Interview with Author Martha Conway

Interview by Catharine Bramkamp

Martha Conway Martha Conway’s newest novel, THIEVING FOREST, recently won the North American Book Award for Best Historical Fiction. Which is, of course, pretty impressive. She is also an instructor for Stanford’s Online Writer’s Studio. As an instructor and writer she balances between three identities and is qualified to share what that means.

We’ll start with her life as an on-line instructor:

“I started teaching at OWS (Online Writer’s Studio) after speaking with one of the lead instructors about the program and I got an idea for a class I’d like to teach—something I wish I’d been taught when I was first learning how to write novels. A few weeks later I pitched the idea to the creative writing team. They liked it, so that’s how I started. My class is a novel-writing class structured around character, and how developing all your characters (not just your protagonist) before you begin writing can really help pull the story along: plot development, climax, denoument—everything.”

A novelist really has two jobs (you were wondering about that third identity weren’t you): creating the work and promoting the work. One of the tools Martha uses to promote her books is Twitter.

“I love twitter. I’m a big fan. I met Frances Caballo, a social media expert who specializes in social media for writers, at the San Francisco Writers Conference last year, and she helped me put together a social media plan that included Twitter.

“Before that, I had avoided going on social media sites because I saw this as a procrastination device (another pull pulling me away from writing). But Frances helped me understand the value and fun of Twitter. I try to tweet two or three times a day every week, but only one of those per week will be about my own book. The rest are about friends’ books, writing tidbits, interesting articles I’ve found (mostly about writing), and anything else I think my followers might be interested in. It’s mostly about finding a tribe and supporting them. I can get behind that in a way that I can’t get behind endless self-promotion.

“Have I sold books on Twitter? Yes, definitely, but maybe not very many—it’s impossible to quantify. But I enjoy it and I like the people I’ve met there. It’s like a cocktail party where you can just vanish if you want to and reappear a few hours later. That suits my idea of socializing!

“I like writing better than anything else—especially after the difficult first draft is over and you have some material to work with. But teaching keeps me thinking about writing, and it keeps me sharp.

Thieving Forest-by Martha Conway “I started taking notes for Thieving Forest in 2006, but I think I was starting to think about it even in 2004. My daughter was then in preschool, and we used to listen to a Lisa Loeb CD—she’s an indie rocker but made a collection of children’s songs. One song was her rendition of “Oh Susanna,” and I remember thinking, ‘what if Susanna cried not for sorrow but for joy?’ It took me about six years to write. I recently came across a note I made to myself early on: Write about a large family and their dynamics. The upfront research took a long time, but I loved doing it. And I found that doing ongoing research was a gateway for me to get back into the spirit of the book when I was feeling weary or uninspired.”

One feature of living the life creative is the constant pull between wanting to write and really NOT wanting to write.

“I think that the best way to combat these disparate pulls is to make writing a habit. The habit could be daily for a certain number of hours or until you reach a certain word count. Maybe you have a full time job and can only write on Thursday evenings and over the weekend. Whatever it is, decide on it and be firm with yourself.

“If writing is a habit, you don’t give yourself the choice about whether or not to write: You just do it because it’s Tuesday morning. That takes lack of inspiration, lack of sleep, lack of ideas, confusion, indecision, and every other excuse out of the picture. And those are the excuses that pull you in the direction of not writing.

“The key to sticking with all this is to make writing a habit, and yes, to have fun. I think that this always comes through in a novel, when a writer is having fun.”

Thieving Forest

“Conway’s historical novel features prose as rich as its characters … hypnotic.”  —Kirkus Reviews  
“A gripping journey [and] a powerful tale of sisterhood and survival.” —San Jose Mercury News 

Indie Bound:

Martha Conway:

Thieving Forest:

Women’s Power Strategy Conference 2013

WPSCpress releaseSaturday, June 15, 2013
9:00 am to 5:00 pm, VIP Reception to Follow
Wells Fargo Center for the Arts
50 Mark West Springs Road 
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
 Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference

WNBA, San Francisco Chapter is an official sponsor of WPSC and will have an exhibit table with information about WNBA.

We believe that our WNBA mission of advocacy for women as writers and readers intersects with the goals of WPSC “to educate and inspire women of all ages.”

Patricia V. Davis is the founder of WPSC, a member of WNBA, SF Chapter, and our Web Blog Editor who posts and manages submissions.

Many SF Chapter WNBA members are speakers at the conference: Kate Farrell, Lynn Henriksen, Linda Lee, Amanda McTigue, Linda Joy Myers, Linda Loveland Reid.

More on WPSC from Patricia V. Davis:

“The issue of females’ self-esteem, education and whether or not they have the ability to live their best life, impacts every nation.  If 50% of the world’s inhabitants feel depressed and unfulfilled, how does it affect their life outlook, their ability to be good mothers, employers, employees, or even just good citizens? That’s why I believe we all have to do our part to help girls and women feel healthy, powerful, and satisfied even if they don’t meet our distorted modern media requirements of what it means to be a woman.  

