Today I am happy to introduce author Paula Houseman, who uses Greek mythology in her writing — an author after my own heart.
Tell us about your book. What is it about?
Odyssey in a Teacup re-imagines a newer, better kind of ‘normal’ … as seen through a skewed lens!
My book’s protagonist, Ruth Roth, was born in the wrong era and into the wrong family. A wild child, Ruth’s behaviour is an inadvertent up yours to a baby boomer society choking on moral purity. Ruth can’t help it, though. The standard role model in this coming-of-age story is well ‘below’ standard! It’s the ancient goddess of obscenity.
Dusted off and in fine form, the dirty goddess works through Ruth, takes all the usual elements of this genre—sexuality, friendship, love, gender, education, occupation and religion—and strips ‘em raw! And that’s how Ruth processes them. But her impropriety often lands her in hot water.
A fascination with ancient mythology helps her make sense of her turbulent reality. Ruth learns that life is really just ancient myth in modern dress—civilised … or so it seems. The idiocy she sees all around her suggests she’s not the only one at the mercy of deep, mythological forces!
But armed with a foul-mouthed goddess, who shows her the humour in everything (and always at the wrong times), is not enough to protect her from all the forces that demand conformity. With her mother’s squawking wearing her down, Ruth caves in, and loses soul.
Still, the irrepressible goddess won’t quit. Never intending to upend Ruth’s psychological and moral growth, she’s just trying to keep her real. So are her hot-looking, obsessive-compulsive cousin and best friend, Ralph (who needs to do everything twice, twice), and her two closest girlfriends—the genteel Vette with the ‘big caboose’, and the ballsy Maxi with the big mouth.
With their help, and a good homoeopathic dose of ancient mythology, Ruth finds her way back through the sludgy shame and irrational fears choking her spirit. Then just when all seems well, she faces an apocalypse …
What genre(s) do you write in? Who is your audience?
Essentially, I write humour. This adds dimension to the coming-of-age plot structure in Odyssey in a Teacup. It also shapes the romantic storyline of the sequel.
My audience? Women—baby boomers … and beyond: those who feel like a square peg in a round hole, those who were a thorn in their parents’ sides, and the many who have fought to express their rights are not limited to one particular generation.
What’s the best part of being a writer?
Like my protagonist, for a lot of my life I struggled with a feeling of being a misfit. That was tough because everyone has a need to belong. But I assumed belonging was about being a member of a group of like-minded people. And while I do fit with several groups, I’m not a mainstream thinker.
Writing has helped me understand that belonging doesn’t necessarily entail finding a community out there; that you may only feel mostly aligned with an art form. The best part of being a writer—of doing something I love—is that I can be me. When I’m writing, I’m reconciling with the many aspects of myself by giving them form, depth and expression through my characters. The more I breathe life into them, the more I accept them as part of my humanness. And that basic humanity, beyond all social categories, is where I fit.
Tell us about your writing process. How do you fuel your writing?
Where my writing is concerned (and in keeping with my mode of being), I don’t follow a step-by-step process. I’m not really a plotter; I’m more of a ‘pantser’—I fly by the seat of my pants! My creativity doesn’t want to be constrained by a pre-determined plan, and relying on instinct rather than logic makes the writing process mysterious and so much more interesting. That’s not to say I’m closed to others’ ideas, but I glean these mostly through reading a lot; through paying attention to what I love in others’ writing. I also edit rigorously, but I follow novelist Zadie Smith’s advice: ‘The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.’
A new slant on the challenging things that have happened in my life fuels my writing. To a child, these experiences can seem tragic. But my understanding is that even if we trivialise them, they remain tragic. Reflecting on them, thawing the emotions attached to them defuses them and frees up the comedy in the tragedy.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out as a writer?
All writers are dogged by an inner critic—a bitchy, nit-picker that ambushes in many forms. It’s an outright assailant; a parasitic drone; a charmer that can seduce you into a posture of self-importance with its pseudo-praise, then smack you into hell!
But this critic is an innate, eternal predator of the psyche, so, trying to silence it or fight it is a waste of time and energy. And because it’s not going anywhere, my advice is:
Let it have its say.
Letting it have its say is not the same as letting it get its own way. Give it a voice, not authority. Let it reduce you to tears and bring you to your knees. And then stand up again. Stronger. It’ll enrich your writing.
If you could travel through time, where would you go and why?
Strange as it sounds, I do travel through time … regularly! I think we all do, in our own minds.
Life’s made up of stories—what we believe about ourselves comes from the stories we’re told by family, by society. And these stories get reworked and polished over the ages to suit the current ideology. So, there are many layers of them. But all stories have their roots in the original, raw ones—the ancient myths.
Our modern stories, though, are driven by a ‘let-it-go-baby!’ catchcry, and direct an onward and upward form of time travel. I choose to travel back because I want to retrieve parts of me I’ve left behind, then I can take all (or at least, more) of me into the future. And I can’t really write with soul unless I travel downwards into it.
Thank you, Paula, for being here and for sharing your book and insights with us.
About Paula Houseman:
Paula Houseman thought her life was, well … meh. Until she started fiction writing. Memories flooded back and she realised her existence had not been mundane at all. It had been ridiculous!
Her university studies helped her see what was hidden behind the absurdity, and to understand that at the core of everything we read and circulate, there is a wealth of ancient, uncut stories that echo from the backwoods of our individual and collective psyches. Paula’s blog debunks the widespread misconceptions that have made these stories unpopular, and she exposes their healing potential.
Digging around in these myths, Paula rediscovered her passion for wordplay. Words were her favourite toys when she was little, and they still are. Give her a good double entendre over dry, boring facts any day! It’s like playing in the mud again—a reminder of what it was like to be real; a reminder that life is untidy. Paula’s book, Odyssey in a Teacup, pays homage to the glorious mess that is life, and shows the advantages of approaching it in a way that got her into trouble as a child! (The sequel is well underway.)
Places you can connect with Paula:
Link to Odyssey in a Teacup:
Odyssey in a Teacup http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0153VEB2I/ref=sr_1_1?Keywords=fiction+satire