I am thrilled to welcome Molly Greeley to the Ball this week! I met Molly virtually in an online group for debut authors, and she strikes me as kind, genuine, and hardworking. Follow her on Instagram for a sneak peek at the writing life alongside three children, a couple of cats, and whole lotta Jane Austen enthusiasm. Her novel, THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE has many rave reviews, but I especially like this from the BBC: “There’s a hint of DH Lawrence in this nuanced, cleverly-plotted Pride and Prejudice spin-off. Greeley builds Charlotte’s world artfully…You needn’t be an Austen fan to relish Greeley’s spirited first novel.” Yay, Molly!
Molly Greeley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her love of reading was spurred by her parents’ floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. She is a graduate of Michigan State University, where she started as an education major before switching to English and Creative Writing (deciding that gainful employment post-graduation was less important than being able to spend her college years reading books and writing stories to her heart’s content). She currently lives in Traverse City, Michigan with her husband and three children.
Read through and learn about Molly AND get your chance to win THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE.
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And now to the interview!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf. I devoured this book in one sitting, and it was one of those books that, once I was finished with it, I closed and just sat for several minutes, staring into space, letting it resonate. The reason it hit me so hard might have had to do with when I read it – it was the summer after my junior year of college, and I was doing a creative writing study abroad program in London, so I was fully immersed in all things literary and British, and was just truly starting to come into my own understanding of and passion for feminism. I actually read it sitting on a bench in Tavistock Square, which, I learned years later, was right near one of Woolf’s London addresses.
Woolf’s brilliantly controlled prose and the fluid way she connected her ideas about why women had traditionally written less literature than men, and what might be done about it, captivated me. Her imagined Shakespeare’s sister tugged at my own imagination. I find myself returning to this book – particularly its gorgeous, inspiring closing lines – often. And when I became a mother and found myself suddenly without the leisure time and space Woolf so passionately declared necessary for creative pursuits, her work resonated all the more.
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
My husband. Which is sort of funny, considering he hardly ever reads, and if he does, it’s always nonfiction (if you’d told me when I was a teenager that I’d end up marrying someone who isn’t an avid reader, I’d have dismissed you as totally crazy). And “first reader” is sort of misleading, because he’s really my first listener. From the very beginning of a manuscript, I start reading sections out loud to him, which is incredibly helpful because it lets me hear the cadence of the sentences and catch more mistakes and awkward phrasings than I do just by proofreading. And my husband, for all that he’s not a book lover, is good at helping me untangle plot questions when I’ve gotten myself in a mess; he often sees simple, elegant solutions that I’m too close to the material to notice.
What first inspired you to start writing?
I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t writing, in one way or another. As a child, I read constantly – really, truly constantly, even bringing books with me to swing on the swing sets at school. Before I learned to write, the games I played with my dolls and action figures all had detailed plots, which I figured out in advance. When I learned to write, I had notebooks and journals that I would fill with story fragments; at school, when I was done with my work, I flipped to the back pages of my composition books and started writing stories there. My fifth-grade teacher, I remember, introduced me to the principal when he came to visit the class by saying, “Molly is a writer.” (Which mortified me, because I didn’t realize she knew what I was doing – I was very much a rule-follower and worried she would be upset I hadn’t gone to her and asked for the next assignment rather than going off into my own world! Thank goodness for teachers who see the value in letting kids pursue their passions).
What was the first piece of writing you ever published or saw in print?
I had my first short story published in a major publication when I was 14 (Cicada magazine, which, sadly, is now defunct; part of the Cricket magazine group, it was their publication for YA readers). I wrote it when I was 12, and it was the first time I sat down at a computer and a story just poured out of me from start to finish. The story was about a homeless man who lived in a bus station, told from his perspective and the perspectives of some of the people who encountered him day after day.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I guess there are two answers to this. The really big one – meaning, big chunk of money spent all at once – would be attending my first writing conference, put on by the Historical Novel Society this past summer. It was inspiring to be among hundreds of other people who were so passionate about writing, and I met some truly fascinating, incredible writers there, as well as my lovely editor at William Morrow, Rachel Kahan, who was a panelist. I also have some serious social anxiety, so this was a chance to challenge myself to get wayyyy out of my comfort zone.
The other money I’ve spent has been on $2 cups of coffee and $3 pastries here and there, usually on Sundays. After my first child was born seven years ago, I got pretty subsumed by my role as a stay-at-home mom. I needed an outlet for myself, so I started going to a cafe on Sundays for several hours and writing. This was a luxury, for we had little money to spare and I never wanted to be a freeloader, so I’d buy coffee and pastries throughout the time I was there. But the white noise of coffee being ground, milk being frothed, and other people’s conversations was a much easier soundtrack for me to write to than the silence of the library. This is how I wrote The Clergyman’s Wife, over a year’s worth of Sundays.
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About The Clergyman’s Wife:
Charlotte Collins, née Lucas, is the respectable wife of Hunsford’s vicar. Intelligent, pragmatic, and anxious to escape the shame of spinsterhood, Charlotte chose this life, an inevitable one so socially acceptable that its quietness threatens to overwhelm her. Then she makes the acquaintance of Mr. Travis, a local farmer and tenant of Lady Catherine.
In Mr. Travis’ company, Charlotte feels appreciated, heard, and seen. For the first time in her life, Charlotte begins to understand emotional intimacy and its effect on the heart—and how breakable that heart can be. With her sensible nature confronted, and her own future about to take a turn, Charlotte must now question the role of love and passion in a woman’s life, and whether they truly matter for a clergyman’s wife.
THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE is available pretty much anywhere books are sold
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Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.
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