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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Author Interview with Abby Morris

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Abby Morris, whose debut novel Disturb the Universe was released in March by Secret Cravings Publishing.

Even though Disturb the Universe is her first published work, Abby has been writing for fifty-five years. English Literature was her passion as far back as elementary school and she wrote short pieces for writing competitions as often as she could. She also used her writing skills throughout her business career, writing policy statements, speeches, and training manuals. Once she retired, she had the time to devote to writing fiction.

Disturb the Universe is very important to Abby, for more than being her debut.

"It's very special to me because it addresses a situation almost all women have dealt with—what if the man you want is your best friend? Or what if he is gay?" she explained. "It is fascinating to me that once a woman paints a man as unavailable for any reason (gay, married, a priest, absent, indifferent), she will construct a shield of tolerance around him that is impervious to fault or blame. Like an imaginary playmate, he becomes a touchstone, a symbol of perfection, a goal to be reached, a place to which she returns no matter how far afield her interest may stray. This book is about a couple, Lauren and Charlie, who grow up together—constant companions, best friends—with no romantic attachment. When Lauren finally acknowledges she is in love with Charlie despite his obvious lack of sexual interest, the conflict begins. The ultimate question is – when given the chance to have him, issues and all, what will she choose to do?"

The title was taken from the T.S. Eliot poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which deals with the issue of whether one should dare to seize the moment, take the risk, live the life. She viewed the concept of "daring to do" as perfect for the story.

Abby often turns to favorite poems for title ideas, because poets have a facility to compress reams of meaning into a short phrase.

"Pick the right phrase," she told me, "and you capture a whole spectrum of feeling within a short title. I plan to use an Emily Dickenson phrase for a title—think of the meaning behind 'entertaining plated wares upon my silver shelf' or 'because I could not stop for death he kindly stopped for me.' Of course, Mr. Eliot has many other good ones to offer – The Waste Land alone could be the inspiration for titles of hundreds of books. Or Richard Shelton, ‘the forms of love are myriad as the stars …’."

When discussing which came first, characters or plot, Abby assured me, " My characters always come first because they are the story. The plot may take several forms before it is finished, but it always reflects behavior that is true to the nature of the characters."

Abby also told me that she doesn't believe in writer's block.

"I either have something I want to say or I don’t, and I never force it," she said. "When characters and a story press themselves upon me, I write; other times, I read, which often inspires me to write. Many of my stories are based on real-life family and friends, so the raw material is always there – sometimes it just needs a jolt of energy."

One of her favorite authors is Ayn Rand.

"Ayn Rand was the most gifted storyteller and had the most skillful, compelling manner of presenting her extraordinary message," Abby told me. "However, for the sheer pleasure of enjoying silky, lyrical prose, I return again and again to Tennessee Williams, Pat Conroy, and F. Scott Fitzgerald."

Tennessee Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with Arona McHugh and John O'Hara, have had the most impact on Abby's own style of writing, however she said, "The beauty of the lyrical language of Anne Rivers Siddons’ best book, Peachtree Road, has inspired me in many ways."

Abby has a built-in desk in her kitchen/sunroom which is the center of her home world, complete with pc, printer, phone, files, and a comfortable chair. She also has a more formal study, though, with a nice lady's desk, period furniture, and a lot of books.

"I like to use it sometimes, just for a change of environment."

When Abby's not writing, she likes to read, play bridge, lunch or shop with friends, watch TV (especially old movies), and indulge her passion for gourmet cooking.

"I love to try new dishes and seldom follow any recipe exactly," she admitted. "My husband and I are both retired and both of us write, so we are never without something to do."

Abby had a Samoyed for twelve years who was a wonderful pet.

"I loved him immensely and was crushed when he died from cancer," she told me, explaining why she doesn't want a dog right now. "It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized how much time and work is involved in properly caring for a dog—especially one that large."

"You can erase any horrible experience from your past," I told her. "What will it be?"

"Whatever caused me to be claustrophobic. I don’t remember the incident, but something made me afraid of closed–in spaces, particularly if there is not an obvious exit, or I can’t effectively use my hands and arms. I can’t even watch TV scenes where someone is crawling through a tunnel, and it’s downright embarrassing to have a panic attack in a stalled elevator."

Abby's heritage is Irish, Scot, and English on her mother's side and English, German, and American Indian on her father's side.

"My ancestors were part of the American Revolution and the Confederacy," she said. "We are southern to the core, having migrated down from Virginia to settle in Georgia."

The strangest thing she's ever eaten was considered a delicacy in the south…"still are, I expect," she said, "by those who aren't grossed out by the thought. Calf brains. When I was a child, my grandmother would prepare brains and eggs for supper when she had them."

"Have you ever cried during a movie?" I asked.

"Good Lord, yes. I also cry during commercials, TV series, music, and at funerals of people I don’t even know. The first really sad movie I remember was A Place in the Sun, with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff. I recall going to the drive-in theatre with my girlfriends, watching it twice and sobbing from beginning to end."

Abby is a self-admitted night person.

"All those years I had to get up early for school or work, I yearned for the day when I could stay up late and sleep late," she told me. "In college, I never understood the people who got up at five a.m. to prepare for class because I don’t really ‘get in gear’ until around ten a.m."

Finally, I asked her, "If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?"

"Enough money to avoid anything I don’t want to endure. I don’t believe that wealth ensures happiness, but it does remove obstacles and provide the freedom to get away from whatever makes us unhappy. Whether it’s a miserable marriage, an unpleasant neighborhood, health issues, a bad job, bad climate, boring family or friends—enough money enables one to choose rather than accept. Think about it—what’s in your life that you could improve with more money than you have? Even if you have enough money to be very comfortable, wouldn’t more of it give you a chance to change something for the better?"
You can keep up with Abby on her website,!.

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