re having the camp again, this time with a dozen excellent and enthusiastic volunteer teachers. I’m very excited about this project. It has expanded my family’s life, other volunteers’ lives, and I hope the lives of some people in Deir al Assad.
Carrie: What has been one of your biggest struggles and/or successes (professional/personal) and what have you learned from it?
Martha: I was a closet writer for years, and it was scary to come out. I had no formal training in writing fiction, and no one but my husband and two or three friends knew I wrote. I got tons of rejection letters. But I kept at it–two paragraphs a day–and eventually I improved. Writing is a craft, and I think a person gets better with practice. Still, when I saw my first book, Best Friends, on a shelf in a store I wanted to run and hide. I felt so exposed. I still do, to some extent. I’m a wreck before a reading, and I take a pill so my hands won’t shake. (Well, won’t shake as much.)
Carrie: Have you ever had a nickname? Tell us about it.
Martha: I’ve gone by Marti since about age ten. Since my husband’s name is Martin, we’re Marti and Marty.
Carrie: Who is your biggest fan?
Martha: Probably my second son, Simon Jacobs, who wants to be a writer and is starting out with lots of talent and, more importantly, persistence.
Carrie: What was the best advice you’ve ever received—do you follow it?
Martha: Once I read that the comedian Jack Benny (my father’s favorite) said, “Don’t press.” I think that’s great advice, but I do catch myself not following it.
Carrie: What is your favorite literary turn-of-phrase / quote / word picture?
Quote: “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.” The Ambassadors, by Henry James
Image: Countess Gertrude covered with cats as she walks the ramparts of Gormenghast Castle (Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake)
Carrie: What did you learn about yourself while writing SOMETIMES MINE that you may not have expected?
Martha: That I’m more interested in how people put themselves back together than how they fall apart. The falling apart is predictable; the putting back together is a tough and quirky process.
Carrie: What’s next for you ~ Anything else you’d like to offer?
Martha: I’m working on a manuscript that deals with two families joined by marriage. One narrator is a grandmother; another is the young woman her grandson marries. I want to explore how families connected by marriage interact with and influence each other, and I want to explore chronic illness, which is what the young woman comes to have. (The grandmother is disgustingly healthy!)
Carrie: How do readers get in touch with you?
Martha: I can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to hear from people!
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