Monday, March 14, 2016

Interview with Gudrun Mouw: 'For me, publication was very pivotal'

Gudrun Mouw was born in East Prussia (formerly part of Germany) in 1944. At the age of 7, she arrived in the United States as a displaced person. Mouw moved many times in the US before ending up in California in the 60s. There she studied at San Jose State University, receiving her Master’s Degree in English Literature in 1969. Mouw has worked as a college English teacher, a Stanford librarian, a columnist, a California poet-in-the-school, as well as a yoga and meditation teacher. She lives in Santa Barbara County, California and has for over thirty years.

Mouw wrote From Ashes Into Light beginning with a research trip to various locations in Eastern Europe, Germany, Austria and Switzerland (in the 1990s). Her research took her places like Dachau, the concentration camp, a Jewish graveyard in Prague, and the streets of Salzburg.

Mouw is a prolific and award-winning poet and her poems have appeared in literary journals such as Praire Schooner, Practical Mystic, The Chariton Review and others. Her collection of poetry called Wife of the House was published in April 2014. Mouw won first place in a short fiction contest at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in 1992. From Ashes into Light will be her first published novel.

For More Information
Can you tell us what your book is about?

From Ashes Into Light is a story of one soul living three lives in different time periods as seen through the eyes of a phoenix narrator. This is a tale about transcendence, redemption and healing through the difficult experiences of war and genocide.

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?

I tend to be inspired by a theme or a general subject I wish to explore. Then, there may be a setting that invokes images which become a part of the story, or I may observe objects, or people that spark my imagination. The plot evolves from these bits and pieces as I write.

Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

There are three major settings in From Ashes Into Light—Austria, the former East Prussia, and California. By taking a closer look at events as they are revealed through these settings, the book, hopefully, shows how we are all connected as human beings despite our differences.

Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

There have been periods when I have written less. However, I choose not to focus on the idea of being “blocked.” Rather, I give myself permission to do something different. I may write in another genre for a time, such as poetry; or I may undertake another prose project other than the one that is currently puzzling me and that may simply need some time to gestate.

What is the most pivotal point of a writer’s life?

For me, publication was very pivotal. It wasn’t until my work began to appear in literary journals that I took myself seriously as a writer. It took years of enduring rejections and dispiriting compliments—like “your work is very powerful and compelling, but we will not be able to publish it.”

Before publication, my writing felt more like a compulsion. Still, I’m very happy I persevered, and now as an author, certainly, there is a sense of relief.

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

Having the need to write in the wide open space that is fiction requires a certain fearlessness, I believe. Patience is also crucial, since the plot and characters tend to evolve gradually over time at least for me. I would recommend a willingness to learn from the writing itself, be a good reader of your own work and see what makes your heart sing.

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