Award-winning journalist and author of the Shebook, Ricochet, Mary Jo McConahay gives us a peek at her storytelling process.
How do you think your religious identity has influenced your writing?
Not only did our parents tell us stories in the family and read to us, but at Catholic school and at church on Sundays issues of faith, moral dilemmas, history, the miraculous, and far-off places were presented through stories I practically memorized over the years. I think that kind of upbringing influenced my point of view that such themes naturally might weave themselves through a good yarn.
When did you first decide you were a writer?
I never thought of myself as anything but a writer of one sort or another—journalist, playwright, travel writer, short story writer. My first published piece appeared in my grammar school “newspaper,” a story in which I took on myself the character of a young raindrop who fell away from her family onto Earth, experienced adventures, and eventually ended up in a river from which Louis Pasteur took her as a sample for his experiments in germ theory so she was responsible for saving millions of lives. Not too self-centered, is it? I was young.
Do you have an imaginary reader you write for? Who is it?
I keep in mind the reader who is smart and curious but hasn’t necessarily been to the places I am writing about, so I am careful to create the landscape throughout, describe appearance and history, smell and light. Everything I write, I hope, starts with a sense of place.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?
Write every day. Not every other day, not when the spirit hits. Every day.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m writing a book with the working title Tango War about the struggle between Fascism and the Allies for South America during World War II. Research has already taken me to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and recently to Italy where—a fact not generally known but well remembered by Italians—South American units fought bravely.
Do you have any secret talents?
No secret talents, but some of my friends think I should not mention certain jobs I’ve had—as a model, a flight attendant—because they suggest a past incongruent with being a serious writer. I loved those jobs.
Read Ricochet: Two women war reporters and a friendship under fire only at Shebooks