Name: Marian Szczepanski
Author’s Website, Facebook
Hometown: Greensburg, PA
Based In: Houston, TX
Education: BA, University of Notre Dame; MFA, Program for Writers, Warren Wilson College
Briefly: Playing St. Barbara, debut novel. Clackamas Literary Review, Peter and Jean de Maine Award for emerging fiction writer. Houston Press Club, second prize, magazine feature writing Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, literary fiction fellowship, Hedgebrook, residency fellowship, Vermont Studio Center, residency grant.
Favorite Reads: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor, The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, Possession by A.S. Byatt. Anything by Hilary Mantel or George Saunders.
Pet Peeves: People who dismiss literary fiction as “too hard to read” or “boring.”
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…An archaeologist.
Author Crush: I’d love to have a dinner party with Flannery O’Connor presiding.
Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book You’d Recommend: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway (no serious fiction writer’s bookshelf should be without it), Because You Have To: A Writing Life by Joan Frank, Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor, Bringing the Devil to His Knees, ed. Peter Turchi & Charles Baxter
A Kite in the Wind, ed. Peter Turchi & Andrea Barrett, Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict.
Up Next: A short story set in Yorkshire, England, and a novel set in the Ozarks.
Do you remember the day you got your first library card?
Unfortunately, no. However, I do recall that I made good use of it.
What did you enjoy reading as a kid?
L.M. Montgomery’s Emily and Ann books, especially Emily of New Moon. I named my middle daughter Emily after its heroine.
You went and studied journalism in college. Would you say that the researching and analytic tactics your learned helped with novel writing?
Absolutely. Every novel requires research of some sort. For Playing St. Barbara, I had to research everything, from coal mining technology in the 30s to popular radio shows in the Pittsburgh area in 1941. The internet was essential, but I couldn’t just rely on that. I’ve been interviewing people since I was in college, so I’m not shy about asking for information. It’s always been my experience that people, especially those who are experts in their respective fields, are more than willing to oblige. And I learned that the best friend any writer can have is a librarian. They’re the best research assistants ever.
Why 1928, and why a coal mine, as the backdrop for Playing St. Barbara?
I grew up in coal country in southwestern Pennsylvania, and my grandfathers were immigrant coal miners. Women are largely overlooked in mining literature, and I’ve always been interested in women’s history, so they became my focus. I set the novel from 1929-1941 in Fayette County because it was a period marked by postwar immigration and significant labor unrest. It was irresistibly dramatic material that directly related to my family background.
What other eras do you find fascinating besides the 1920s? And would you consider visiting that era for a book in the future?
I’m not inherently drawn to writing historical fiction. I enjoyed the research process for Playing St. Barbara, but I was drawn to the subject primarily because of its relationship to my personal history. I’ve started another novel with a contemporary setting, so I don’t see myself time-traveling via fiction anytime soon.
You’ve stated that you attended an MFA program and don’t regret a thing about it. How did it contribute to your growth as a writer?
I was an intuitive writer who knew nothing about craft. As an MFA student, I Continue reading