I love these author questions by Briallen Hopper at Killing the Buddha. They were posted for Valentine's Day, which is so lovely! Killing the Buddha: 11 Questions About Martha Moody
Judith Katz wrote a wonderful review of Martha Moody in Lamda Literary Review. "Susan Stinson's substantial and delicious historical novel, Martha Moody, has been reissued by Small Beer Press, and it is certainly cause for celebration." It's also a great history of lesbian and feminist publishing.
Now there's a link at Book Moon Books so that if you've got a US mailing address, you can get almost all of my books, including Belly Songs. What you do is, click the button to order Martha Moody, then write in "Belly Songs" or "Venus of Chalk" or "Spider in a Tree." Then, you'll get the book and the money goes to me. It works that way because these small and micro press books aren't on the distributor's website, but Gavin from Book Moon came to my stairs and fetched the books, so I know they are there. (Fat Girl Dances With Rocks isn't available because it's out of print and I don't have copies.)
I have a new short piece up at the Kenyon Review about reading from Martha Moody and having it embraced now by the wonderful Book Moon Books.
"I was reading from Martha Moody in Vermont at the Institute for Social Ecology in 1995 the time that Grace Paley blew me a kiss and told the audience that my work was clearly about changing the world." (Confidential to blog readers: We were actually reading together at that event.)
The launch for the twenty-fiftn anniversary edition of my "highly imaginative Western," Martha Moody, was a conversation with the great Elizabeth McCracken at Book Moon Books. It was virtual and recorded, so some day I may be able to post it. Full of launch and good company in the midst of a pandemic, it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me as a writer.
I met Elizabeth McCracken more than twenty-five years ago before Martha Moody was published. I used an excerpt as my work sample in an application to the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. I didn't get in, but Elizabeth wrote me a beautiful letter in praise of the excerpt, which was enclosed in the envelope with the rejection. We eventually started a correspondence, and it has been such gift to get to read her work and witness her literary adventures over the years. Talking with her about Martha Moody was SO MUCH FUN. The audience was full of writers and others dear to me. We sang happy birthday to my dad, who turned 92 the next day! People got passionate in the chat about punctuation marks. So good.
Sally, whose novel Fishwives is out in February, is one of my oldest writing friends. It was so great to be interviewed by her for Lambda Literary.
I wrote a remembrance of Joan Drury for Lambda Literary. Here's the first paragraph:
Joan Drury, who died at age 75 on November 9 in Grand Marais, Minnesota, was a mover and shaker in the movement to get the work of feminist and lesbian writers into the hands, minds, and lives of those who desperately wanted to read them. She ran a press, created a fund for lesbian writers, started a retreat center for women writers, opened a bookstore, and wrote books of her own. She also changed my life.
There is one week to apply for a scholarship to come to a workshop in beautiful Mendocino and write historical fiction with me! Lots of other great scholarships, too. Don't miss that deadline!
Questions for Discussion
SPIDER IN A TREE
1. How are the Jonathan, Leah, Sarah, Saul, Joseph, Elisha and others in the novel like you and others you know? In what ways are they different?
2. What do you think the fact that this is a novel – a work of fiction-- brings to this history? What does it make possible? What does it leave you wanting more of? What do you make of the fact that many (but not all) of the characters in the book are based on people who really did live in 18th century New England?
3. Do you like the character Jonathan Edwards as a person? How about Leah?
4. Do you find it surprising that the household of Jonathan, an 18th century Calvinist preacher and theologian, included enslaved people?
5. What role does religion play in the life of Jonathan Edward? In the life of Leah? Saul? How does Sarah express her faith? What does it mean to Elisha?
6. Have you ever been to any of the places in the book? New England? Northampton? If you have, how did your experiences in those places relate to them as portrayed in the book? What do you think the landscape offers or means to Jonathan Edwards? To Leah? Other characters?
7. Why do you think the residents of Northampton made the decision to expel the Edwards family?
8. Did you come to the book already knowing about Jonathan Edwards and his theology? If yes, what have your experiences with it been? How did those experiences affect the ways you read the novel? If not, how did you experience it?
9. Susan Stinson: "We all bring different perspectives, experiences, emotions, analyses and histories to this discussion, and perhaps different senses of what is sacred. I think that is all of the more reason to examine these stories of deeply-held religious belief as human stories. I'm not a historian or a theologian. I'm a novelist. I believe that the engagement, empathy and insight we bring to history is shaped by the engagement, empathy and insight with which we approach the telling of stories."
Do that sound like a useful approach to history to you? Can you think of a time from your own life when telling a story was helpful in a tense or complicated moment or subject matter?
10. Did you look at the (small print!) notes on research at the back of the book? Why or why not?
11. On pp 115-118, there are quotes from Jonathan Edwards's most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." On p. 304, there is a quote from his treatise, "The Nature of True Virtue." Do you respond to more strongly to one of these writings from Jonathan Edwards than the other? What do you make of the differences between them?
12. Do any of the situations or moral dilemmas in the book have implications for current times? If so, what are they?
13. If you could travel back in time and speak to one of the characters of the book, who would you choose? What would you say?
I wrote my novel Spider in a Tree with a commitment to create characters who were eighteenth century Calvinists and also actual people who lived and died (this is true of many of my characters, but not all of them). That is one reason I love the mail below so much. I love the reader/writer's passion, and I love being able to picture her and the rest of her book club sitting around a restaurant table, taking the risk to discuss the history, theology, and stories from my novel together. Here, with permission, is a very slightly edited version of this reader's email. I wrote some book club discussion questions for them, which I'll include in my next post. #
Ms. Stinson, I read your book with interest and delight. I grew up in a Southern Baptist home where Jonathan Edwards theology was still taken seriously. I managed to escape that over a long journey. At 75, I am a Humanist with an appreciation for the best in the mythology of the Christian faith, and anger at its misuse in condemnation of those who do not agree with the patriarchal, individualistic, and tribal orthodoxy which supports the Trumpist Republican Party.
I am in a small book club of other grandmotherly women, all of whom still regularly attend Protestant churches except for myself, and all 7 of us have always voted Democrat. This month is my turn to choose the book and I chose your book, "Spider in a Tree."
We meet next Wednesday night at a local restaurant as is our custom.
It is our practice for the one who chose the book to prepare questions for discussion. Usually the publisher or author has suggested questions. In this case, I find none. I am a little uneasy about writing my own questions for fear of unintentionally offending others. They know I am not a true believer. I am sure they pray for me.
I know this is excruciatingly short notice, but perhaps you have been asked before, and may have suggested discussion questions at hand. If you do, I would be most grateful for help.
Again, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your historical novel which dealt honestly and compassionately with this most formative period in our nation's history. This theology haunts us still. Where I live, I see only great harm done by this threat of God's punishment with hellfire for everything from abortion to homosexuality. I believe the crusade against these two conceal the "greater sin" named before the Civil Rights era of misogyny. Condemning race mixing is no longer fashionable, but "protecting innocent babies from evil women and doctors" and "abominable sex acts" still puts copper in the offering plates.
As you see, I am passionate about these issues.
Thank you for your time in reading my request.
I wish you well and look forward to reading more of your talented and inspiring writing.