Interview with Marcy Luikart

Where are you from?

I grew up in Chicago, spent many years in Iowa and now I live in Santa Barbara.

When and why did you begin writing?

I remember writing my first story when I was around 10.  I took the character of a chair. I imagined what it would be like to be a chair, to have all the different shapes and sizes of people sitting in me.  I went on from there. I remember always having a journal, writing sappy poetry and deep meaningful teenage angst, and silly stories. I never thought to send it to anyone.  As an adult I took a writing class and started honing my storytelling craft but I still never thought to send them out anywhere.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I always thought of myself as a writer but I first considered myself as a writer who other people might want to read when I won first place for fiction at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in 2003.  I begain to send out my short stories and was completely amazed when literary magazines began to publish them.

What inspired you to write your book?

It was an adventure with my husband that led me to write my current novel, River Braids. My husband and his brother had always talked about building a raft and rafting down the Mississippi River, Huck Finn, style. So in 2005, they flew to Hannibal Missouri and built a raft made out of an unwieldy piece of plywood mounted on oil drums. There was a bit of a railing around the outside and two oars to help steer, and they were ready. I flew out to join them and we spent two days floating down the Mississippi River. We went through a lock and dam and camped on one of the islands.  When I got home I started a short story about two brothers rafting down the Mississippi River. While doing some research to refresh my visual memory of some old photos I’d seen in a very picturesque old bar, I found myself reading books about the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition and the 1904 Olympics.  I read about the Ethnology Exhibits and discovered that Native Americans were not allowed to participate in the 1904 Olympics, but instead they participated in something called the Anthropology games.  And that led me to the big “what if?” I found myself exploring the character of Joseph Barton who had gone to the Olympics to row and instead found that he wasn’t allowed to participate. My original story about the two brothers dovetailed with the story of 1904 and my novel River Braids was born.

For me, that is the magic of storytelling for me, taking my characters into imaginary places and finding the truth in them.  I like to think that I paint the heart of humanity through my words.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My writing tends to be very concise and simple, but I strive to make it very sensory, so that with as few words as possible a reader can experience the scene and the characters.

How did you come up with the title?

When you look at a river from above you see that it actually creates braids as it digs out new channels.  So it has a literal meaning, but the novel also braids together the stories of three people, so it is both literal and metaphor.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

One reader told me that what she enjoyed about the novel was that it dealt with serious and complicated issues without hitting the reader over the head with them.  I think that what I do is explore real people and how situations affect their lives.  I would hope that the reader comes to a better understanding of what it is like to be excluded, of what it means to be part of a team and a community, of how our bigotries truly affect other people.

How much of the book is realistic?

The historical events of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition are real. I tried to give a sense of what was going on based on the research I’d done.  The actual characters and their individual situation is fictional.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

find plot very challenging. I think I’m good at character and setting and description, but those things don’t make a story. What makes a story is the characters being in action and that is where the work comes for me.  There is always a little voice in my head asking “where is the story?”  Sometimes I think writers become a bit too enamored with their lovely words and phrases that they lose sight of the fact that we are in the final analysis storytellers.

Who designed the covers?

My publisher designed the cover.  He used a photo that my husband had taken on our Mississippi River adventure.  I knew I wanted to have the expanse and braiding quality of the river in the photo. I think it works nicely.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

For me, the exciting part of being an author is sharing with other people.  To write a book that no one reads is like writing a diary.  The book comes alive in the imaginations of the readers and so I just want to say thank you to my readers.