Mary Sojourner has written the novel Sisters of the Dream; short story collection, Delicate; essays Bonelight: Ruin and Grace in the New Southwest; memoir/essays Solace: Rituals of Loss and Desire. She is writing a book on women and compulsive gambling for Seal Press and is co-writing with a man who has befriended a wounded eagle. Her short stories and essays are in High Country News, Mountain Gazette, and many literary magazines. She is an NPR commentator and teaches writing throughout the West. She began her serious writing in 1985 at 45, after she raised her three kids as a divorced mom.
Sarah Dillard, Fiction Editor, had this to say about her interview with Mary Sojourner: "I was very excited when I found out I had the opportunity to interview Mary Sojourner. I first came across her work when I read her short story which will appear in Issue 3, “Essentials, the Hike.” I like the way it incorporated different pieces to tie the story together. One thing I love about her work is that it focuses on real people with real issues, and I was eager to find out why she chooses to go this route in her writing. Mary Sojourner is a person with a passion burning inside her that translates into her writing. I was honored to have the chance to interview her; it was one of the highlights of my time at Superstition Review."
Superstition Review: You didn't begin your writing career until your 40's. How did you come to the realization that writing was something you wanted to pursue?
Mary Sojourner: I've wanted to write since I first discovered I could read. I went from See Jane Run. See Dick Run. to being able to read whole sentences in a millisecond. I looked at the bookshelves in our First Grade classroom and knew I would never again be lonesome or bored.
SR: In an interview with Susan Stamberg, you said that you write out of your own history and write for people who aren't getting their stories told. How do you incorporate your own experience in the stories you write? How essential do you think it is for fiction writers to draw on their own personal experience as a way to connect with their reader?
MS: I write out of my own life. I write from place. I listen, pay attention and bear witness. I can't prescribe anything for other writers.
SR: The one thing I noticed in Delicate was how real and relatable your characters are. You mentioned in a previous interview that the short story “Bear House” that appears in Delicate is based on the personal experience of one of your friends. How many other people in this book are based on people that you know? How do you go about taking something that is real and transforming it into fiction? How do you decide how much of realness to include in a story?
MS: In fact, the stories, the novels, even the essays seem to already exist. I put my hands on the keys and they come through. There is almost no calculation in my work at this point. The realness insists when it insists.
SR: Your stories are about real, working people usually set in the southwest. What intrigues you to write about real situations that affect the average person?
MS: I loathe the wealthy. The entitled bore me. What is happening in our country right now is the best thing that could have happened, except of course it is going to be the working poor and the working class who will take the deepest cuts..
SR: You live in a two room cabin with a wood burning stove and no running water. How does your lifestyle play a role in the type of stories you write?
MS: Alas, the rich landlord sold that property to a greedy rich developer. I no longer live in that situation. When I did, it tethered me to the planet that is my home.
SR: In your novel Sisters of the Dream, a woman who lives in the east has a dream and moves to the southwest. You lived in the northeast and migrated west. In what ways is this novel autobiographical?
MJ: Sisters of the Dream was mostly autobiographical with detours into the impossible and the wished-for.
SR: I found it interesting that you choose to forgo the use of email for over a year. In one of your NPR commentaries, you said you encountered fear, boredom, loneliness, and a time for human connection. You also said the most joyful reacquaintance has been with your characters that live in your short stories. How long did you stay away from the use of email? In what ways were you able to connect to your characters? In what ways did this experiences impact your writing?
MS: I stayed off e-mail for eighteen months. Being off email left me without a huge distraction, brought me into solitude and into precisely the discomfort that terrifies wannabe writers—-and in which the stories live. It became impossible to work professionally without the convenience of that tool.
SR: On your website, you say “I bring to publishers, writers and students my willingness to walk out over the desert alone; to watch the ground; to look up; and to fool the various ghosts of "what if". Those phantoms block beauty. I teach my students how to float with them.” What approach do you take to teaching? How do you help your students release any inhibitions they might have?
MS: I never know how I will teach a class or an individual. At this point, teaching is as raw and intuitive as writing. Only my student can release his or her inhibitions.
SR: A critic has said, "Mary Sojourner is a fiery activist, and her passion is contagious." How essential is it to write what you are passionate about?
MS: There is no other way.
SR: 10% of your book sales go to environmental and social justice organizations. What made you want to set this up for these organizations? How does your strong passion for environmental and social causes play into your stories?
MS: I am a hard-core socialist and radical. I owe certain people and the earth my life.
SR: You have described your piece “Essential, The Hike,” which you wrote for Issue 3 of Superstition Review, as pieces of a beautiful crazy quilt that have fallen into a pattern. How would you describe your writing process of this piece? Are your personal “Essentials” the same as you described in the story?
MS: Monkey and I fell in love in a milli-second. Love left us in a milli-second. Writing kept me alive through both shocks. Essentials: The Hike was chipped from grief, as knife makers once knapped blades from obsidian.
Fire. Colors. The Game. I am alchemized from those essentials.