Interview With Writer, Firefighter and Advocate Against Domestic Violence, Mary Pauline Lowry

Mary Pauline Lowry interviewed me for the Huffington Post and I developed an instant girl-crush on this radiant, powerful, smart, kind, beautiful woman.  We became friends and I'm honored to have her in Jessa Marie Mendez and my upcoming anthology

FLB: Tell us about your novel Wildfire.

MPL: Wildfire is about a young woman who starts work as the only female on an elite “hotshot” crew of wildland firefighters that travels the American West battling wildfires. It tells the story of her struggle to fit in and make her way on the crew. It’s essentially a coming-of-age story that explores the insular, masculine world of wildland firefighting.

FLB: I know that you worked for two years as a forest firefighter. Can you tell us more?

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MPL: Yes, I worked two fire seasons on the Pike Hotshot Crew. My crew lived and trained together in Colorado and we traveled together to fight fires. During busy times we would work 21 days in a row digging fireline and sleeping on the ground. It was brutal and exhilarating.

FLB: You’re  an advocate for ending violence against women and family violence. How did you get involved in this work and what does it entail?

MPL: I started working at a domestic violence shelter in Durango, CO. I lived at the shelter three days a week and then had four days a week off to write. At the shelter I did everything from counsel women to change sheets and mop floors. After that I moved home to Austin and worked for several years on the National Domestic Violence Hotline. During that time I spoke to over 25,000 survivors of violence—counseling them, hooking them up with resources, helping them get to safe shelter. It was intense and important work, but it was also devastating to know how much many women and children are suffering and what a lack of resources is available for women seeking safe shelter, legal help, custody of their kids, all that stuff.

FLB: Who are some of your literary influences?

MLB: In writing Wildfire I was most influenced by Norman Maclean, who wrote very eloquently about fighting fire in a few pages of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. Tim O’Brien was a tremendous influence as well. Also Anthony Swofford and Annie Proulx. As I’ve told you, I’ve been a devoted fan of your work ever since I first read a galley copy of Weetzie Bat in 1989 when I was lying by a swimming pool in Austin, TX. I remember finishing the first chapter and feeling my mind just being blown. I was ecstatic to have found Weetzie and her world. I really needed it. Your novels and short stories have carried me many times when I was struggling to balance the beauty and pain of the world, and it strongly influenced my novel The Earthquake Machine. I recently read Beyond the Pale Motel, and Catt’s epiphany at the end has helped me in the way I think about and treat myself. I live in a beach town south of LA now and every time I go to LA I feel like I’m in one of your novels. I just love it. Because of you, LA will always be the City of Angels to me.

FLB: Thank you. I'm excited to have you in Jessa Marie Mendez and my anthology . What inspired your story for Rough Magick?

MPL: One summer I lived in the Aspen Valley in one of a bunch of cabins that was built during the Civil War. The cabins were mostly rented by rough, kind of transient guys. I wanted to write about living in that gorgeous landscape with people who were really on the fringes.

FLB: How do you approach writing a short story as opposed to a full-length novel?

MPL: I think I write short stories a bit more viscerally. Novels take more planning and research and are- obviously - a longer slog that requires more sustained energy. I’ve never plotted a short story, but now I plot my novels.

FLB: What else are you working on now?

MPL: My novel Wildfire has been optioned for television and film, so I just finished writing the television pilot and show bible for that project. I’m working on a novel that was inspired by a devastating series of assaults that took place in my hometown of Austin, TX a few years ago. And I’m working on another television project as well, that I’m excited about. It’s rooted in the work I did at a domestic violence shelter, but with a dark (and fun) twist.

FLB: You are such a supporter of other women, both personally and creatively. Any thoughts on the importance of this?

MPL: I think life and writing are both beautiful, but can be really hard. They are easier if we help each other out and show each other the way. I appreciate all the help I’ve received and I like to try and pass that along.

FLB: What inspires you?

MPL: I used to be inspired purely by fiction and music and film. Reading a novel by Annie Proulx or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or listening to a PJ Harvey album or watching a film by Pedro Almodovar. Now I also find inspiration in television—which I never thought would happen. But what can I say? Orange is the New Black is high art.

FLB: AGREED! That Season 3 finale! I'm still dying!