Women Float is a novella written by Maureen Foley, published by CCLap publishing, an independent publishing center in Chicago. I discovered these guys a while ago, like maybe two months ago? So I just downloaded whatever looked interesting and then I was later recommended Women Float. From what I read so far, a lot of these talented writers in CCLap Center write some really touching, thought provoking stuff, some of it dark like Ben Tanzer and some of it lighthearted without being too fluffy like Maureen Foley or T.A. Noonan.
Women Float is one of those few books that I have read, written by woman, that are about women that I actually really like. It doesn’t feel like a sitcom, it feels real and the main character is very likeable, for me. A quirky, shy, awkward, and loveable baker who is afraid to swim. Her mother was a careless and maybe flakey woman who leaves her behind at a young age. Due to her mother’s disappearance, Win, the main character, wanders around her life feeling lonely and left out, the feeling even sets in when she’s surrounded with her friends. She spends the whole novella thinking about her mother after she receives mysterious letters, and learning how to swim. It seems like her desire to swim is her only way to get over her fear and find a path to happiness. For some reason this novella reminded me of The Secret Life of Bees, unfortunately I have never read the novel, I only watched the movie. Both the novella and the movie kind of have a moving on/coming of age theme that leaves you with a warm feeling when the character develops and becomes a grown, confident, adult. Who doesn’t love books or movies that leave you with that warm feeling?
Now here’s the interview, which is also wonderful to read.
- Water seems to be a very prominent symbol in this novella, Not only is it feared but it is also loved. Most of the time, water scares the crap out of people, why is water such a big thing in this novel?
As you point out, water scares people and it also is a very evocative element. We cry water, sweat water, our blood is similar to water and we are born from water. For me, growing up by the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, the water surrounded me constantly. I wanted, in Women Float, to show this sort of omnipresent existence of water, but also to bring focus to how this common element surrounds us, contains us, and defines us, whether we realize it or not. The irony of my childhood was being surrounded by water, but also living in a coastal desert on a farm during a drought. We always needed more rain. So, I guess, for me, I grew up both enjoying water recreationally but also being very aware of how the lack of it (in the form of rain) had a serious consequence for my family’s avocado ranch. I know that’s probably not very definitive, but I’ve tried to delve into that idea.
- The main character is very lonely, is there are reason why her mother left other than the fact that she was generally a negligent, flaky person?
I always like to clarify that I wrote this book initially when I was a senior in college, at age 20. While surrounded by peers and friends constantly, I was also very lonely then. And my childhood, on the farm, was very solitary. So, it wasn’t hard for me to tap into that emotion. Also, at that young age, I’d never really talked to someone who had their own child, so I couldn’t fathom the hefty weight of responsibility that motherhood entailed. It terrified me. So, the mother, Janie, is a little a reflective of my fear of responsibility. Perhaps she’s a little of what I thought I’d be like if I had a child then. I didn’t understand how women could integrate independence with the commitment of raising a child. Also, while Janie is irresponsible, I hope that she’s also fascinating and intriguing. She’s a mishmash of various women I knew in my hometown. While mostly a male past time, the career surfer is a real deal. There are absolutely people in my community who will abandon nearly everything- job, family- when they hear of a great swell coming in. The surf calls and they answer. I just thing that we don’t think of that sort of loner as being a woman, but of course she exists.
- The mermaid also seems to be a big symbol in this novella. So what’s that about?
What do you think? I hope that the mermaid becomes an open-ended symbol for readers. My writing process is very intuitive and I wrote this nearly 20 years ago, so I never had some great thesis about what a mermaid should represent. I was just drawn to the image and found it useful for the story. I let the characters and story dictate the plot and then I allow images and themes that interest me to develop and evolve naturally, like the mermaid does. In the editing process, we definitely highlighted and emphasized certain things (like the mermaids) to make the story more cohesive. But there is no grandiose meaning implied.
- What inspired you to write this novel?
The kernel for Women Float was born from two things: teaching swim lessons to adults and from the desire to write a love story from a woman’s point of view that was somewhat original. While working as a lifeguard and swim instructor one summer, I began teaching adults and realized I really enjoyed it. But it also had never occurred to me that during day-to-day life I was surrounded by people who couldn’t swim. I’d always known how to swim, since I was a toddler, and couldn’t imagine life without water. So, I started developing a story based on my experiences with my swim students. At the same time, I decided to make the love story involve two women because I thought it made more sense for my character, Win. It helped explain why she was such a late bloomer and I thought a female love story gave a more interesting take on love than the usual boy-meets-girl story.
