5 from 35: Author Q & A with Marcia Butler
Marcia Butler was 62 when her debut memoir, THE SKIN ABOVE MY KNEE, was published in 2017 (and featured on 35 over 35 that year). Her second book, and first novel, PICKLE’S PROGRESS, publishes today from Central Avenue Publishing.
How long did it take you to write your first (published) book, start to finish?
It seems like forever, but my memoir took about six years to wrangle into submission quality. I was lucky that it sold quickly, and then even more so, because I had a relatively long revision process with my editor at Little, Brown. They weren’t in a hurry and I luxuriated in the time given to bring the book out properly. That took me to about eight years, from start to pub date. Once I sold my memoir, I almost immediately began writing my debut novel, Pickle’s Progress. This book progressed much faster, mostly due to a month-long writing residency where I managed to get the first rough draft completed. In this case, the start to pub date will be four years.
What kind of work did you do to earn money while writing your first book?
While writing my memoir, I was working full time as an interior designer. I ran my own firm for fifteen years and typically worked ten-hour days. I grabbed every spare minute to write and took self-imposed mini retreats to various cities where I’d hole up in a hotel room for five days in order to write with as few business distractions as possible. A little over two years ago, I simplified my life. I took a modest pension from almost thirty years in the music business, folded up my design firm, and began to live my life like a church mouse. In other words, I stopped spending money, de-accessed (threw out) 98% of all my possessions, and pared down to a minimum of expenses. Now, I write full time and it continues to amaze me how not buying anythingis just the best thing, because this spare lifestyle is making my writing life possible. I truly feel that I’ve sacrificed nothing and have gained everything. (I could write a book about this!)
What compelled you to write your story?
In Pickle’s Progress, I explore attraction and recklessness, through the prism of identical twins. The inspiration came from identical twin sisters I’ve known for 40 years. One was about to get married, though, she worried that her fiancée was attracted to her twin. (And they really do look exactlyalike!) He denied it, but I was suspect. That became the spring board for the plot. Many twists and turns ensue for my protagonist, Pickle McArdle. He and his twin, Stan, are in love with the same woman. So, things become, shall we say, difficult!
Did you ever want to quit? If yes, what kept you going? If no, what kept you going?
Sure, I want to quit pretty much every day, because writing so hard! But difficulty is just not a good reason. Getting accustomed to, and tolerating these defeatist thoughts and awful feelings is part of being a grown up in a challenging profession. At least that’s what I tell myself every hour on the hour.
What’s your biggest source of encouragement?
This is what I say to my writer friends when we discuss the hard truths about publishing and being an artist in the world: only you can write that book, that story, that essay. Your voice is truly singular. I am speaking to myself as well, of course. Somehow, itfeels like the truest and best reason to continue to write.
What are you reading right now?
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Astonishing. Important.