Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Author Interview ~ Mary L. Tabor

The first mention of Mary on this blog was in a post in December—A Fascinating Story from Wattpad.

Before the interview, I need to quote the other Wattpad author in that past post:

“Endless gratitude to Mary L. Tabor who I met here on Wattpad and who then took me under her angel/professor wing for over a year, never asking for a thing in return, except for me to show up and work hard. During this time she taught me much about the craft of creative writing, while always being fast to remind me not to mess with that mysterious place of invention.”


Mary had crafted a Self-Interview for the site The Nervous Breakdown (it wasn’t used there)—we’re fortunate to have Mary offer it here :-)32576_125817340771525_4564441_n

 Q: Why would anyone want to do a self-interview? Isn’t that the height of naval gazing?

If I were you, I’d scroll through all the other self-interviews on the Nervous Breakdown site and see which ones actually succeeded.

Q. Did you do that?

I did. I liked Karen E. Bender because she told her children to clean their rooms and then she actually revealed something about her life: That her father was a psychoanalyst and that psychoanalysis was the religion in her house. That made me want to read her book.

Here on Alexander Zoltai’s Notes from An Alien site: I think Johnpaul Mahofski’s candor and self-deprecation win me over at the get go. And I love micro-fiction.

Q. Does that mean you think self-revelation is part of the process of writing?

Any writer who denies it, lies. I agree with David Shields who argues in Reality Hunger and he actually says this one—in case you don’t know that book and you should, he quotes mercilessly without formal attribution: “So: no more master, no more masterpieces. What I want (instead of God the novelist) is self-portrait in a convex mirror.”

Q. Did you achieve that in Who by FireWho by Fire

Hard to say. Achievement is a big word. But I would say this: The writer needs to be fearless to be worth reading. That means that all subterfuge about who you are must come off when you write either fiction or memoir. What’s in this book is closer to the emotional truth of my own process of self-discovery than anything I could tell you in this interview.

Q. Give me an example.

I was in Whiting, Iowa, when the fire occurred, a controlled burn. It was a long, long time ago and when I saw it I knew I would write about it some day. I didn’t know why. So now I had the burn. And then I found an article in the newspaper about a baby that had been found in an attic in a house on Veazey Street in DC and I saved it. But now that I look back on the novel, I see my sister who lost a baby, a baby that died after 23 hours, bubbling up in the book. I didn’t know I was hitting that memory when I was writing the book. I was 16 when this happened and I saw the baby with her flash of black hair in the nursery. My face was pressed against the glass. How could that not have something to do with me? It did. It still does.

Q. So isn’t that navel gazing?

One of my biggest worries in the novel is that it’s highly interior. I’m inside Robert’s head all through the book. Because I was so worried about this, I worked very hard on the plot that moves the book forward and gets the reader in real time as soon as I can manage. That means two married couples, a partner in each couple who is cheating on the other, and the narrator, whose wife betrayed him before she died. Robert, the narrator, is discovering how all that happened through memory and through what he finds out after his wife’s death. But truly, only the reader can answer this question.

Q: Are you obsessed with heroes? Your narrator certainly is.

I want to understand what the word hero means. One could argue that we have few if any modern books in literature that folks would identify with a hero, the kind we find more in film than in books, unless we go to the romance novel or supernatural stuff. And I explore that question all the way through the book.

Q: Did you think about your own death; did you, in fact, plot your own death?

Golly, I hope I didn’t plot my own death. But of course I did think about it. In a sense, if I’m in any way Robert’s wife, I do kill her on page one, arguably in the first sentence. So I guess you could argue that’s what I’m doing. But at the time of the writing of the book, I was losing my husband and I now realize that I was writing a love letter to him in the hope that I would get him back. I wrote the book to try to understand him. That’s why I wrote the book in Robert’s voice. But more key is this: I don’t think anyone who is thoughtfully alive and human can avoid considering his own death. Ultimately, I’m writing about love, not death, because love is the answer. But what, pray tell, is the question?


Asking Mary questions in the Comments is perfectly permissible :-)


Mary L. Tabor: Reader, author, professor, radio show host, columnist.

Best advice she ever got? — “Only connect…” ~ E.M. Forster.

