Ann Best is the author of IN THE MIRROR, A MEMOIR OF SHATTERED SECRETS. It is the story of a woman who planned on her marriage lasting forever.
When Ann marries Larry in September of 1961, she is certain he will be that eternal companion. Eleven years later, she is devastated to learn that he has been having affairs with men. She wants to help him. She wants to save her marriage. However, powerful emotions pull Larry away from his family, and eight years later their marriage ends. As a single parent, Ann is now faced with four grieving children who do not want to leave their father and their home in Utah Valley. But Ann needs to start a new life in a new place. In the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Ann at last makes peace with the past.
- How did you develop an interest in writing?
I can’t say how I “developed” an interest. I only know that as far back as I can remember I liked to write stories, maybe because my mother read to me, nursery rhymes and fairy tales; I do remember those. That was 1946. I vaguely recall my first grade teacher encouraging me to do a “newspaper.” I still have it, two front-and-back brittle and yellowed pages that were printed on some kind of old printing device. I was the publisher, editor, and writer. Then in sixth grade (1952) I wrote a story I called “Call of the Canyon” that the teacher had me read to the class. It was heady stuff.
2. Tell me a little about your blog - address, how long you’ve been blogging, etc.
When I signed a contract in December of 2009 with my publisher, I was told I needed to set up a website and/or blog because with a disabled daughter I wouldn’t be able to leave my home to promote my book. Now I know that a static website isn’t worth much alone. Blogging is how you make contacts with people. I started with WordPress that my son linked to a website, but he didn’t have time to help me, and so, especially at the urging of well-known Blogger Karen Gowen, I set up a blogspot blog. As simple as it is, it still took me months to learn it. But now I also have a WordPress blog that I just put up, with a little bit of hired help. I love it. I love the sleek, professional look. I love the way you can reply right beneath each comment. And I love its flexibility. So I’m maintaining both, hoping to make even more new friends through each channel.
3. I see you are working on a MS - please tell me a little about it.
Working Title: Loving My Brother Again
How I got the idea? Well, when I first entered the graduate writing program, back in 1982 after my divorce from my first husband (main thread of my current published memoir) I took an autobiography writing workshop. After seeing some of the scenes I wrote, the professor encouraged me to write an autobiographical thesis, which turned out to be the beginning over thirty years later, of In the Mirror. So you can see I was in the memoir writing mode, and by now, at age 71, I’m definitely at the age to write a memoir. After graduate school and my daughters’ accident that crippled the oldest one, my younger brother, recently deceased, came into my life again. For a while he was homeless. I took him in. I had experiences that I recorded at the time, in narrative style. Lots of dialogue, which is my strong point. I even wrote a short story with some of the material that I submitted to a high-paying magazine, The Sun, who didn’t accept it but in a handwritten note the editor encouraged me to submit again. So, this is the novel, maybe novella, I’m working on now. I have quite a bit written, but I’ve got to figure out how to weave the past into it.
4. What other styles do you write? I have written poetry, one a poem that won first place at George Mason University and then Grand Prize, a thousand dollars back when it wasn’t a commercial thing. I really did get the money, on a day I needed it, and it was published in the American Poetry Anthology. I wrote a lot of other poems, too, that have been published. I actually did part poetry, part fiction for my MFA degree at GMU. I’ve also published some short stories and personal essays.
5. Is this a hobby or do you plan to make a career from writing?
At my age, it doesn’t seem likely I’ll make a career from writing, not in the way that, for example, Stephen King has. My writing hasn’t been what you would call a career in the strict sense of the word. It’s just something I always loved, and have always done. It was my one main interest in life, outside of family and church.
6. What authors do you admire?
There are so many. Recently I’ve felt drawn back to the writers I read in my youth, some of whom who were still living and writing when I read them in the Fifties and early Sixties: F. Scott Fitzgerald (I was born May 1940, he died that December), Ernest Hemingway (died in 1961), Harper Lee (she’s now 85 - if I wrote only one To Kill A Mockingbird I’d be satisfied). Superb writers. I read Dostoevsky and Boris Pasternak. I read Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow (in a graduate class). I also admire Black Like Me that I remember vividly, a powerful non-fiction book by Howard Griffin. I was 21 when it was published and I read it. Incredible authors. I also admire the confessional poets Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Lowell. I think Stephen King is superb, and Pat Conroy. And Richard Bausch, prize winning novelist who is five years younger than I and who was one of my thesis advisors. He’s an awesome storyteller. There are just so many…I’d better stop.
