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Ann Putnam holds a PhD in literature from the University of Washington. She teaches creative writing and gender studies at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She has published short fiction, personal essays, literary criticism and book reviews in various anthologies including Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, and in journals, including the Hemingway Review, Western American Literature, and the South Dakota Review. Her latest work is a memoir, Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye. Information about her book and how to order it can be found on her website: www.annputnam.com, which includes reviews and radio interviews and bio. Her book can be ordered at any bookstore, through Amazon, and directly from the distributor at www.tamupress.com or by phone: 1-800-826-8911. She has a Facebook page also, as well as a website through her University: www.ups.edu/faculty/aputnam.html.
I’m an academic, and so my writing life for a number of years revolved around scholarly works. So I’ve published quite a number of such things—articles, reviews, and the like. During this time I also published short fiction and personal essays. I’ve written two novels, which I’m in the process of revising, but my memoir, Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye is my first book-length publication.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
Oh my. This is a wrenching question. My first book-length work is an autobiographical novel called Incantation. It was agented for a period of months but my agent didn’t find a publisher and let it sort of languish. So I took it back, where it lay in that proverbial drawer for a number of years while I wrote another novel. Now I’ve pulled it out of the drawer, dusted it off, and am half-way through a deep revision.
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
This is a lovely question to answer. Unlike my trials with trying to publish literary fiction in this day and age, my memoir found a home very easily. I submitted it one university press and they almost took it but finally declined, as it resembled too closely another memoir they had recently published. So on a hunch and a great deal of luck, I called up the editor of Southern Methodist University Press, who had a Medical Humanities Series; they took it, and the rest is history, as they say.
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
Oh, I have had so many rejections of my literary fiction I cannot even count them. Each time I’d put up my armor, feeling ready for it, but a day or two later it would pierce me to the quick. I’d feel like never writing another word. The world would turn gray in every aspect of my life. This feeling, thankfully, was always short-lived, and I’d pick up the pen to live another day in the writer’s life. But it has never ever been easy or something I could just let wash over me.
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
I think I talked a bit about this earlier. The editor of the first press who turned me down recommended Southern Methodist University Press, and after a little research thought they would be a good fit.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
Ah, doesn’t a writer during the writing of a work, especially one that evolves over a period of years imagine that phone call or letter in the mail or now, e-mail, and that moment of learning, yes yes yes! We want you and only you!
My experience was more subdued than ever I imagined it to be. It became just a slowly emerging sense of gratitude that the universe had blessed me in this way and that I was just very very lucky. The final revision and then the book-in-my-very-own-hands moment came at a very dark time in my life, and so recent that I can’t help speaking of it. Although my husband knew it would be published he died before the book came out, and so he did not have a chance to read it. That being said, he lived it, and walked those halls with me all the way. He appears in the book as a sort of heroic presence, or that’s what a number of reviewers have said. So the publication had its bittersweet aspects.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
Since my book has a university press publisher, I received lots of back up and great advice but a lot was left up to me. I began by getting book readings at the large bookstores in my hometown of Seattle, and reviews in the Seattle Times to coincide with the readings. None of this was easy, to say the least.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
Not at all. I’m thrilled with the exquisite job my press did with my book. Everything about it is elegant and first-rate. The cover is just extraordinarily beautiful.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
I guess I’ve been mostly working on interviews such as this one for my virtual book tour. Several of my short stories are going to be published in a collection called Nine by Three in the fall. How have I grown as a writer? That’s pretty hard to say looking from the outside in. Maybe others might have a sense. I think I am less self-conscious, less intimated by the blank page, more open to writing really badly, and with more confidence in my abilities to see redemption in what initially appears to me to be hopeless.
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
Oh, I wish I knew the answer to this one! If only there were a secret I would hold to it fast and go forth fearlessly. I think the one thing I wish I had been able to do, yet may never be able to do, is to write through rejection and not let it slow me down and make me doubt myself. That turns joy into fear. And of course a “writer is someone who writes,” not someone who is published. That’s line from a Marge Piercy poem I look to often.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Oh, this is an easy one. The answer to this one just comes off my fingertips onto the page. The book readings. I discovered how much this book is my work in the world right now and how much it has done already, how much it still needs to do. I discovered the ability to get inside the words I was reading and inhabit them in a kind of otherworldy way. And then at the end when I took questions from the audience, I found the most amazing ability to open my heart to dark and fearful places and bring them into the light.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
I’m a teacher and writer and can’t imagine what else I would be good at. I believe I am ill-equipped for much in life. And I’m so fortunate to have discovered a profession that is also a calling.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
What I have found blessed and also very tricky is balancing the two halves of this world of words I inhabit. So often the only writing I get done are my written comments on student papers. Weeks and weeks go by when all my energies are taken up with my students and the works we are reading. Combining the competing urgencies of the teacher and the writer is a continuing struggle. But I would give up neither and have found oddly that they often nourish each other in strange and unexpected ways.
