Author interview with Sheetal Maurya of India
Sheetal’s review of The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman
In light of the recent terrorist attacks, and the surge in Neo-Nazism and white supremacy, I keep asking myself, how can I, a writer, lend a hand to my grieving, fearful, angry brothers and sisters?
In January I visited the amazing Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, not too far from the Las Ramblas terrorist attack. The primary architect, Antoni Gaudí, worked on the cathedral for 43 years, before passing on. Still under construction today, it represents a century-long collaboration which is scheduled for completion in 2020.
What inspires me about Sagrada, beyond its awe-striking beauty and crafting, is that literally hundreds and hundreds of architects, artisans, masons, builders, and artists have formed links to its creation. “The creation continues incessantly through the media of man,” said Gaudí. In this sense, Sagrada Familia represents how inspired visions are erected first in our minds, and how we are all part of a magnificent collaboration that began before time. Our individual dreams for a better world are links in the chain of eternity, live manifestations streaming through the appearance of time, accompanied by masters and prophets and saints and angels.
Sometimes weeks, months, years pass when our efforts to provide inspiration or comfort seem futile. Sometimes violent events kick against our visions, they howl and snarl and dig in. When this happens, it’s tempting to give into negative, condemning thoughts. Giving in can feel like the great monument of faith we have worked so long and so hard to realize has crumbled and taken heaven with it. But we gather ourselves up again, aligning with universal Grace and Love, magnifying higher aspirations as we know them, glorifying what is transcendent—what lies beyond the reach of temporal power—and by Grace the “cathedral” reappears. In fact, it never went anywhere.
Gaudí didn’t live long enough to see the finished Sagrada. But I imagine it was complete in his mind, a vision attesting to heaven on earth, a living thing. In the same way, we writers who are giving voices to the marginalized, oppressed, and forsaken populations might not see the completed version of our world vision. However, as links in the Grand Collaboration, our efforts will uphold and bear forth as universal monuments to unity. In our persistence, like the masters before us—many named and unnamed—our “cathedrals” shield us and others from the backwash of superstition and ignorance, as surely as they will provide solace and shelter and inspiration to the disenfranchised.
On my twentieth birthday, a friend gave me a collection of Garcia-Marquez short stories. One in particular, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” changed me in a fundamental way. It didn’t make me wiser; it didn’t make me ponder the great wonders of the universe. This story of a winged man, crab-filled skies and astral-bottomed women with green-glowing eyes, gave my soul permission to speak. Till then, I didn’t realize it had anything to say
Over time, I discovered that being a writer was a lot like raising a child with a stern grandmother standing behind you: the minute one stage ends, she points to a worse one coming up. Or so I thought until I attended a university lecture. The speaker of the night was the infamous and notorious Junot Diaz. Of the many profound insights he offered, this one made the biggest impression: writers should ignore other people’s opinions. Pondering his lecture helped me enormously when writing a first NTBP (never-to-be-published) novel because it turns out I couldn’t remember anything else he said. For a while, his advice enabled me to indulge in soliciting feedback from others and then ignoring it entirely.
After decades of writing for the pure joy of it, I can say one thing for sure. A good yarn is hard to come by. I can assure you I have many other pearls of wisdom, and am confident that because of this I need not fear that you will be influenced solely by my lack of impressive credentials, publishing credits or celebrity endorsements.
In order to share a little more about my influences, two footnotes come to mind.
First, I never planned to be a writer. In fact, I had reading challenges in my early years. It wasn’t until high school that I learned to read fluently, an achievement to which I give Franz Kafka partial credit. You see, I could not put down “The Metamorphosis.” After this, I simply could not not write. This led to a series of notebooks, teenage rants on how it feels to live in a perpetual state of underwater.
Second, after getting my first NTBP novel and screenplay out of the way, I interned and later wrote freelance for a local newspaper. Writing human-interest stories, restaurant, movie, and book reviews on deadline taught me a very important lesson: to stop niggling and get the first draft down.
Around that time, Magical Realism took me hostage, literally. To begin with, I was raising a son who did things differently. He walked, talked, and learned differently than most inhabitants of this galaxy. This experience caused me to question every reasonable belief, opinion, and judgment I had accepted about the nature of reality and God. It sent me on a wild quest for answers, a long, fruitful adventure into spiritual study and practice, a degree in literature and writing, gushing first drafts and furious ruminations, and the first fruits of which were a collection of short stories involving a leopard who dreams of being a businessman, a lovelorn medical resident who gives cadavers psychic readings, Euripides and Sophocles jotting down inspired lines while girl and boy watching at an outdoor café.
Since then, I have been snatching words and phrases out of the ethers to record them like they were potent charms. Magical Realism allows me room to explore themes of love, identity, spirituality, power, social/political concepts, and the nature of reality from a fresh point of view. It gives my imagination freedom to run. It lit the spark of a thirteen-year fire that fueled the writing of The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, my debut novel.
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2017. Lots of blogs are taking part this year, all posting about magic realism in some form or other. