I’ve recently dipped my toe into writing short stories, so I am happy to introduce my next guest author to you all! Please help me welcome MaryEllen Beveridge! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her writing and inspiration.
MaryEllen Beveridge received an MFA with honors from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines including Pembroke Magazine, The Carolina Quarterly, Other Voices, Notre Dame Review, Cottonwood, Crab Orchard Review, Louisiana Literature, and War, Literature & the Arts. She is a two-time nominee for a Pushcart Prize. A previous short story collection was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and another was a semi-finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Award. MaryEllen is a former member of the faculty at Emerson College, where she taught fiction writing and literature. Her first story collection, titled After the Hunger, was published in 2020.
Author Social Links: Instagram
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
MaryEllen: I’m sharing the first story in the collection, titled “Needle at Sea Bottom.” In it, the protagonist, Edna, attempts to redefine herself following her husband’s stroke. I knew a woman in a similar situation—her husband had suffered a devastating stroke—and I wanted to explore how a character would attempt to restructure, and possibly rebuild, her life following this unimaginable event. In this story her husband has become in effect a stranger, and her idea of marriage and home, and the trajectory of her life, have changed radically.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
MaryEllen: The protagonist, Edna, though I felt as if in writing about her I was following her journey, her quest, as it unfolded over time. That is, her situation, her circumstances were known; what evolved for me was how she confronted them and was changed by them.
Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?
MaryEllen: The situation, definitely; the idea of a sudden devastating illness changing a marriage, changing each spouse’s life.
Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?
MaryEllen: Frank, Edna’s husband because of course his engagement with her has become so limited. Also, Roger Llewellyn, the tai chi instructor, because he wanted to remain unknowable to his class, to remain a mystery.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
MaryEllen: I researched stroke and its effects. I took a tai chi class and fortunately was given a number of hand-outs that were helpful in writing the story, especially the names and positions of the tai chi moves. I also try to be conscious of naming things, of making each object vivid. So I have collected a number of books I use for research.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
MaryEllen: This story was first published in Notre Dame Review in 2017, so my memory is a bit hazy. But I always write numerous drafts. I work hard to get language right, one of my preoccupations as a writer.
Betty: How long did it take you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
MaryEllen: This is a longer story, 22 manuscript pages, a little over 7,000 words. As a few years have gone by since I first wrote it, I can’t remember exactly how long it took. But I’m a slow writer; I have to really think about my characters.
Betty: What ritual or habits do you have while writing?
MaryEllen: I write in my small office. No radio programs or music. No coffee or other liquids I could spill. Phone off. I try to be, as they say, dressed and ready. My bookcase contains books I can use for research if needed, and books by authors I admire—it helps keep the environment conducive to work. I also have a dictionary and thesaurus nearby. I usually have a sheet of paper and a pencil for any notes I need to take–ideas I don’t want to lose as I’m working on the story.
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
MaryEllen: “Just” is the big one. Also, “very.” Thank goodness for word search, you can go right to the overused words and change or eliminate them.
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
MaryEllen: Ernest Shackleton. He was a visionary, and courageous, and his remarkable achievement in saving all of his men after their ship was lost in Antarctica, the daring and brutal adventure of it, seems to me to have been an interior achievement too. What makes the man. Who is the man. Also, Virginia Woolf, because she encourages women to abandon conventionality, to take risks. In her essay “Professions for Women” she writes that she had to kill a phantom, the Angel of the House, “in self-defence,” in order to become a writer—the Angel being the voice that tells us we must “never have a mind of [our] own, but…to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.” “The struggle was severe,” she tells us. But she won.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
MaryEllen: I write and revise at my desk; I read in a big chair.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
MaryEllen: I am a former faculty member at Emerson College. I enjoyed it enormously—the students, fellow faculty members, and the opportunity to read and discuss books on that level.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
MaryEllen: Perhaps the greatest gift—being able to enter into the environment of books, of literature, as a reader, teacher, and writer.
Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?
MaryEllen: Virginia Woolf because I so admire her mind. I especially admire To the Lighthouse—its structure, its concerns about women’s lives.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
MaryEllen: I’m grateful to have published books. Before then I had published short stories in literary magazines. Having a book brings one to another level of confidence.
In these 13 stories, the protagonists find themselves living outside cultural mores and expectations as they confront the central questions of their lives. If they see themselves on some level as living in a post-modern world, their actions are driven by the need to recognize and accept its actuality and at the same time to seek order and meaning within its challenges and limitations. Their evolving states of consciousness are explored in their relationship to the physical world, particularly the natural world and the domestic setting. The search for a home often preoccupies them, whether this home is a true place or a place within. The stories offer a window into the inner lives of girls and women that reveals both their richness and invisibility.
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Thanks for swinging in for a chat, MaryEllen!
I mentioned that I’ve recently written a short story, but what I didn’t say is that it’s included in the What A Day! Short Stories by Southern Writers anthology that just released on April 5! I took the time in my story, “The Perfect Birthday Gift,” to get to know two of my Fury Falls Inn historical fantasy series characters, sisters Meg and Myrtle. You can learn more about all 11 stories in the book at www.heartofdixiefictionwriters.com/what-a-day/ and buy your copy at https://books2read.com/whataday!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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