Name: Maureen Duffin-Ward
(Originally published in my old website, Writester.net in 2005)
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Philadelphia, PA
Q: Can you tell us your latest book news?
A: My book came out in July, and it’s been a great ride! Suddenly Southern: A Yankee’s Guide to Living in Dixie made the SEBA best seller list twice and got reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review in November (Scathing, but I was thrilled just to be in there!) Just in the last two weeks, I did a really fun interview with The Philadelphia Daily News and signed on to kick off the North Carolina writers program for our local library. Just when I think it’s time to get off the shelf, someone breathes new life into Suddenly Southern! It’s great!
Q: How old were you when you first started writing?
A: Does quality count? I’ve been writing since I was about eight years old, but I didn’t start writing for real until I moved to Raleigh. I’ve always loved to write, but I’m easily distracted. I had intended to get a six-figure writing job out of college; unfortunately, I got a four-figure typing gig. That entry job led me off in a whole different direction, which was fun and lucrative. But when I moved here, I decided to try the writing thing one more time. And this time – it took! I got a newspaper column and then a book contract.
Q: When did you first realize you had the potential to be a writer?
A: When my advertising copywriting college professor (Walter Weir of Temple University) asked me what I wanted to do after college, I told him I wanted to be a TV anchor. He said, “Maureen, you’re a writer.” I was bummed he didn’t see me as the next Jessica Savitch, but I was happy to get what felt like real direction.
Q: What was your inspiration to write your first novel?
A: I write a newspaper column for The News & Observer – North Raleigh News (an irreverent Yankee’s take on moving South), and I also did a radio show for four years called Don’t You Be My Neighbor. I could tell by the volume of reader mail and callers to the radio program that I had a topic that appealed to enough people to write a book.
Q: How has your environment and / or upbringing colored your writing?
A: I think growing up in a big, happy, funny family makes it impossible to take yourself or anything too seriously.
Q: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Q: How do you come up with the title(s) for your book(s)?
A: A legal pad and a blank mind can lead to just about anything. The minute I thought of Suddenly Southern, it just felt right.
I liked the alliteration and the fact that it communicated the concept of the book. My thanks to Brooke Shields and Suddenly Susan – I’m sure that helped!
Q: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A: Yes, that not everyone adapts to a move overnight, and there’s hope for the slow achievers!
Q: How much of the novel is realistic?
A: I think it’s all very real – cheap shot stereotyping included
Q: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your life?
A: It’s based on my move from Philly to Raleigh, as well as stories from other transplants – readers of my newspaper column and listeners to my radio show came up with some of my best stuff!
Q: What books have most influenced your life?
A: Gone With the Wind, Fountainhead and To Kill a Mockingbird all had a profound effect on me. And the Nancy Drew books started my lifelong love of reading, so I must count them! Some of my all time favorites (David Sedaris, The Outsiders from when I was a kid) – I have to mention out of loyalty, but they probably entertained me, more than influenced me. I have to mention one more – Lydia Davis may have written the funniest book I ever read.
Q: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
A: Jan Lawrence, one of my best friends and author of three children’s books published by Scholastic. She asked me to read and critique her books before she submitted them. She would relish the suggested changes, and she treated criticism as a gift. I learned from her the art of the rewrite and the ability to toss the stuff that didn’t work. Joanne Cini, author of Kingmaker, also mentored me; she led me to my agent!
Q: What are you reading now?
A: America (the book) by Jon Stewart, and I’m in LOVE with it!!! My brother Tom gave it to me for my birthday – he also gave me Gilead and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – so I’m in reading heaven. A book I love, and two on deck that I know I will love.
Q: What new author has grasped your interest?
A: I love all of the Jonathan’s – Lethem, Franzen and Foer, but I guess Jonathan Safran Foer is the only one even remotely new.