Until recently, all I knew about Ann was that she wrote for the same publisher as I do (KGHH), and lives in the same state as my cousin (Oregon). So I asked her to give me a bit of a biography, which was a good thing because her writing credentials are epic. Make me feel like a complete beginner and rather humbled she took up my challenge. You see..
Ann’s a native Orgegonian, who’s traveled to China, Europe and Honduras. Her short stories – Oregon Gothic – came out in 2015. City Theatre, Miami, awarded her play, the Mating Season of Flying Monkeys, for Short Playwriting Finalist, 2015. The Mating Season of Flying Monkeys can also be found in 2017’s Winter edition of the Santa Ana River Review. Her short plays, The Next Mrs. Jacob Anderson and The Care and Feeding of Baby Birds, are included in the volumes, Ten Ten-Minute Plays, Volumes II and III. My play, Traces of Memory, has been made into several short films. Ann also hold a BA in Theatre, from Eastern Oregon University and an MFA from UNLV in Playwriting. Her Twitter handle is A.R.W. @malheurwoman and her blog efforts can be found at the Ann Wuehler Project.
Over to you Ann…
What is your favourite book from childhood?
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, comes to mind immediately. I read it, reread it, then read it again and again. The gentle adventures of Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg became a comforting background noise in my head and still is. I understood Jo and her temper and her impetuous acting out. I knew all about that great need to get the words out and down on paper. I got that; it. as they say, resonated. Meg I found the least interesting sister and I found Amy, with her attempts to be artistic and refined, also an echo of movements and tides going on in my own life. And poor Beth. That intense shyness, oh yes. There was something in each sister that struck little chords or big ones in me, and made a sort of inner melody I can still hear to this day. I read the sequels as well. Dan from Little Men became one of my favorite characters and what happened to him in Jo’s Boys still makes me snarl. I’m snarling right now.
Another book I just loved and read until I practically had it memorized was Watership Down by Richard Addams. Oh! Hazel and Bigwood and Fiver! Their search for a safe place, their battles to stand against General Woundwort, that rich mythology that permeates the book, those gods and heroes of rabbitworld. Another favorite was Duncton Wood by William Horwood. Moles, this time. Bracken and Rebecca, and Mandrake, Rebecca’s horrible, ultimately understandable father and Boswell and Rose the healer and…I could right now pick this one up and read it yet again. It’s the hero’s journey from the point of view of a mole and Rebecca has a journey as well.
I could go on and on here. I read a lot. I reread a lot. There’s also Grimm’s fairy tales and Hans Christian Andersen’s tales and…
What is the first book that made you cry?
Yeah, it’s Little Women, that’s the one I remember causing my eyes to leak salty rivers. What happened to Beth. And then I read Where the Red Fern Grows. Dan and Little Ann. Uh huh. And Black Beauty, every single time I read it. Ahem. There’s a list here. Pretty much anything involving an animal. I don’t like admitting things make me cry. I rather hate anyone knowing what a soft-hearted, thoroughly weepy sort I become over books and fictional characters who often seem more real than people around me at times. Which is not something I should ever admit so pretend I did not admit that, thanks.
Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?
Mm. If I don’t like a writer or their book, I generally don’t even bother reading it. I know there are books written by authors that just make me go, WHY DID YOU WRITE THIS, WHY?? FOR THE LOVE OF PANCAKES, WHY?? Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven, for instance. Ugh a bug! It started out so promising and then, in my opinion, fizzled out like a wet fart. Yes, that’s my professional literary take of that work. As she wrote one of my favorite books ever, her Beauty, [a retelling of the Beauty and Beast tale], I was so looking forward to reading yet another one of her books. And…yeah, ugh a bug. I’d read her Deerskin and Spindle’s End and others, so I do have a little bit of framework for my ‘wet fart’ reaction to Dragonhaven. I made it through to the end and should probably try it again. I do try to be fair. I do.
I have read one of the Twilight books. The second one, I had to go Google the title just now, it’s New Moon…where Vampire Fabio goes away and Bella sinks into near catatonia. And I’m thinking, why doesn’t she ride that werewolf boy like a slip-n-slide until Vampire Fabio gets home? [Or at least do some heavy petting. Get it ? Get it??] Is therapy in Bella’s future? Is she maybe going to develop a comedy act based on small towns, being clumsy and loving an actual monster? How many monsters does Forks hold? Will Bella be courted by an intense zombie? Or maybe a super-broody ghoul with a tortured need to both eat her and take her out for fries and gravy? Let the yucks begin! Just something that would make this dreary book interesting…I was in China at the time and it was one of the few books at the school in English…so I took it back to my dorm [yes, I lived in a dorm for two years, but I had my own bathroom.] and slogged through it. I had no interest in reading it again. None.
