When I think back to my undergraduate days at the University of Michigan, I remember Martha Amore as bright, passionate, and uncompromising. She had convictions and stood up for them. So it intrigued me to discover that she had recently published her first novella—how would the fierce, aware energy with which she had once impressed me convey itself in her role as a writer, both on the page and in conversation? I contacted Martha to find out.
MA: We wanted to use a word from each of our novella titles, but then we hit upon Weathered Edge, just a word from mine and Farmen’s title. We all decided that worked best. Weathered Edge captured the heart of each of our stories, and sounded awfully Alaskan as well.
JFB: Without spoiling any surprises, what can you tell us about your third of the book?
MA: My story is about a mountaineer who has a baby and gives up climbing. Her husband does not, and much drama ensues.
JFB: How closely do its themes, concerns, and obsessions coincide with the works of your co-contributors, Kris Farmen and Buffy McKay?
MA: Great question! The really strange thing is that this book was not a creative collaboration, but simply a collection. Each of us had already written a draft of our novellas when VP&D House approached us on the collection. I knew both of the other authors, but they did not know each other. So here is the strange thing: the themes, concerns and obsessions coincide beautifully! Each story is about survival, each deals with obsessions of various types, and also focuses on what it means to be/become Alaskan. I’d like to point out that Buffy McKay, who is Alaska Native, also explores what it is to be Alaska Native, and her survival story expands from the personal to cultural survival.
JFB: Here’s a chicken-egg question. How did the book come about? Did you three each have a novella written ahead of time and eventually decide to publish them together, or did you begin with the idea of a joint project and then write the novellas? Coming from a whole ‘nother direction, if your book (or novella) were a superhero, what would be her origin story?
MA: We each had a draft of our novellas—in my case, it was a series of linked stories that had already been published in Room Magazine—and our publisher approached Kris and I for this collection. We needed a third novella, and I knew Buffy McKay and her wonderful writing, so I suggested her as a third. Good thing, too, because her novella is not only beautifully written, but a powerful and unique story. If our book were a superhero, her origin story would be: a Chinook salmon (that’s Buffy) mated with ocean superhero Salty Dawg (that’s Kris) during a terrible winter storm (that’s me) and Weathered Edge was born!!!
JFB: Vered is located in Anchorage, Alaska, where you live. How important was it to use a local publisher rather than sending your manuscript all over the map?
MA: VP&D House is not only local as in Alaska or even Anchorage, but local as in located in Spenard, which is a very funky district of Anchorage. I love that my first book comes from Spenard! This is hugely important to me! I see the future of great publishing going a similar route as great music and great theater and great food: local!
JFB: How did you end up in Alaska anyway? The last time I saw you, over twenty years ago, we were at a party (or several) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
MA: Yes, I think it was several! I lived in San Francisco for many years with our Michigan ex-pats, then decided to take the leap and move to the country of my dreams: Alaska. I’d only been here once before, but I was dating a man who lived in Reno and had spent time on the Kenai Peninsula. We both were in love with Alaska, so off we went, no jobs, no friends, no home. Now we have jobs, friends, a home, plus a bonus of three little girls!
JFB: How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator since your undergraduate days? Your energies lately seem to flow in multiple directions—writing, keeping bees, teaching English, raising kids, being a roller-derby bad-ass, raising kids to be miniature roller-derby bad-asses. The list may be endless, for all I know. Are you becoming more dynamic as time goes on?
MA: Hahaha! Just for the record, I am the least bad-ass roller girl rookie you ever met! In fact, I’m retiring from the big girl league and just working as a coach for the junior league (they are much easier to knock down!) But yes, I find that I am becoming much more dynamic as I age. Since turning forty, my motto is “If not now, then when?” Believe me, that motto has gotten me into huge trouble!
JFB: Who are some of your inspirations in art, in life, or both?
MA: I am the type of person who is constantly awed by others. Writers, artists, musicians, roller girls, and just plain nice folk. I find that when someone puts me in a state of awe, I am touched personally and creatively. A sample of this year’s list:
- Musicians Sinead O’Connor and Meg Mackey (local)
- Writers Annie Proulx, James Baldwin, Jeanette Winterson, Louise Erdrich, Seth Kantner, Pam Houston, and both my co-authors, Buffy McKay and Kris Farmen
- Alaskan artists Indra Arriaga and Angela Ramirez
- A colleague at UAA, Fawn Caparas
- Each of my daughters for various reasons
- Rollergirls: Wickedspedia, Pat Riot, Ness U. Up, and Dirt Bag
JFB: What’s your writing process like?Are you a scrupulous note-taker, a flyer by the seat of your pants, a maelstrom of furious inspiration, a methodical assembler of language? When and where do you write?
MA: No, I do not take notes or keep a journal, though I should. I write when I get the time, which is usually during the school year on mornings that I do not have to teach. I am a binge writer. When I am obsessed with a story, I work really hard to get it out. When I am not, I live my life and feel guilty that I am not writing. I write at home in my loft or at my favorite local café, Kaladi Bros., which is next door to my favorite used bookstore, Title Wave. My goal this year is to make myself write on a more disciplined schedule and get a novel out there!
JFB: I remember recently reading something about the Modernists’ having instigated the idea that a writer must revise, revise, revise. What do you think? How much do you yourself revise a given work?
MA: My revision is everything!!! I will write a lot of slop that approaches (here and there) something like the truth, then the real work begins. I am with Hemingway on this one: a terrible writer, but a great reviser!
JFB: Are you exclusively a fiction writer, or do you explore other genres as well?
MA: I take poetry workshops when I get the chance. I am a terrible poet, but I find that studying poetry improves my fiction. I love to read non-fiction, and have written some here and there, but my true calling is fiction.
JFB: Getting back to Alaska a bit, how did your time in the University of Alaska Anchorage MFA program influence your writing and your sense of yourself as a writer?
MA: I can honestly say that I learned to write in the MFA program at University of Alaska Anchorage. The workshop-style program worked wonders for me, and I had great professors as well as talented schoolmates. As a fiction writer, and maybe as a woman writer in particular, it can sometimes be hard to take myself seriously. One of the wonderful gifts the MFA program gave me was the clear message that my writing is serious and important.
JFB: Alaska, of course, is the largest state but far removed from the Lower 48. How much does its geographical expansiveness and isolation shape the writing that arises from there? Is there an “Alaskan style?” If so, what are its core elements?
MA: Great question! I love this question! I believe there is a collective creative consciousness that is very affected by the landscape, the people and the history of a place. Alaska most definitely shapes me as well as other writers up here. We are isolated and expansive, and we cling to one another to keep warm! The only reason that I am still writing is because of the huge amount of support and love that I get from Alaskans. Anchorage is exploding right now with creative energy in music, art and literature. Everywhere I go, I bump into people who are getting high on this energy and then adding to it. Lots of conversations in cafes, playgrounds, bars and grocery stores.
JFB: Do you have any other projects planned for the future? What can you tell us about them?
MA: Yes, my next book is a novel about the Exxon Valdez oil spill. My central character is a commercial fisherwoman who is a Kurtz-type persona, descending into madness but in her case, quite righteous.
JFB: Thank you so much, Martha, for your time and consideration. I look forward to reading Weathered Edge, as I hope many others do, and to hearing more about your growth as a verbal artist in future years.
About the Author:
Martha Amore is a fiction writer living in Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband, three young daughters, dog, cat, chickens and bees. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she now works as a writing instructor. She is also currently a visiting instructor at Alaska Pacific University. In her spare time, she coaches junior roller derby. Her first novella has just been published in Weathered Edge, a collection of three Alaskan novellas edited and published by Vered Publishing & Design House (VP&D House).