Thursday, March 15, 2018

Author Marie Zhuikov Talks About Her Life as a Writer

Marie Zhuikov self-describes as a novelist, science writer, poet and editor. Her lifelong fascination with science and writing has taken he across a variety of career terrains. In her day job, Marie is an award-winning science writer and communications project manager, specializing in environmental and medical topics. She has published hundreds of articles, publications, videos and radio programs, as well as coordinated production of many web sites. But like many of us with writing in our DNA there are nights and weekends where the streams of self-expression must find an outlet.

This interview was triggered by the recent panel discussion about writing for money.

EN: As a teen you took an interest in poetry. Who were you favorite poets at that time and did you have other friends who shared this passion?

Marie Zhuikov: Back then, I only knew the poets that I could find in my school library or the local library. I used to type out the poems I liked on my parent's Underwood typewriter so that I could have copies. I still have those copies, even over 35 years later. The poets include Dorothy Parker, William Stafford, Sara Teasdale, and William Carlos Williams.

I don't recall any of my friends having the same interest, so it was a solitary exercise for me.

EN: You say that you have been sitting in front of a typewriter you whole life. At what point did you realize this to be your life calling? 

MZ: I realized I really liked sitting in front of a typewriter when I was about 16 and I was in my room, copying poems. The time just seemed to flow, and I remember thinking, "I want to do this for the rest of my life!" Before that point, I had written a few stories and my own poems. But there was something about studying the poems and immersing myself in recreating them that appealed to me. Later, as a student journalist in college, I still sat in front of a typewriter, but that quickly changed to a computer keyboard once I got a "real" job. And I've been doing it ever since. In my 50s now, I am surprised I don't have carpal tunnel syndrome, knock on wood!

EN: Your writing blended with an interest in science journalism and you ended up becoming an environmental reporter for the Minnesota Daily as well as doing some freelance writing. What were some of the things you learned about writing at that time?

MZ: I learned the hard way about the politics behind some stories and how it can play out when someone in power (like a professor) doesn't like the published piece. That taught me to always keep my interview records (notes, recordings) for a long time afterward, in case I need to prove that my sources said what I reported. In this instance, I did keep the records, but thankfully did not need to use them to justify my story's content. However, it was sure nice to know I had them. I could have been fired if it had turned into a "he said, she said" situation.

I learned a lot about editing, too. When I first started with the paper, I was a night typist. I took the reporters' stories, which were typed on paper, glued together to form a long scroll and marked up by an editor, and typed them into the newspaper's computer system after the 5 p.m. news deadline. Even before I wrote my own newspaper stories, that experience taught me many of the common grammar mistakes reporters make, and ways I could cut extra words to make the story's meaning clearer. Some reporters habitually had way more red pencil editor's marks on their stories than black type. Perfectionist that I was/am, I vowed that when I was a reporter, I would turn in stories edited to the best of my ability so that the typists would have an easier job. I like to think they didn't wince as much when a story with my byline came their way, plus it helped me hone my writing and editing skills at an early stage in my career.

EN: Can you briefly outline your long and winding road to the Northland?

MZ: Well, I was born here, so I started out here. My family lived in the Piedmont neighborhood and I graduated from Denfeld High School. I left for college in Minneapolis, where I lived for five years, but I worked for several summers near Lake Superior. After college, I entered a graduate school program called the Audubon Expedition Institute to earn a degree in environmental education. (It's now called the Expedition Education Institute.) We travelled around the U.S. and Canada in a yellow school bus, learning about environmental issues by talking to local resource people, living outdoors, and going for hikes, swims, and canoe trips. We went from the northern tip of Newfoundland down the east coast of Canada and the U.S. to Key Largo, Florida. From there we went out west to canyon country.

The expedition abruptly stopped in Canyonlands National Park when our bus blew its engine block. By that point, I knew I didn't want to pursue a second year of study on the bus. I wanted to settle down. All the land I had seen made Minnesota look pretty good, so I decided to come back here to find a job and work on natural resource issues and writing. I've stayed here ever since, except for one brief interlude to work in Rochester, Minnesota. Locally, I've worked as a writer and public relations person for the Superior National Forest, Minnesota Sea Grant, the St. Louis River Alliance, and Wisconsin Sea Grant. I've also done a fair amount of freelancing.

EN: When did you first get bit with a desire to write novels?

MZ: That happened during one of my college summer jobs. I worked as a waitress at the resort on Isle Royale National Park. It was the mid-1908s, and the wolf population was in trouble similar to the population issues they are facing now. I lugged a duffle bag full of books with me to the island and one of them was Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire." I loved how she gave the vampires their own society and deeper motivations than just bloodlust. I thought it would be fun to do the same thing for werewolves - to show them actually working as members of a pack, not just as singular bloodthirsty beasts. What better place for a setting than Isle Royale? So I combined all those things into my first novel, Eye of the Wolf.

Although I got bit with the idea in the mid-1980s, it took me 17 years to write the novel and to find a publisher, so a long lag ensued between the idea stage and the publishing stage. Part of the reason was that I had a lot of learning to do about fiction writing, part was because I got stuck on certain sections, and another part was that a lot of life happened during those years.

EN: Can you briefly share what your second novel is about?  

MZ: My publisher (North Star Press) calls them eco-mystic-romance novels. They combine ecology, native myths, and kissing! My second novel is a sequel set 11 years afterward. Plover Landing follows the protagonist (Melora St. James) and her love interest, Drew, off the island and into Duluth, where Melora is working to restore habitat on Park Point for an endangered shorebird called the piping plover. After they find a lost boy on the beach, the story begins to take a mystical turn. In helping the boy, Melora and Drew learn secrets about themselves and building community, and they come to terms with their past.

* * * *


Visit the website of Marie Zhuikov
The Going Coastal reading at Zenith Bookstore.
Purchase Going Coastal here.

If you're a writer, write on!
Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it.

1 comment:

Sharon Moen said...

Writing for a living isn't an easy row to hoe. More power to Marie, Ed and all the words aching to spill onto the blank page.