Interview: Writer Martha Grover

Editor Staff, Interview, August 8th, 2012

Going through the grieving process, and the tricks we play on ourselves.

martha grover
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From the publisher, Perfect Day: Eight years in the making, One More for the People is the first collection of Martha Grover’s zine Somnambulist. Playful, wry, and conversational, One More for the People chronicles three generations in the life of the Grover family. As these idiosyncratic characters reluctantly confront adulthood, one Grover is always there to take notes. But after she’s diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal disease (whose 81 symptoms include dramatic changes to her appearance, not to mention the dreaded possibility of having to move back home), One More for the People becomes something unexpected: a survival guide. In the spirit of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, Grover transforms her own misfortune into a tale as unsettling as it is entertaining.

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NAILED: How do you categorize One More For The People?

MARTHA GROVER: I think it’s an unconventional memoir. There are huge chunks of it that have a consistent narrative, but it does jump around quite a bit. I think that was the really collaborative part of it. When Michael (Michael Heald is Martha’s publisher at Perfect Day) said he wanted to publish my book he didn’t really have any idea what it would be and neither did I. Basically the process was me throwing everything I possibly could at him, just everything I had ever written from my zine and then picking the strongest pieces and the pieces that seemed to fit as we narrowed it down.

The collaborative part was him saying, This is the order we should put it in. I think that’s a hard thing to do objectively as a writer, to see that kind of grander narrative. I think that’s probably why I haven’t written a book yet. I wrote this book, but I tell people I didn’t know I was writing it because it came from so many places. It was really awesome for all those pieces to find a home.

I have a lot of people ask me, So, what’s your next book about? I’ve been in a panic attack about it because I hadn’t thought about writing in that way before. I was talking with a friend and she thinks maybe I’m just meant to write essays and short stories and they might find their own home in another book collection.

NAILED: I have a writer friend in NY who writes memoir narratives which jump around. He says he doesn’t plan either, he just writes as it comes to him and the book tells him, Hey, we’re ready over here.

GROVER: I think it’s almost a trick you’re playing on yourself. It could be a stylistic thing and that’s just the way you write. I have to trick myself into thinking I’m not writing the next book because for me it just so intimidating to say I am writing a book, I am climbing a mountain.

NAILED: How is that climb?

GROVER: Well, I’ve realized that I’m still going through the grieving process with this disease and I’m probably going to write a book about the whole thing, but I’m still going through it. The story’s not quite over yet. The book I write might end up being like a self-help book for people who are going through chronic illness.

Somnambulist Zine, Martha GroverNAILED: Do you write your zine Somnambulist daily?

GROVER: Well there’s the blog and there’s the print zine. I don’t update daily. I try to do at least one post a week, sometimes more. I try to do the zine every three months.

NAILED: What sort of ways have you tried publicizing the book? I’m curious because I feel like there are so many avenues that you can explore. The book is so many different kinds of things. It’s an independent book, it deals with healthcare issues, it’s a memoir, it’s inspirational.

GROVER: We have done the standard stuff. We’ve done book readings at stores and cafes. We’ve gotten reviews into print and some online magazines. A couple radio spots. I think the most innovative thing we have done is getting people to choose it for book clubs.

If they are in the Portland area I will go and visit the book club. We’ve done that with some success. Michael is hiring someone now and hopefully that will free up some of his time. I think getting some fresh eyes on it will help. If you had any ideas…

NAILED: Well, along the lines of the book group, I wasn’t sure if there are places to find groups that share health care issues that might be inspired by your book. I’m not sure how you would even find them.

GROVER: We have sent the book to CRSF, Cushing Research Support Foundation but they haven’t responded. I can speculate as to why they haven’t responded, which is because they are volunteer run. I also don’t think this book is necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. If we were thinking about reaching out to doctors at OHSU, well, I didn’t have the greatest relationships with a lot of the doctors and some of them are in here. [Laughter]

NAILED: I was curious about that too.

GROVER: I haven’t told them. I did have one doctor that I really loved, my endocrinologist in Portland, and I haven’t even sent her the book just because it makes me a little uncomfortable. If they want to seek it out they can find it. I don’t know that I necessarily want to advertise it to them.

NAILED: I think the stuff that you do touch upon are fears that every patient has regardless of why you’re at the hospital. I get freaked out by needles, so that scene with the needle gets to me. Cushing is such a small population anyways, it would be hard to find just a handful of people.

GROVER: I went to a conference with people who had Cushing, but previously to that I had only met one person with Cushing and that’s it. She happens to live in Portland and we’ve connected, you know. It is such a rare disease and everyone has their own path, it’s hard to relate even with other people who have had Cushing because everyone has a slightly different path.

NAILED: Let’s shift gears and talk about your writing process.

GROVER: Well, I haven’t really been writing much this year, but I would say, in general, my writing process is to get up every day and write for a couple hours. My process is, I jot down a lot of to-do lists so it could be in there with go to the pharmacy, do laundry, ideas to write about, whatever. But everyday I rewrite that list. If there’s an idea that I want to write about and I’ve rewritten it ten times, I’m probably not going to write about it. It’s a way of weeding out the bad ideas.

NAILED: So the more you put the same idea on the list the less likely it is going to become something. You’re writing it out just by listing it.

One More for the People, Martha GroverGROVER: Exactly. For example, I had an idea about a year ago that I wanted to write a piece about English Ivy as an invasive species. I got the idea because I have a friend who runs a camp which teaches primitive skills like basket weaving. He was doing removal of English Ivy, drying it and making it into cordage to make into baskets, which I thought was really cool because it’s an invasive species. I thought about how we can change our relationship with invasive species.