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
Very tired. Right now I am writing responses for this interview and a dozen others like it. I have two conference papers to finish for a Hemingway conference in Switzerland where I’ll be, be God-willing, a week from today. I don’t have a thought beyond that. However, that being said, I hope to be happy and fully immersed in my writing life.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
I think I do. Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird talks about this in her usual charming, disarming and hilarious way: publication is not all it’s cracked up to be. The joy—the spiritual, artistic, life-altering joy—is in the process, not in the outcome of that process, as that is so often out of the writer’s hands.
This is the story of my mother and father and my dashing, bachelor uncle, my father’s identical twin, and how they lived together with their courage and their stumblings, as they made their way into old age and then into death. And it’s the story of the journey from one twin’s death to the other, of what happened along the way, of what it means to lose the other who is also oneself.
My story takes the reader through the journey of the end of life: selling the family home, re-location at a retirement community, doctor’s visits, ER visits, specialists, hospitalizations, ICU, nursing homes, Hospice. It takes the reader through the gauntlet of the health care system with all the attendant comedy and sorrows, joys and terrors of such things. Finally it asks: what consolation is there in growing old, in such loss? What abides beyond the telling of my own tale? Wisdom carried from the end of the journey to readers who are perhaps only beginning theirs. Still, what interest in reading of this inevitable journey taken by such ordinary people? Turned to the light just so, the beauty and laughter of the telling transcend the darkness of the tale.
During the final revisions of this book, my husband was dying of cancer, and he died before I could finish it. What I know so far is this: how pure love becomes when it is distilled through such suffering and loss–a blue flame that flickers and pulses in the deepest heart.
As I finish this book he is gone three months.
These are the words of Ann Putnam, author of the heart-wrenching memoir, Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye (Southern Methodist University Press).
Here’s an excerpt:
Writing this now in a rainy light after loss upon loss, a memory comes to me. When I was a teenager, I took voice lessons from Ruth Havstad Almandinger, who gave me exercises and songs I hardly ever practiced. I have wondered why this memory has so suddenly come to me now, and why this, the only song I remember, comes back to me whole and complete:
“Oh! my lover is a fisherman/ and sails on the bright blue river
In his little boat with the crimson sail/ sets he out on the dawn each morning
With his net so strong/ he fishes all the day long
And many are the fish he gathers
Oh! My lover is a fisherman
And he’ll come for me very soon!”
If only I’d known then that my true love would be a fisherman, I might have practiced that song harder and sung it with more feeling, which was what Ruth Havstad Almandinger was always trying to get me to do. If only I’d had a grown up glimpse of my true love when I was sixteen, I would have sung that song so well. If only I’d known he would have cancer and go to the lake for healing the summer after the radiation treatments were done. If only I’d known that I would be his fishing partner that miracle summer of the sockeye come into the lake from the sea. If only I’d known that the cancer would return and that I would do everything I could to save him, knowing all along that he could not be saved, and that my heart would break beyond breaking, then break again. If only I’d seen the sun coming up over the mountains and the sky shift from gray to purple and the pale smudge of light against the mountains turn gold just above the crest. If only I’d seen the sun glinting off those sunslept waters as my love lets down the fishing lines, and off in the distance a salmon leaps—a silver flashing in the sky as if to split the heart of the sun—before it disappears into a soundless splash, in this all too brief and luminous season, to spawn and to die—oh, how I would have sung that song.
Ann teaches creative writing and women’s studies at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She has published short fiction, personal essays, literary criticism, and book reviews in various anthologies such as Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice and in journals, including the Hemingway Review, Western American Literature, and the South Dakota Review. Her recent release is Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye. You can visit her website at http://www.annputnam.com.
Ann will be on virtual book tour June 1 – July 30 ’10. Visit her official tour page at Pump Up Your Book to find out more about her new memoir, Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye.