Marsha Moyer is the new kid on the book block. Her first release, The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch, has been met with warm reviews. Here she talks about her first novel, small-town Texas, and going home again.
texasmonthly.com: Will you tell us a little about your background—where you grew up, the beginnings of your writerly inclinations, the path you’ve taken that’s led you to today, the key advice you’ve picked up along the way?
Marsha Moyer: I was born in Austin but raised in Bryan/College Station, and have spent my whole life shuttling back and forth between the two places. I started telling stories when I was really small, dictating them to my mom before I was old enough to write them myself, mostly things I plagiarized from episodes of Captain Kangaroo. My parents and a couple of teachers were big readers, which is probably what most influenced my decision to write. I practiced for years, wrote three or four entire novels, before I ever sent out anything for publication. So in that respect, my path was not typical. I keep waiting for somebody to give me some really juicy authorial advice, but so far that hasn’t happened. I do wish I’d had more input when I was going through the process of trying to get published for the first time. I made most of my decisions by the seat of my pants, and a mentor might have saved me some wear and tear.
texasmonthly.com: With the publishing of your first novel, The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch, this must be an exciting time. Has it been what you thought it would be?
MM: I don’t think I fully realized what it would mean to cross the line from amateur to professional. It is harder work sometimes than I expected, because the stakes are higher, and decisions that once were casual now have repercussions. You can’t just say, on a bad day, “Oh, well, maybe I’ll go back to being a secretary.” The best thing, which I didn’t anticipate at all, is the sense of fraternity I feel when I sit down with another writer’s book. I’m both more critical and more generous in my reading now. Even when the work isn’t one hundred percent successful, I’m so much more appreciative of the sweat and blood that went into it.
texasmonthly.com: In the story, Lucy is a young woman whose life is going in one direction, tragedy strikes, and she has to find a way to move on and find a new direction. Is this semi-autobiographical at all, if not the specifics but the overall journey? Have you experienced a “second coming,” so to speak?
MM: I wrote the book when I was going through a very distressing time in my life. There were no direct parallels between my experiences and Lucy’s—other than a tendency to attract plumbing problems—but the journey ended up being similar. Both Lucy’s and my lives were transformed by meeting a handsome carpenter; the difference was, in my case, he was fictional.
texasmonthly.com: In many ways, it’s a universal journey. How do you find a way to tell a story with a universal relevance and appeal but not make it feel like a story that’s been repeatedly written?
MM: I started out knowing I was writing a love story, and that it would follow certain conventions, but that there were a lot of little things I could do to shake it up. Lucy’s Aunt Dove has a garden full of Buddhas and Tibetan prayer flags, in the heart of Baptist country. Lucy and Ash’s dogs are named for members of Booker T. and the MGs. The trick is to present the story in such a way that readers recognize enough of themselves in the characters and the situations to become invested, then are surprised and entertained by your literary peculiarities. I always try to look for that one thing that is slightly skewed.
texasmonthly.com: Lucy goes home again when her life goes awry. Do you think we can all go home again?
MM: Lucy manages to return to her hometown and reinvent herself. I think the first part of that is very easy and the second part is very hard. The tendency upon returning home is to fall back into the pattern of who you were originally—the good girl, the rebel, Mama’s boy, whatever. Not many of us manage to break that pattern successfully, I’m afraid. Small towns are full of proof.
texasmonthly.com: Lucy’s ending is seemingly a happy one. Do you think most journeys of her kind end happily?
MM: I tried to make the ending a little ambiguous. I left some things unresolved, so that it wouldn’t seem too pat, while at the same time striking a hopeful note. Partly that was because I wanted to leave some questions to be addressed in the second book, but mostly it’s because that’s what real life is like. Things are rarely entirely happy or sad, and we never have all the answers. And of course Lucy’s journey wasn’t really over at all, as will be seen in the sequel.
texasmonthly.com: Why is small-town Texas the ideal setting for this novel?
MM: I wanted to cast the story against a backdrop of minor characters who were always sticking their noses where they didn’t belong. I also liked the idea of juxtaposing late 1990’s life upon an area which in some ways is still mired in the middle of the century. What happens when those customs and values are challenged? Larry McMurtry writes in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen that all you have to do is sit in the DQ for a couple of hours on any given morning and you’ll learn every single thing about the infrastructure of a community; the human grapevine supersedes even the need for newspaper or TV. I don’t believe small-town life resembles a microcosm of society so much as an overgrown, dysfunctional family. To me, the possibilities for exploiting that, to both comic and serious effect, are endless.
texasmonthly.com: What projects are you currently working on?
MM: The sequel to Lucy, called The Last of the Honkytonk Angels, which will be published by Morrow next summer. The story begins three months after the first book left off with the unexpected arrival of Ash’s 14-year-old daughter Denny, which changes the dynamic of the household completely. I wanted to explore the way we learn to create or re-invent our families at a time when the traditional family unit is less and less stable. There are other complications as well, a couple of serious issues, although there’s still a lot to laugh about, and one or two surprises. All the characters from the first book are back: Bailey, Geneva, Peggy, Aunt Dove. Lucy and Denny are co-narrators, so you get to see the story, and Ash, from two perspectives. I’m not quite ready to talk about the third book yet, but I will say it’s about mid-life, blues music, Southern literature, and football.