7. What music, places, people inspire you?
Music: The classics: Vivaldi, Beethoven, Brahams. Johnny Cash. Anne Murray. Juice Newton. The Beatles (I was there in 1960, age 20, when they arrived on the scene). Peter, Paul & Mary. Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And many, many others.
Places: Virginia, especially the Shenandoah Valley where I now live. But I’ve seen some awesome places: Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the small farms of the state where I was born: Utah.
People: Of course I’m drawn to great leaders of strength and integrity, but even more to the “little” people of the world who quietly, with dignity and love, raise their children and contribute to their community.
8. What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I stop what I’m writing and work on something else. Or, more frequently, I just do something different. Walk. Blog (I can spend far too much time on this). Watch movies (I grew up on Hollywood movies and love them, and a few years ago wrote two screenplays that I’m itching to get back to). Recently, having been so bogged down with revisions and now book promotion, I was wondering if I could write again. So I decided to do it Hemingway style: write at least 1000 words each day (I’m glad it’s so much faster on the computer than composing in longhand and then typing on the typewriter, the one I did it long ago). I wanted to write a short story, maybe enter it in a contest, deadline two weeks away; a story I roughed out in graduate school that was sitting full-blown in my mind. I did my thousand words a day, and emailed it to the contest with no days to spare. So for those who think they have “writer’s block,” just ignore it.
9. How long did it take you to write your current MS?
I wrote my autobiographical thesis, the basis of the memoir, in 1988. I wrote snatches of “memoir” off and on after that. Then finally, with the help of excellent editors at WiDo Publishing, I finished In the Mirror.
10. Are you part of a critique group or writer’s guild?
No. Though I have been in the past. They can be helpful if it’s a group of people who are honest with their responses.
11. Have you ever attended a writer’s conference?
Yes, in 1976. None since then.
12. When working on your current manuscript, did you complete an outline first or did you just start writing?
Regarding my recently published memoir: as I said above, I wrote the beginning first as a thesis and then began revising/adding to it. Then, after I got a contract, I realized that The End wasn’t the end. I needed to keep going, so I brought in pieces I had written as part of what I thought might be a different memoir. It was a ragged way of doing it, and for my second memoir I’m determined to lay it out, maybe on a storyboard as some blogger recently called it, so that when it’s time to put it together from beginning to end I won’t get so confused!
13. What is your writing process like? Certain hours that you find more productive, a routine, a set amount of time or a number of pages you make yourself write every day, etc.
I’m most productive early or later in the day, never mid-day. But I have stretches when I don’t write anything. In graduate school I had to write because there were deadlines. There were contests I wanted to enter, so there were deadlines. When I got the contract for the first memoir, deadlines. So I wrote and wrote long hours every day. Once I get started on this second memoir, I think I’ll do what I did with the short story I sent to the contest and write a minimum number of words at least five days a week. Or, in the planning stages, I’ll make myself write at least two hours a day.
14. Do you have an editor or agent?
I had an editor until recently when she turned me over to the sales and distribution department. This was when the last galleys of In the Mirror were done.
15. Would you care to share your opening paragraph (hook) with us?
For my memoir in progress, Loving My Brother Again, I might use this as my opening (hook). I submitted it to Nathan Bransford’s “contest” back in January 2011 and won honorable mention out of over 1500 entries. That was exciting. I don’t know what the beginning will be--they usually change when the whole thing’s done--but this might not end up on the cutting room floor.
Emotionally, I knew the desert long before I learned about its history. As a child growing up in it, I felt the wilderness beyond Jordan, fifteen miles of useless alkali flats that bring you to the Great Salt Lake desert, once the graveyard of western wagons, its waterholes seventy-five miles apart, its heat blistering, its white wastes as hard on the eyes as a snowfield. Oxen, horses, and men left their bones in this desert, the same desert that killed Jed Smith when he made the first crossing in 1827, and betrayed the Donner party, killing their cattle, weakening them, and slowing them down as they struggled toward California. The same desert country I crossed one summer in a car with my parents and my brother to visit my sister in California, naively thinking that I was safe. Years later, I would recall that trip and see it as metaphor of the trouble I would have with my brother.