with Lorna Wood:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Lorna: I dictated my first story for a nursery school project when I was three. It was about a rabbit, and I believe my primary influence was Beatrix Potter. My next major project, when I was eight, was a mystery. This plot was influenced by my mother’s copies of Hardy Boys mysteries, with character representation inspired by Walter R. Brooks’s Freddy the Pig series.
My friend’s mother, Lenore Mayhew, translated Chinese poetry, and she gave me a book about haiku. This gave me an early interest in Asian poetry, and my first poem was a syllabically exact tanka. Like most of my poetry since, it was about my inner life.
My mother also read A Paper Zoo, a wonderful children’s introduction to modern poetry, to me. Probably a strong influence on my poetry, then as now, were the New Yorker poems my parents read aloud to one another, even though I couldn’t understand most of them at the time.
As I grew older, The New Yorker’s prose also became an influence. In high school I was fond of Cheever and Salinger. I found Vonnegut’s jaundiced view of America congenial, dabbled in Hemingway, and embraced the sensuality of Madame Bovary while completely missing the cynicism.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Lorna: My mother let our TV go when I was three, so I grew up with nothing to do but read, and I read omnivorously. I hope the melodrama, sexism, and racism of many children’s “classics” has been left behind in my writing, but I developed a literary voice that is a result of long immersion in all kinds of texts.
In high school, college, and grad school I did deep dives into Romantic and neo-Romantic (Frost, for example) lyrics, which I believe inform my poetry now. Also in grad school, I read a lot of African American literature. I believe this, along with my musical studies (I’m a violinist), informs my sensitivity to dialogue and my careful shaping of my own writerly voice.
When I began to write seriously, after my children were mostly grown, I decided to explore my talent for humor, partly because I felt my earlier college efforts were heavy-handed. Ever since I attended a performance of H.M.S. Pinafore when I was five, I have loved wit of all kinds, from Dorothy Parker and S.G. Perelman and the Marx Brothers through Randy Rainbow, and on the other side of the pond, Gilbert and Sullivan, Wilde, Saki, P.G. Wodehouse, The Goon Show, and Mitchell and Webb. I did not write much humor until later, but the Brits, especially, have influenced the humorous writing I do now.
I also began to write genre fiction because it pays better, and I found I had a dark side that is suited to horror. I think my graduate studies of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King helped me make the horror “real” by associating it indirectly with real horrors. In science fiction, I believe Bradbury, who also wrote horror, has influenced my dystopian imaginings and helped me create atmosphere.
When I first sat down to complete a serious writing project, in my late thirties, after many years of dabbling, I had been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books to my children, and I thought of the immense changes she had seen. I tried to identify cultural changes I was living through that would be analogously jarring and important. At the same time, I always try to create compelling characters and personal struggles. So while I often call on the sort of personal conflicts that were characteristic of The New Yorker stories back in the day, I now find Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels compelling examples of linking the personal stories of ordinary people to the epic sweep of their times. My college studies of Faulkner have likewise come in handy in my satire of the South. Finally, Tolstoy, whom I came to in grad school, is an important inspiration for both the personal and cultural-historical aspects of my serious literary writing, though I’m not sure I feel worthy of calling him an influence.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Lorna: I always wanted to be a writer, but I never thought it was a way to make a living, and it often felt self-indulgent to do it. When my youngest child went to high school, it just seemed a “now or never” moment.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Lorna: My mother, by taking away the TV, reading to me, teaching me to read, and criticizing my stories. More recently, my husband and son have been incredibly supportive and helpful critics.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & have any travels away from home influenced your work?
Lorna: I grew up in Oberlin, Ohio. My father was a composer and my mother was an art historian, so I went to a lot of concerts early on, as well as studying violin from a young age. I traveled with the family to Egypt and most of Western Europe on my father’s sabbatical. On the trip I went to many museums and lived in France for six months. My parents socialized with other intellectuals, so I heard a lot of their thoughts on the arts, politics, and current events. I went to a private school, Lake Ridge Academy, where I got an excellent education, and where I had two friends whose families had come to the U.S. from Cuba and Hungary.
From my parents and their friends, and from my friends whose families were refugees from Communist regimes, I developed an interest in politics. From my education and early experiences, I developed an interest in the arts. Both are frequently present in my writing. I believe my early travel, combined with my many educational opportunities, gave me a cosmopolitan perspective and a commitment to cultural pluralism, which are reflected in my work.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Lorna: My novel, The Jesus Wars, means the most. Through the microcosm of one small Southern town and its characters, the novel explores our entry into the Iraq War. More broadly, it examines the seeds of fascism in ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia, and Christian nationalism. This work is also meaningful to me because it is risky, edgy, and combines an urbane humor and narrative voice with an ear for Southern speech.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Lorna: Reading, writing, practicing, and spending time with my family (including my cat) have always been my favorites.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
Lorna: Here is a passage from The Jesus Wars. This woman has been brought in from out in the country for the Methodist church’s Fourth of July entertainment event because her son has died in the war.
On the whole she felt she had played her part well when it was done. The only really hard times were when that Yolanda Tibbets had brought over those lilies to her after “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the Soldiers song, and towards the end of “The Mansions of the Lord,” when the men sang, “Where no mothers cry / and no children weep . . . ” She knew that no mothers were crying because it was heaven, but it still made her feel as if Dusty had gone to a cold, bleak place far away from her.
The “Tribute to the Armed Forces” helped perk her up again, though. Overall she reckoned it was nice, and she knew everyone meant to be kind.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Lorna: I would like to promote The Jesus Wars, available on Amazon in Kindle or paperback editions. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Wars-Lorna-Wood-ebook/dp/B08WLF2S6M/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Lorna+Wood%2C+The+Jesus+Wars&qid=1628217151&sr=8-1.