About the Book:
Elizabeth’s daughter, Angelica, has joined a cadre of eco-terrorists, and Mary (yes, the Holy One) has abruptly ended her “Operation: Earth Rescue” appearances at Elizabeth’s North Carolina farm. Now Elizabeth must discover her own calling, a passion worth risking her life for. It’s a journey into her own heart, and the adventure she embarks on is as unpredictable to her as it will be to the reader.
1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?
I’m a late bloomer. While I admire the energy and honesty of young writers, I’d like to think that added wisdom and insight come with age. Freed from the hectic demands of job and parenting, I have time to reflect on my own life choices/experiences and those of people I’ve come into contact with over the years (which includes characters I’ve encountered through reading).
Yet I’ve always been a storyteller—that is, ask me a question and I’ll answer with a story. And I’ve long recognized a good story when I’ve heard about someone’s experience. That happened with Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987). I met Anna and Daniel thirty years ago and thought, wow, that would make a great book. They agreed to an 11-day interview. However, the book didn’t come out until 2017. It took me that long to figure out how to tell a love story that didn’t end with “happily-ever-after.”
2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?
I treat writing as a job. That is, I try not to schedule daytime activities. “Try” is the operative word here. Even though I’m an introvert I recognize the need for friends. But I limit engagements.
I’m neither a morning nor night person. Each morning I have to read the news and do a Sudoku before I get to my computer. That seems to get my brain in gear.
I’m lucky to have my own space, a quiet office that looks out on our wooded lot, distracted by little more than a male cardinal or nuthatch.
3: Where do your ideas come from?
I’m often inspired by weird stories that appear in the newspaper. In the 1990s I read a short piece in The Chicago Tribune that Virgin Mary visitations at a Conyers, GA farm, had ended. Until then busloads of people had been attending. I wondered, what would the woman who had channeled Mary do now? She had become irrelevant.
At about that time I was looking up a word in my dictionary and came upon a picture of Mary Surratt (executed as a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth). I started reading about her. As deplorable as her actions were, she was committed to a cause. I found that interesting.
In more recent years I became worried about the environment. How could I make my life and my voice count? I considered several options, one of them eco-terrorism. No, I’m afraid of dying. My imagination returned to the Mary visitations. What if Mary came to a contemporary woman with the goal of rescuing Earth from ecological destruction? What if the main character’s daughter became an eco-terrorist? How could Mary Surratt somehow get into the story?
Thus was While Earth Still Speaks inspired.
4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?
A character forms first, and I’m pretty sure what her dilemma is. I write and write until she’s fully revealed herself. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s challenging. I end up throwing away a lot of the initial writing. At some point the story takes on a life of its own, often surprising me. I’ll read and ask myself, “Where did that come from?”
5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?
If my stories fall into any genre it’s probably women’s fiction—not to be confused with chick-lit.
6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?
I love this question. Meryl Streep as Elizabeth; Archie Panjabi (with added wrinkles and padding around the waist) as Mary.
7: Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Yes, I read. Being part of a book club, I’m introduced to books I probably wouldn’t read otherwise. For example, June’s book was Behind the Beautiful Forevers, certainly not a pleasant story but one that broadens my circle of empathy.
My favorite author is Anne Tyler. I love her eccentric characters. Reading her books makes me feel like I have permission to imagine quirky protagonists. Isabel Allende’s a favorite too, mainly because of all the authors I’ve heard speak, she seemed the most genuine.
8: What book/s are you reading at present?
In preparation for my next writing project, I’ve mainly been delving into non-fiction books about the South, particularly North Carolina at the close of the nineteenth century: the plight of North Carolina farmers, Jim Crow laws, and state politics. Last year I won the Alex Albright Non-fiction award for a piece about my husband’s grandfather: “Leander’s Lies.” I plan to develop that into a historical novel about Leander, a minister who deserted two wives and five children in North Carolina and married Wife No. 3 out in Missouri. I keep wondering, why did he leave?
9: What is your favorite book and why?
Giant, by Edna Ferber. I was very young when I saw Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean in the movie. I immediately checked the book out of the library. I don’t remember the differences between the movie and the book, but something in it touched a young girl’s heart at a deep level. Now as the mother of adult children and friend to many mothers like me, I appreciate the way each generation must map the future for themselves. AND how as mothers we must accept our children’s decisions.
10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?
I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “thinking about” it. It’s a drive that grabs you and you can’t do otherwise. For some, like me, it takes longer for all this drive inside us to bubble up and erupt. But when it does…
It sounds like a cliché, you hear it so much, but you’ve got to sit down at the computer or with a pencil in hand and just start. It’ll likely be crap at first, and you’ll ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” You won’t be able to help yourself, though.
11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?
A few years ago a hacker sent out a message through my Facebook page that I had lost thirty pounds through a miraculous weight-loss program. The grammar mistakes were the giveaway—plus acquaintances knew I hadn’t lost thirty pounds. I changed my password and went to a private setting. Recently I again established the public page at “Nancy Poling, author.”
For several years I’ve been blogging. I began to realize that all of my posts were political, which would get me all riled up while writing them. So I took a break and started an email list. For the next few months I’ll share scenes of the protagonist’s childhood that I decided not to include in While Earth Still Speaks.
About the Author:
I am a late bloomer. As a child I didn’t create stories nor did I dream of someday becoming an author. Yet I’ve long had other qualities associated with writers: I seldom follow directions and I’ve always been a daydreamer. Ask me a question, and my response is likely to be a long narrative that goes practically back to “In the beginning…”
Though born in Indiana, I was reared in Orlando, Florida, when it was still a sleepy little southern town. Yet my husband and I have lived in the Chicago area for more than twenty years. So I’m either a Midwesterner who’s been influenced by my southern upbringing or a Southerner influenced by midwestern ways. In December of 2008, to be closer to our children and grandchildren, we returned to the South, to North Carolina. The move further confuses my identity conundrum.
Friends think of me as having a positive outlook, but I can quickly create a list of negatives—things I DON”T do. I don’t cook. I don’t have a pet, nor do I want one. I don’t serve on committees. I haven’t adjusted well to technology (not even to the telephone).
I DO like sunshine and feel nostalgic for the days when we assumed it was safe to bake on a beach towel. I like time to myself. I like books. I travel every chance I get, and if I anticipate staying home for a while, I take trips vicariously through the Travel section of the New York Times. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Europe, Africa, and Asia. In 2005 and 2008 my husband was invited to teach a semester in Seoul, ROK. We both came to love the country and its people, who taught us much about hospitality.
Finally, I treasure time spent with my husband, Jim, our children, and grandchildren.