Mary is the author of the novel Who by Fire, the memoir (Re)Making Love (Re)making Loveand the connected short stories The Woman Who Never CookedThe Woman Who Never Ccooked

Here are some reviews of Who by Fire (More can be found on the second tab of her website):

Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain: Mary L. Tabor’s Who by Fire is a lovely, innovative, deeply engaging novel about how it is that human beings make their way through the mysteries of existence.

Lee Martin, author of Break the Skin and The Bright Forever, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize: Mary Tabor’s Who by Fire, is a lyric meditation on love and desire, one that will catch you up in the blaze of its eroticism, its tender evocation of love and the passions and accommodations of a life lived through the flesh and through the imagination. Can memory lead to forgiveness? Who by Fire explores that question in a story I won’t soon forget. The beauty of the prose, the nuances of the characters, the ever-building plot—everything is in place for a novel that will touch you in all the right ways.

Marly Swick, author of Paper Wings and The Evening News: Who By Fire is a profound and lyrical novel, deeply felt and deeply moving. Intricately layered, this novel loops through time with the dare-devil courage and grace of a seasoned stunt pilot. In the narrator’s unflinching journey of self-discovery, he comes to understand the past, both his failures and his saving graces. In the end, it is a hero’s journey, both for the narrator and the reader. This is beautiful truth.

Michael Johnson, foreign correspondent and writer for The International Herald Tribune, American Spectator, Open Letters Monthly and The Mary Tabor’s captivating story of love and death tackles the tangle of relationships within and outside the bonds of marriage. Her eye-popping knowledge of men’s and women’s behavior is effortlessly recounted as couples face their anguished choices. Set in a world of art, music, anthropology and science, her novel enlightens the mind while it stirs the emotions. She does all this in a confident style of prose that ranks her alongside the finest novelists working today.

Find Mary on Wattpad, where you may read her memoir serially for free.

Follow Mary on Twitter.

Like her on Facebook.

Visit her website.

Join her book club on Goodreads

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5 responses to “Author Interview ~ Mary L. Tabor

  1. Jane Watson January 2, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    This is a fascinating interview! Mary nails it when she talks about self-revelation as part of the process of writing : “Any writer who denies it, lies…” I agree. Many writers, including myself, spend a great deal of their writing life trying not to reveal, when really they should just create :-) I think fear of looking in the convex mirror is what can hold us back but I also think that looking in the mirror is the only thing that can really liberate us.

    I’d love Mary’s comment on this…:-)


    • Mary L. Tabor June 30, 2020 at 1:39 pm

      So, sorry I didn’t see this sooner (a personal event intervened and pretty much paralyzed me; if you go to my website, you’ll understand). I so agree that self-discovery is part and parcel of the creative process And that most certainly means looking in the “convex mirror” you so aptly describe here. I’d love to be in more conversation with you Jane. Let’s connect. –Mary


  2. Mary L. Tabor January 2, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    Hi, Jane, Any artist worth his salt risks his life on the page. Or as the French philosopher Edmond Jabès says, “If there is no risk, there is no writing.” The reader knows it when he sees it—that’s for sure. I’ve scared myself examining this question: The relationship of autobiography to fiction in an essay that you may read here, a column I write occasionally on the arts.

    In that essay I say more about this question than I do here and my intention is to lift the curtain on the how and why of scaring ourselves and risking all to get at emotional truth that may be more key to good writing than the so-called “true” story.


    • Jane Watson January 3, 2017 at 4:44 am

      Thank you, Mary. I read the article you link to above. I think it is marvellous. You are addressing so many issues that have completely pre-occupied me since my first novel came out…. and I subsequently fell into a writing hiatus, which I feel is linked to my concern about ‘risking all’. I do agree that “If there is no risk, there is no writing.” This is the journey the writer has to take, no matter how hard it is. I have read ‘Art and Fear’, one of the books you mention. Great book. Thanks for sharing this interview on Alex’s blog with us :-)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mary L. Tabor January 3, 2017 at 10:08 am

        Jane, thank you again for reading the essay. Here’s a thought: perhaps the hiatus is gestation for new work. I think creativity works on a sine curve and that it helps to think of the process as getting ready rather than unwillingness to risk. After all, look at how much you’ve achieved so far with your work, as you describe on your website: kudos. And by the way, my son lives in South Australia, north of Adelaide in the wine country, part of each year. All best to you and do stay in touch.

        Liked by 1 person

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