Friday Feature: Interview with Carol Marsh

Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Carol Marsh, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.

Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?

My first publication was in Soundings Review. I was named Runner Up in their 2014 First Publication contest. At the time of the emailed notification of the award, I was attending the winter residency for my MFA program at Goucher College. And it felt beyond wonderful. I actually screamed. Then I called my husband and my mother. I’m sure I acted and sounded like a teenager. Which I wasn’t, by a long shot.

The piece was, like the Jenny piece published last April, excerpted from my memoir about Miriam’s House.

What inspired your piece in the Jenny?

My piece in the Jenny, “Prophetess,” is excerpted from my memoir, Nowhere Else I Want To Be, about ten of my seventeen years as Founding Executive Director of Miriam’s House. A residence for homeless women with AIDS, Miriam’s House brought me into contact with amazing, strong women who are otherwise ignored by society. I wrote the memoir for many reasons, but one was so that other people have something of an opportunity to experience the women as I did, and, hopefully, become more respectful of and interested in the forgotten ones of our world.

What got you into writing?

In a word, reading. As with most writers I talk to, I was an avid reader from age four or five. This set me up for being a writer, and I still do a lot of reading (or listening to audio books) today. I never thought of writing in a formal way until, after having to leave Miriam’s House due to chronic migraine, I began to write stories of the women as a cathartic process. After 30,000 words, I realized I almost had a book.

But my love for writing sort of snuck up on me, when in high school I realized I was doing so much better on tests with essays than I did on regurgitate-the-facts tests. In college, I made sure to keep my electives to philosophy, English and literature courses with meaty essay questions.

What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I like simple, straight-forward writing. The more intellectual and erudite a writer’s style is, the sooner I flip to something else. I wasn’t always this way, but pain in the head (chronic migraine) makes me less patient these days.

What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?

My influences are the many deeply and freely spiritual people I’ve had the privilege to know and learn from over the years.

My favorite writers are Anne LaMott, Annie Dillard, Vivian Gornick, Joan Didion, Cheryl Strayed, Maya Angelou, and Marilynne Robinson. Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen and other eighteenth century Brits are my go-to writers for sheer pleasure. I love David Foster Wallace (on audio, his funny stuff rocks).

What’s your proudest moment as an author?

When I walked across the stage in August 2014 at Goucher College to get my MFA in Creative Nonfiction diploma, I thought I ruled the world! I had made a goal to graduate before I turned sixty. I was fifty-nine.

How has your writing developed over time?

My writing pre-Goucher was sentimental to the point of goo running off the page. My mentors helped me keep the emotion in my writing without drowning the reader in my feelings. My first drafts still tend to be overwrought, but I allow that as part of the writing process. Who lets a first draft get out there, anyway?

Another tendency I had was to repeat myself. I’d just find another way to say something and like it so much I’d stick it in. Couldn’t bear to delete any of my deathless prose. That lasted about one day during my first MFA summer residency.

Are you currently working on anything?

I’m working on several personal essays that I’d like to get published in literary journals this year. And I have an idea for a next book, but that’s too fresh and not ready for public scrutiny.

What’s your writing process?

My writing process is different from most, I suppose. I have chronic migraine, so it is very difficult to make a schedule or promise myself I will complete x pages in a day. Sometimes I have difficulty maintaining momentum because when a migraine strikes (and I do mean strikes), I cannot read or write or look at a computer screen. But I have discovered that those quiet times when I’m managing the pain (dark room, blindfold, cup of tea, deep relaxation) can be productive. For example, I’ll get an idea for solving a problem in voice of an essay I’ve begun. Or the re-write of a sentence or paragraph I’ve flagged as needing revision pops into my thoughts. It’s not magical. I think it’s just the fact of slowing down and letting the mind relax.

I will say that I believe a balanced life is essential to being a good writer. Though the migraines tend toward unbalance, I’ve found that I’m a better person and a better writer when keeping my relationships (particularly that with my husband of twenty-three years) strong, my spiritual life consistent and curious, and my body and mind in shape. I’m enjoying finding out how much getting physically fit helps my writing. I have joined a YMCA and have been working out with a personal trainer. And you should see me on the treadmill. Seventeen-minute mile. Wooohoooo! I’m not spectacular (yet … ?) but I do notice a bump in creative energy and power after a workout.

What are you currently reading?

Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.

Have you ever worked with a medium other than writing? Or collaborated with someone in another medium with your writing?

While still at Miriam’s House, I wrote a sort of play/reading thing that we used as a fundraiser a couple of years. Collaborating with me was an artist and photographer who had marvelous ideas and whose youthful enthusiasm really made the whole project. I had envisioned a concert and that was about it. But she made the hall part of the performance by using art work, photographs, and writings of the women of Miriam’s House. The whole thing absolutely belonged to them. It was most special to watch them respond to the artist, get excited about their work being shown, and then, the night of the show, drag friends and family around the hall to see everything.


Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.

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