- Are any of the characters based on people you know or seen in real life?
All of the characters are amalgamations of different people from my hometown in Carpinteria, but none is exactly one person or another. I’ve had people claim to recognize themselves in the book, but I don’t have the heart to tell them they’re wrong! My hope is that people who know me or my hometown will recognize the types of people I write about and imagine them as authentic people who could live here, but don’t actually.
- Did you find writing this novella difficult? Some writers find writing shorter works harder than long works due to keeping the prose short, sweet and trying not to stretch the scenes too far.
The process for writing this book was dictated by my college environment at the time of its creation. I had the great good fortune to work with a Visiting Professor at Kenyon College named Elise Marks who met with me weekly to write the book. Together, we created deadlines and fine-tuned the book as I wrote it to complete it as an Honors English project. I feel so blessed to have had someone work with me so intimately on my first book. So, was it hard? Not really. I work well with deadlines and Elise was very generous in her support. I felt very focused at the time on just finishing it and making it as good as possible. The publishing part was much more of a struggle, on this book.
- What authors influence you the most?
That is an impossible question. James Claffey, my husband, is an amazing writer and my dearest friend and conspirator. Other than that, I allow authors to inspire me constantly. I love poetry, too, and even see my daughter’s children’s books as amazingly concise plot-driven stories. I also read various news sites daily, so I find inspiration in journalism, too.
- Do think the main character’s loneliness is caused by her distancing herself? Or she naturally just a lonely person?
I think of loneliness as a painful kind of ache and I think that Win is more alone than lonely. Yes, she longs for love, but she has a relatively fulfilling life as a baker. She strikes me as the kind of independent person who enjoys being solitary, for long stretches, but then needs to connect, too. But she also seems a little awkward, which seems to have something to do with her ignorance about her own sexuality and her unresolved feelings about her mother. I think, culturally, we see a grown woman spending time alone and we tend to pity her. But I believe there are many fulfilled women who just don’t need to be surrounded by people all the time. Win is one of those women and I wish more people like her got to be the focus of stories.
- Is baking a big thing in your life?
I love to bake, eat and cook. When I wrote Women Float I wanted to be a pastry chef. I think publishing the book, finally, was part of why I decided to pursue a life surrounded by food. So, now as owner of Red Hen Cannery I make and sell my own jams and marmalades. It’s not making cakes and baked goods, but it is working with food and I love that.
- Do you think writing is the best medium of ridding yourself of loneliness?
No. Writing is an incredibly solitary act. In fact, it’s one of the loneliest things I know, in the sense that it can only be done by one person acting on their own. I’ve never had any problem, personally, being on my own because I like to observe people and watch things unfold. As for a cure for loneliness, I think it takes actually accepting oneself completely. It’s amazing how when I finally became okay with myself for a moment (because it never lasts forever) I find I’m happy to just take a deep breath and relax, regardless of who I’m with or how many people I know. So, my practice of Zen Buddhism has helped create the moment-to-moment space for total acceptance (on rare occasions) but also having a small child is a cure for loneliness. I don’t have time, with a wee one attached to me or running away from me, to think of my own selfish need for companionship. She brings me into the moment, too, and shows me how much humans are just naturally social beings.
Maureen Foley is an artist, writer and teacher who grew up in Carpinteria, California. Foley received a Masters of Fine Art in Prose from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.
Her stories and poems have appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Skanky Possum, Santa Barbara Magazine, Santa Barbara Independent and elsewhere. Her newest novella, Women Float, will be published in Summer 2013 through the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography and in 2002, Dead Metaphor Press published her collection of poems, Epileptic, as winner of the Chapbook Award.
She now lives on an avocado ranch in Southern California with her husband, their daughter and their dog.
CClap Center provides handmade hardback copies and e-book copies of their novellas, short story collections, and novels. The e-books are pay-what-you-want or voluntary payments. Soon, they will also be paperback editions and one of those upcoming releases will be Humboldt: Or, the Power of Positive Thinking by Scott Navicky.