April 8, 2009 / 11:07 AM / 10 years ago

Author Mary McGarry Morris finds persistence pays

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - American novelist Mary McGarry Morris had 27 rejection letters before her first novel saw the light of day, but more than 20 years later she’s glad that she never lost her faith in herself or her work.

American novelist Mary McGarry Morris is seen in a recent publicity photo. REUTERS/Frank Monkiewicz/Handout

Morris, 66, is the author of seven novels including “A Dangerous Woman” which was made into a movie starring Debra Winger and Gabriel Byrne and “Songs in Ordinary Time” that was chosen for the Oprah Winfrey book club.

Her latest novel, “The Last Secret,” released this month, is about secrecy, betrayal and passion in which a woman uncovers her husband’s affair while a dark secret from her own past reemerges.

Morris wrote her first novel “Vanished” over 10 years with only her family aware of her writing. It was published in 1988.

Morris, who lives in Massachusetts, spoke about her writing:

Q: You had a slow start with “Vanished?” A: “It was a long time getting published and those were the years in which I had a young family. I had five children and that made the writing hard to get to and it was in fits and starts.”

Q: Did the rejections knock your confidence?

A: “Vanished” was rejected 27 times by everyone from editors to agents. It wasn’t going anywhere. But I had such great faith in it as I knew it was good. In the early stages I would tweak it but then I put it away and I thought it would never see the light of day. Then the first agent that took me on managed to find a publisher. She is still my agent.”

Q: Had you always wanted to write?

A: “I was one of those children who knew early on exactly what I wanted to do and be in life. I was fascinated by life around me and growing up in the ‘50s was the time of great freedom for children who would come and go as they pleased. It gave you a lot of time to let your imagination run wild.”

Q: Do you have a timetable for your writing?

A: “No, the only timetable I have is to always be writing. I am not comfortable when I am not writing. I am a steady writer and I just keep at it. I can’t imagine saying I have to write a novel a year because for me that is not the point.”

Q: Do you treat it as a job?

A: “Yes, I do it every day. I come down dressed for the day as if I were going to the office. It is very much a job for me. In the beginning, because I usually start with the pen, I will put in four or five hours a day. That is the dreaming part of the process. But when I am working on putting it onto my computer, I can spend longer days. “

Q: So you still write in longhand?

A: “”The Last Secret” was written totally in long hand. I have come to the point where I can now think onto a keyboard which did not come easily when I first started. But for me writing long hand has an organic feel almost, the more natural flowing from the inside out.”

Q: Do your ideas come from your life or your imagination?

A: “Both. Just about every novel begins with a character and that is the most important part for me. For “The Last Secret” it was when I heard a song on the radio, “Gimme Some Lovin,” that I’d heard many times before but one time I just had an image of a teenage girl running through the desert night and there is a freight train speeding along the track and the other side of the wheels is a speeding car after her. I jotted that down and the image, that feeling, that sense of mystery stayed with me for 15 years until I wrote this book.”

Q: Why so long to act on it?

A: “Sometimes a writer is just not ready or the material is not ready. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began to understand what the story was. Through the years of thinking about it I really began to know who the woman was and the psychopathic boyfriend looking for her that night. It became very real for me. I have a desk drawer filled with cocktail napkins with notes and ideas jotted on them.”

Q: What is your advice for aspiring writers?

A: “You truly have to have great faith, not just in yourself — as it took that to write the book — but you have to have faith in the work and also persistence. Keep at it.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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