(This is actually the second half of my interview with Marsha Ward. If you missed the first part, go here.)
And when she was a good bit younger.
Me: Describe growing up in Phoenix and how it impacted you as a writer. (I’d love some pictures of you as a child in that setting.)
When I was born, we lived in what is now very much the heart of the city of Phoenix. However, at that time, it was beyond the city limits. We had a few acres where we raised a calf or two, kept a few chickens for both eggs and meat, had a grove of citrus trees, and incinerated our trash.
Checking out one of the calves.
Out in the orchard.
I remember having rock fights with neighbor kids (the bully of the neighborhood, in fact) when I was quite young. I must have been no older than three or four at the time. I didn’t use very good sense on one occasion, and turned my back before bending down to pick up fresh ammunition. Of course he hit me where he aimed, and I was so blood-curdling mad! (I’ll bet she’s described that bully in a hundred different ways over the course of her novels.)
I was what was called a “tomboy” in those days, playing all the games I could dream up, and running free throughout the neighborhood as children never can today. Since my dad was in constructions, we had a considerable amount of construction stuff around the property, so I built my own cabin or “fort” from sawhorses and burlap bags, and—don’t tell my mother—it had a fireplace that I actually used at least one time.
Even though I had three brothers and three sisters, I liked to be alone some of the time. One favorite activity was climbing the female mulberry tree in the front yard with a book to read, and eating all the fruit I could reach until my stomach was so full it ached, and my hands had turned purple from mulberry stains.
Another favorite place to play was under the long-drooping canopy of the branches of a grapefruit tree. I spent a great deal of time under there, daydreaming. I did that a lot. I guess I still do. I had time and place to allow my imagination free rein, and I’m sure that led to my lifelong preoccupation with writing. I know I’ve used at least that childhood mulberry-picking memory in a book.
As a family, we went on camping trips; a lot of camping and day trips around Arizona. I don’t know who took the photo of our ’53 Plymouth stuffed with family members, but it’s one of the vehicles we used in our travels.
As a consequence of these trips, I got to see a whole bunch of wild country. In fact, I slept in a lot of wild country, on most occasions on beds fashioned from blankets spread atop fragrant pine boughs, not modern air mattresses on a tarp and sleeping bags over all. I’ve been in caves, peered down into mining shafts, and climbed my share of boulders and mountains. In fact, once my dad and I were stalked by a mountain lion. I had a wonderful childhood! (I’ll say!)
Me: Out of all the teachers you had in elementary, junior high, and high school, who was your most memorable and who was your most favorite (because we all know that one may be different from the other), and why?
Marsha: In my day we had elementary school and we had high school. I attended several elementary schools as the neighborhood got more families in it and the school district grew and built more facilities. My sixth grade teacher, Miss Glenna Jones, was my favorite teacher. She believed in me. One day she asked us a strange question—maybe not so strange during those cold war times: if schools became unavailable, which of us thought we could get our own education? I immediately raised my hand. I might have been the only one. She looked at me for a long moment, then said, “Yes, I believe you could.”
Tragically, she and her husband were murdered last year. I still can’t wrap my mind around such an act.
My 11th grade English teacher—I’m so chagrinned that I can’t recall his name—made his class memorable. He also believed in me, and he encouraged my writing efforts. One day he told the class I should be teaching the course instead of him. That blew me away!
(Impressive even then!)
Me: How old were you when you wrote your first article or story that wasn’t a school assignment? If the recollection is clear enough, please provide a quick summary.
Marsha: I must have been in third or fourth grade when I wrote the beginnings of a novel that featured in the first scene a young boy hiding under a piano behind a rhododendron plant, listening to the conversation of his elders. I have no idea where it would have led. I don’t have it anymore, although I remember I brushed it off and used it in a contest one time. I don’t recall winning anything, so I’m sure it needed more work.
Me: And finally, of all the stories your father told, which was the most memorable? And how did his storytelling influence your choice of genre when you began writing? (I’ve got to get a picture of your father, preferably in the middle of telling a story, or with you…please.)
Marsha: My dad was born in the Mexican Mormon colony of Ciudad Dublan (Dublan City), in Chihuahua State. The family came out of Mexico temporarily before the Pancho Villa troubles so my grandfather, a blacksmith, could work on building the Roosevelt Dam. When the work was finished, they returned, but left Mexico a few years later to settle in the Tucson, Arizona, area. The summers in their village of Binghampton were hot, and a favorite time celebrated by all was migrating up to the top of Mount Lemmon for two weeks to escape the heat of mid summer.
One of the pack animals was called Old Dan, and he was particular about what he would carry. He didn’t like noise. When a couple of teenagers wanted to pack a large iron kettle and other cooking pots on him, my grandpa objected, but the teens, like all boys that age, knew so much better, and insisted. My grandpa put up his hands and walked back to a safe observation post. As soon as the horse was ready to lead away, one boy grabbed the rope and gave a tug. Old Dan took one step and heard the pots rattling together. He didn’t want to continue, but the boy on the rope urged him forward. After a couple of steps, Old Dan turned into a cyclone, kicking and bucking until he got that pack off his back. The kettle ended up on the ground with a hoof-sized hole in it.
I never learned if one of those know-it-all boys was my dad, but I suspect it was so. He often told stories where he was the brunt of the joke, or had learned a hard lesson.
Daddy told such vivid stories that I can’t see how I wouldn’t have come to love the land and people and circumstances he described. I always felt like I had been born in the wrong century, because I believed I fit into that life.
And I believe it, too. If you’ve read one of Marsha’s westerns, you’ll know what I mean. She writes with an authenticity that can only come from channeling a voice from the past. If you haven’t read any of her novels yet, now is an excellent time to begin her Owen Family Saga, including her latest, SPINSTER’S FOLLY.
Originally posted 2012-11-21 06:00:51.