Thursday, April 10, 2014

Unwell by Marie Chow ~ Write Now Literary Virtual Book Tours ~ Interview

by Marie Chow


Crystal: Today as part of this Write Now Literary Virtual Book Tours I have the opportunity to ask Marie Chow a few questions. Welcome Marie, I'm very happy to have you here today. Would you share a little bit about yourself with us today?

Marie: I’m a former teacher and engineer who’s not-so-secretly in love with Tom Middleston. Though I wonder how disturbing it is that I’m only attracted to him when he’s playing Loki, who peddles in chaos and insanity?
I’m also a former movie projectionist and Alzheimer’s researcher. I’ve interviewed with the CIA (once to be an analyst and once to be… something else), and I’ve lived everywhere from Omaha and Boston to Taipei. 

Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for Unwell?

Marie: There was this conversation I had with my mother, sometime during my second trimester. As the months had passed, I’d noticed that being pregnant had become a larger and larger part of my identity. Strangers would come up and start conversations, offering advice. I had this moment of panic, that I confided to my mom: I wasn’t sure I was ready to be a mother…
I think such worries are common, pervasive, really. But my mother was, at the time, very distracted, and all she really said was: It’s too late for that.
Now, we’ve had many conversations since, and she’s given me far more helpful advice, but that idea that it was “too late” to back out of parenthood really resonated for me. I started to think about what-if-it-wasn’t? Could I imagine a mother abandoning her child? Not because she was forced to, or because she was abused, etc, but just… could I imagine a mother who would willingly abandon her family because she just didn’t feel capable of being a mother? Or of living what was, otherwise, a good life?

Crystal: What are you currently working on?

Marie: A book that’s set half in Shanghai (in the 1930s) and half in Temple City (present day). I’ve got a pretty firm grip on the main male protagonist… but I haven’t quite decided what role any of the females might play…

Crystal: Do you have any special routine that you follow when you are writing?

Marie: I like to listen to just one song… on loop. Headphones have become very important for my husband’s sanity.

Crystal: Did you have to do a lot of research this book or any other?

Marie: The newest book I’m writing has a lot more research involved since part of it is set in the 1930s. I’m afraid that for my debut, I relied on places I spent summers in and/or locations I was at least somehow personally familiar with.

Crystal: Who are some of your favorite authors that you like to read?

Marie: Margaret Atwood. Richard Russo. Donald Hall. Oh, and now that I have two toddlers, Dr. Seuss.

Crystal: Is there a genre you haven't written that you would like to try?

Marie: I’ve currently been writing a lot of children’s books as it’s something that helps me keep my sanity (my son’s always readily distracted by a new rhyming book, which saves me from having to repeat The Lorax for the gazillionth time). I’ve had a science fiction novel that’s been bouncing around my head for years now… then again, this one marinated for three years before I finally wrote it… so who knows if it’ll ever get written!

Crystal: Do you have a favorite scene you would like to share with us?

Marie: This is a scene, about 60% into the novel, when our main protagonist meets her boyfriend’s second (honorary) mother. Neither of the “mothers” approve of their relationship, but I’ve always enjoyed this first introduction to Barbara.
Barbara Prachter, on the other hand, invited me over to her Beacon Hill brownstone, had food delivered from the best restaurants for us to enjoy, and was both forthright and consistent about her underlying concern.

We sat in her formal living room, with a variety of food spread out before us, and she spoke as though we had asked her a question. Really, it didn’t matter what we said, she assumed we’d be seeking her approval. It was my first time meeting her, and there was almost no lead-in before she said, looking at me as if the relationship was my responsibility, my decision, “There’s nothing wrong with dating, of course. I’ve dated. I was even married once, to a putz.”
She was an almost aggressively skinny woman, and though you could see the faint outline of breasts under her button-up shirts, that seemed to be the only place fat of any sort resided on her body (in my wilder moments I anthropomorphized the lipids in her body and said to them: I understand, you’ve had to retreat, her breasts are your last stand). Her hair was streaked liberally with gray by the time I met her, and kept quite short (not what my mother would call lesbian short, but rather, barely-past-her-ears, almost long enough to be considered a feminine haircut). Her clothes, though expensive, reflected her general apathy about the concept of attire in general: she wore cashmere sweaters when the weather demanded it, navy or tan slacks, paired with a colorful variety of button-up shirts all in the same style. When I saw her in the summer, it’d be in more or less the same outfit, sans the cashmere. It was almost as though she had decided: yes, this outfit will do, please give it to me in every color combination possible, so that I never again have to waste precious time actually thinking about clothing (thinking about it now, it would make complete sense to me if this is exactly what had happened). 
Also, she had picked up smoking by then, which I always thought was an odd choice, given her understanding of human anatomy and physiology. She waved the cigarette around while she perched on the edge of an elegant, probably vaguely Victorian-era chair, a stack of papers needing grading on the coffee table to her right, another stack of submitted papers awaiting her editorial comments on the Oriental rug to her left. 
“Putz, putz, putz,” she muttered, as though we were still talking, even though she’d looked down and away by then, leaving me with clenched hands, wondering how to respond.
Ash landed on her students' papers, and she swished it away, smudging it. Ash landed on her peers’ papers, and she glanced at it, unperturbed. 
She sucked down another mouthful and let the smoke out one side before continuing, pointing the cigarette and two fingers in my general direction. She looked me in the eyes and pronounced judgment in a way that I’d eventually become used to, a style that was uniquely hers: part compliment, while also simultaneously, judgmental, managing, and insulting. “At least you’re not a putz. That much I can tell.”

About The Book 

She's married to a wonderful man, pregnant with a healthy child, and knows there's so much she should be thankful for, and yet--
She's not ready for motherhood.
She's not ready to be a wife.
She's not ready for the realities that have trapped her.
To pass the time, fill the void, and in hopes that someone may eventually understand, she begins a letter to her unborn daughter. In it she tells, unflinchingly, her life story that bring her to this moment. She explains what she hasn't told anyone else: not only who she is, but who she isn't. 

Genre women's/contemporary/literary


Marie is a former teacher, education evaluator, and engineer. A lifelong student, she has degrees in degrees in chemical engineering, teaching, an MFA in writing, and a doctorate in educational leadership. Her writing focuses on bilingual and English-only children's books that feature mixed families, as well as literary and contemporary fiction focused on Asian and Asian American characters.

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