I did all this research and interviewed a Biologist and we spent hours in Forest Park talking about English Ivy and it’s not as big a deal as people think it is. [Laughter] I mean, yea, it’s really not that big a deal. So now it has been on my to-do list and it has been a process of learning that I don’t actually want to write about English Ivy. So, I guess I don’t really know what my process is. I am at a point now where I am transitioning from being a student to being a teacher.

NAILED: Where do you find the courage to write with such honesty? You have a thread of humor even through the most difficult of situations, like the Thai Massage scene. You find a way of delivering your story with a smile knowing that the situation sucks or that you are in pain. Not everybody has the ability to pull that off.

GROVER: I think there are a lot reasons why I write like that. One is that I grew up in a family where we were very much encouraged to just say what was on our minds with no repercussions, well, not no repercussions but I grew up in a really open family. So just a part of how I grew up, being honest and open. A lot of the book comes from blog entries. I didn’t think everyone and their mothers were going to be reading it. I just thought people in my life were going to be reading. It was like I was just talking to my friends. That was always my audience.

That’s something I tell my students, imagine you’re writing to your best friend, someone that’s not going to judge you. On that same note I think the humor was just a coping mechanism. A lot of stuff is really bizarre, the stuff I had to go through, the stuff that people who a really sick have to go through. You are put in situations that are just completely bizarre, like having to get two jugs of urine through airport security. Never in my life had I thought I would be trying to get my urine through airport security (laughter).

NAILED: Did they just need the doctor’s note?

GROVER: They didn’t even look at the doctor’s note. They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t carrying a bomb. They didn’t even want to know why I was carrying the urine or what was wrong with me.

NAILED: There is a journey that the reader takes in your stories, an arch from beginning to end. It opens in a fun place and ends in a fun place and resolves itself, but the journey isn’t over. Did the arch come from pulling from an ongoing zine/blog in order or did you find that arch in pulling random pieces together?

GROVER: It was Michael that found the arch. I would say the first two thirds happen in real time, chronologically, but the last personal section is out of time. That is all written where my sick late twenties were leading into my single and dating early thirties. It was there, me getting sick. You can see that happening towards the end of the book. As a reader, what was your impression? You are going along in time and then all of a sudden you are like, where does this fit in time?

NAILED: I never felt lost. The only part which felt out of place for me was the minutes, the family minutes. I enjoyed it, but it felt like its own piece which snuck in there. Maybe part of that is the font for that section is tiny and makes it feels separate from the rest of the book. I really liked that section, but it felt like it could have been its own 50-page book. Almost like an addendum to this book.

GROVER: You take a big detour there.

Author Martha Grover, PortlandNAILED: I also really enjoyed The Frank chapter, with your grandfather. My grandmother recently passed away and I went back and reread that section. I wish I had had an opportunity to record such a talk with her. I don’t know that she and I would have talked like that, but I like the idea that we could have had a conversation that could go in all of those directions. I had my mom read the book, she was a nurse. She specifically liked the awkward scenes with nurses. One of her things was bedside manner, you know, you just can’t teach it.

GROVER: There was one piece that didn’t make it into the book about this one woman who had the best bedside manner. She was just really sweet. I would say 80% of the people I came into contact with were really sweet, but that doesn’t make for the most interesting story.

NAILED: I wanted to ask you about your essay collection Hip Hop. What sparked those essays?

GROVER: I used to do poetry slams and that was very hip hop inspired. I always thought I wanted to be an MC, but I think the slam beat it out of me. I was on the Eugene team when I went to U of O. We went to the Nationals and it was just, I don’t know, it was just weird. I thought it was very egotistical. When I think about Hip Hop it’s so macho and competitive. I’m still interested lyrically in the style, but that’s how I first became interested in just listening to Hip Hop.

When I was 25 or 26 I worked with a guy at New Seasons who was a B-Boy and he was organizing a B-Ball festival in Portland. It was the year he took it really big. He was flying in people from Japan & Korea and people from Texas. He was really trying to make it big. He asked me to volunteer to do free PR and marketing for him and that was the first time I really thought about writing like that and realized not everyone can do it. He is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met and he couldn’t write. I did that for him and I had all these B-Boys staying at my house and it was crazy. That was the first time I thought about writing about Hip Hop.

NAILED: You’re also an artist. I love your drawings. Do you ever do shows?

GROVER: I used to a lot more. I am going to do a show at the Waypost this July. Half of it is going to be other people’s work and half of it is going to mine. It is going to be a benefit for the Portland Zine Symposium. I used to do more shows, but with my energy levels I just am not producing very much work. I think it good to have something else that is not your writing. I started doing drawings because the zines I’d buy had drawings in them.

Martha Grover is an Author, Writer, Teacher, Zinester. One More For The People is her first book. She lives in Portland Oregon.

Subscribe to Martha’s print series, Somnambulist, for fifteen dollars. Do you like getting actual THINGS in the mail? Really? So does she. Contact her: marthagrover@hotmail.com

OR- Martha Grover, PO Box 14871, Portland OR 97293 – She will hook you up!

www.somnambulistzine.blogspot.com

www.perfectdaypublishing.com

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[Contributing Editor John W. Barrios conducted this interview over a meal with author Martha Grover, who is located in Portland, Oregon. Photos Via: play.converse.com; nwbooklovers.org; perfectdaypublishing.com]

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Staff

More than one editor and/or contributor was responsible for the completion of this piece on NAILED.