Now, granted, the Russian writers produce books of great, soul-destroying dreariness, but they do it so artistically and skillfully you enjoy having your soul crumpled slowly into little bits and then swept up by the cosmic grim-faced gods. So probably that one foray into the Twilight literary mud puddle might have made me try a bit harder to not be like that, though, God knows, I can produce mud puddle dreck with the best of them.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I recycle, from family memories I’ve doctored and not remembered right and outright made up, from other things I’ve heard or seen or witnessed, so there probably are some very common themes and connections in my present body of work. I also write plays [and started off my writing life as a poet when Miss MacGregor called me up to her desk in fifth grade and told me that poem I’d turned in was really good.] I can both blame and praise her for putting the idea in my head that I could write. The roads haven’t been rocky since then, but pot-hole riddled deer paths through thorn brambles and excursions through solid rock with only a rusted dull spoon to help me out. Grim? Pessimistic?? You bet your keister it is. I am trying to be honest here, after all.
My Oregon Gothic is just short tales gathered from whatever surrounded me at the time. Thailand, where I sat at a French cafe watching people disembark and embark on the ferry for the big dirty river roiling past the shopping mall across the square. Getting on and off buses in China, which I did a lot. Riding about in the back country of Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho on a four-by-four, lands steeped in local lore, blood from battles, murders and ambushes, the myth of the cowboy and stories handed down through families whose relatives came through in prairie schooners, on foot or pushing handcarts or boats and ships or were there to start with…That ‘what if’ that kicks in. That mind picture. A glimpse of something and a hard little seed in my mind’s teeth, if that makes sense. Usually it’s a bit of speech I hear, some collection of words spoken by others as they pass by or sit at the next table or stand in front of me or behind me in a line…I am always listening and waiting for ‘bit o’gold’ that sparks something. We writers, always eavesdropping, noticing, paying attention to the oddest things, gathering impressions and notions for our alchemical attempts. Sometimes they pan out. Do I find myself visiting the same little bit of land, trying to get the same lead to turn into gold every so often, in my writing? Yes, of course. Mothers, identity, patterns that repeat in people’s lives– which is a pretty safe little list. Very generic! I write about the human condition! It’s all connected! Yeah. No, I write about things that hurt and amuse me, about what I’d wish I’d said in such and such a situation, about strong people when I’m so very weak, about monsters taken on that I can’t take on in my own life…I write because I’m trying to understand the very confusing, awful, wonderful world I find going on about me.
Right now, I am actually working on a sequel, to a ghost-heavy novel I just finished. The mother fought the forces of darkness in the first outing, called House on Clark Boulevard and now the daughter must take them on, in Alice in Oregonlandia. [One of the things I want written or told about me is that– She wrote about Oregon. When I am listed in the Who’s Who of Writers Who Tried] I am also attempting to write about specific time periods, with the first book set in 1978, and the second book set around 1987. So, I get to satisfy my research fetish [I do so love looking up specifics and getting just so and so exactly right; it’s rather hard to blend and blur needed this and that together for the sake of story or character. Probably why I don’t do historical fiction or historical plays…I’d go mad, mad I tell ya!] and continue onward with characters that have not yet, perhaps, finished their journeys. How precious, I know. I can get very very precious at the drop of a hat, so…
What did you edit out of your latest book?
Mm. Well, out of House on Clark Boulevard, which might not see the light of day but hey, going to talk about it anyway, I edited entire sequences as to what Nancy, my main squeeze and the one we get to witness the story through, went through on the night she snaps and leaves the house. I had her run over to the neighbors. I had her being hurt by a possessed Art, her husband. [I scrapped that with Nancy herself telling me, no, I’m not going down like that. Write something else!] I had her calling her brother’s girlfriend and going over there. I finally ended up with her calling her brother to come get her, because that felt the most honest and true for the story told so far. Nancy wouldn’t go to outsiders, as she saw them, she’d go to family, even though she felt she couldn’t trust anyone at that point…and her brother wouldn’t ask too many questions. So that’s the one I went with.