To this end, I’ve founded the Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference, “a gathering of leaders from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise who are joining forces to educate and inspire women of all ages to believe and invest in their own talents, skills and potential.” This conference is a day-long event which features talks and workshops on everything from technology to relationships, to business and more that will leave every attendee motivated to live her best lifeOnly in its second year, it’s already having a remarkable impact on women and teen girls. For every admission ticket sold, the WPSC sponsors one girl or woman who would otherwise not be able to afford it to attend the conference, free of charge.”

The Women’s National Book Association will have a table at the conference, which takes place on Saturday, June 15, at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Sonoma County. A V.I.P reception follows with wines being sponsored by Barefoot Wines and Breathless Sparkling Wine. (Bonnie Harvey, Barefoot Wines co-founder will be a speaker this year, as well as WNBA-SF officers Linda Joy Meyers, Linda Lee and Kate Farrell).

Conference attendees also get to enjoy a free tour through Sonoma Lavender fields on Sunday June 16, compliments of the owner, Rebecca Rosenberg, another fabulous conference speaker.


Amanda Coplin

Amanda Coplin

Amanda Coplin

Amanda Coplin was born in Wenatchee, Washington, and raised amid her grandfather’s orchards. She received her BA from the University of Oregon, and MFA from the University of Minnesota. A recipient of residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts and the Ledig House International Writers Residency Program in Ghent, New York, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Great Group ReadsHer debut novel, The Orchardist, was selected for 2012 Great Group Reads.

Anita Amirrezvani

Anita Amirrezvani

Anita Amirrezvani

Anita Amirrezvani was born in Tehran, Iran, and raised in San Francisco. Her first novel, The Blood of Flowers, has appeared in more than 25 languages and was long-listed for the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her second novel, Equal of the Sun, was published by Scribner in June 2012, and selected for 2012 Great Group Reads list. 

Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian-American Writers, an anthology co-edited by Anita and Persis Karim, will appear in Spring, 2013. Anita teaches at the California College of the Arts and at Sonoma State University.

Anita Amirrezvani in her own words: After my parents separated when I was two, I was raised by my mother in San Francisco. When I was thirteen, I began going to Iran on my own and spending time with my father’s side of the family. In San Francisco, my family was an intimate group that consisted of me, my mother and my aunt; in Tehran, a family dinner party was like a town hall meeting, huge and festive. I had eleven cousins and before long, two little brothers.

My father took me on a trip to Isfahan when I was fourteen, even though he was busy building his business and didn’t have much time for leisure. Because I loved art and architecture, he agreed to take me for two days. I remember being mesmerized by the great square of Isfahan and by the painted plasterwork on the staircase of our hotel, a former caravansary.

I decided to take a year off between high school and college and spend it in Iran. That year, 1978, turned out to be the fateful year leading to the Islamic Revolution. That summer, we heard gunfire and watched the sky turn black with smoke from fires. On my seventeenth birthday, the city was under an evening curfew. We went out for lunch and had cake at home. Less than ten days later, my father and stepmother decided the situation was unsafe. We packed up my brothers, who were two and four, and left for what turned out to be a long time.

The following fall, I started at Vassar College. I attended for two and a half years and then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where I majored in English. I loved school. I have since received an MFA in Creative Writing from Great Group ReadsSan Francisco State University.

Read more about her books here. Equal of the Sun was selected as a 2012 Great Group Reads.

C. W. Gortner

C W Gortner

C. W. Gortner

C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall and experienced life in a Spanish castle. His novels have garnered international praise and been translated into thirteen languages to date. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights and environmental issues.

C.W.’s third historical novel, The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile is now available in the US. UK publication date is January 2013.

He’s currently at work on his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about the early years of Lucrezia Borgia, as well as the third novel in his Tudor series,The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles (US) or Elizabeth’s Spymaster (UK).

Half-Spanish by birth, C.W. lives in Northern California 

C.W. will be a Guest of Honor at the Historical Novel Society’s 2013 Conference in St Petersburg, Florida.

C.W. has sold his fourth historical novel about Lucrezia Borgia, one of the subjects of Showtime’s new original series about the infamous Italian clan. Ballantine Books will publish his still-untitled book about the 15th-century beauty who was the daughter of the vicious Spanish-born Rodrigo Borgia (who later became Pope Alexander VI) and is rumored, among other things, to have been the lover of both her father and her brother. 

Read more about C. W.’s books here.

Amanda McTigue


Amanda McTigue

Amanda McTigue

Going_to_Solace by Amanda McTigue

Amanda McTigue just released her debut novel, Going for Solace. Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1989 during Thanksgiving week, McTigue weaves us a tale of “a handful of mismatched folks” whose lives intertwine when they meet at a hospice called Solace. “Just the one word. Like ‘God.’”

We follow the protagonists through chapters that cleverly alternate their points of view, telling their sometimes funny, sometimes sad stories of caring for a dying loved (or hated) one. It’s a novel of hope, humor, compassion and most of all, the rich culture of Appalachia.

In a new publishing model Going to Solace is now available for purchase in hardback, paperback and all e-formats, including Kindle, Nook and iPad. Going to Solace can be purchased online and in all fine retail bookshops. Visit her website!

Amanda McTigue will be the panel moderator for SF Chapter’s National Reading Group Month free event in collaboration with Litquake, October 6th, 2 – 4 pm, Books, Inc. Opera Plaza.