For one of the stories in Oregon Gothic, I tried out several endings. Bailey, where a young woman comes up against a truly horrible vampire-like monster, languished a while in limbo. How to end it. I went through her killing James, to having James end her. To epic physical smack downs to James getting her to go with him to…yeah. I’m not entirely happy with how it did end. Or what happened to her grandparents. I stepped away from what I wanted to happen–Bailey wins and the vampire gets stomped into grape juice somehow– and let the story go where it wanted– Bailey ‘wins’ but at a great awful cost. As that’s, to me, how real life works. You win some and mostly you get battered into jelly and then you win a bit and then stomped and shredded and…which is more about me than anything else. I almost want to write the sequel to that somewhat long story, but I wonder if it would be more about me trying to tackle whatever little braindemon lives in my head munching away or about actually exploring the big unwieldy themes of evil, humanity, and power. But. Isn’t it my job to take on those little braindemons of mine and splatter them about on page and computer screen and examine those splatters over and over and over until they make sense? I’m going with– yep. And often, it’s the things I self-censor out that I should probably let fall where they may. Yep, yep.
First out of the starters gate to answer my 5 questions for authors is a fellow writer from the KGHH stable: Mr Christopher Long. He writes horror, which if I’m honest is not my most favourite of genres – unless it’s by Hitchcock (ie more suspense than horror). But I have to say Chris is a good writer: a very good writer. His novel Something Needs Bleeding scared the living daylights out of me! However, enough of me…
- What is your favourite book from childhood?
My favourite book from childhood has to be James and the Giant Peach. There are some which made me laugh more or scared the living hell out of me, but James and the Giant Peach was the one that opened the door for the rest of them to get into my head. It tuned my brain into finding stories that interested me and devouring them as quickly as I could. It also got me into thinking about how I would tell a story myself. It still feels like a story that wasn’t trying to teach me right from wrong or lecture me about the mistakes kids make in adult society. It wasn’t too old fashioned either. It felt contemporary, accessible and, better than that, it felt wondrously so close to being possible. It was sheer delight as a kid and it’s still a brilliant story now.
2. What is the first book that made you cry?
The book that first made me cry? That’s a pretty tough one. Very few books get to me that way. Which isn’t me trying to sound manly. I gave up on that a long time ago, back when people expected me to do woodwork at school.
A book can move me, but rarely pushes me over that emotional edge. Movies can do it. I think it’s something with the music and images. If they get under my skin, then I can’t separate myself from them. When I’m reading, my brain seems better at distracting me from the emotion. I know it sounds a little closed off, but I think it’s something to do with how I distance from myself feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time. One advantage is that the distance has taught me a few tricks when it comes to trying to keep my own readers from being able to disconnect. Pacing and imagery can, hopefully, keep them turning pages. That’s the plan, anyway.
That said, I do remember the first time I read the Bill Hicks biography, American Scream. I had watched all of Hicks’ stand-up videos by then and owned most of his albums as well. He was a hero of mine and I had always known he died young, but reading the chapter where he was told he had cancer just totally floored me. It put me in the room with him. I imagined seeing him hearing the news, absorbing it, trying to fit the diagnosis into his own understanding of his life. It still gets me now.
3. Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?
I was talked into reading The Da Vinci Code by someone I worked with. I really hadn’t been that interested in it, but they loved it. I couldn’t get into it at all but, one night, there was work being done to the train line next to our house for about six hours and there was just no way I was going to sleep. So, I sat up by the glare of the workers’ floodlights and read the whole thing in one sitting.
It was an interesting experience. I found myself only half engaged by the story at best and spent a lot of the novel trying to peer behind the curtain. You could see the influences to the pace and plot and you could see the research Dan Brown had carefully stitched into place. I started trying to work out how I would maybe attempt it myself.
Now, when I’m writing something I’m not entirely invested in or connected with, I will stop and look back over it. I’ll try and look for plot holes, for the ideas I’ve tried too hard to cram in where they don’t fit. It seems to work pretty well.
4. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
All my ghost stories do have linking motifs running through them. There are recurring characters, companies and villages that crop up across them. When I first tied a couple of them together, back when I was self-publishing, I felt so smug about it. I waited for ages, hoping someone would notice. It never happened. I’m still wondering if, one day, someone might start to pick up on it. For the time being, I think I’m just doing it for myself. A way to keep myself hooked into an early draft, probably. It is fun.
5. What did you edit out of your latest book?
I recently edited a whole married couple of my second novel. I had a subplot involving a woman who was trying to be haunted by her dead lover. That then became a married couple, where the woman had a job that involved her being possessed and her husband being jealous of the experiences she was having. Their storyline was designed to weave through the main plot, but they were just getting in the way of what I wanted to say in the new draft.
Maybe one day I’ll give them a story all of their own. I did like working with The Dawsons.
You can find me on Phoenix FM – tomorrow – about 1pm. I shall be talking about the Secret of Aldwych Strand Triology and dropping a few hints about the upcoming Symington Byrd Mysteries . Do listen via T’internet. After all what else would you do on a bank holiday?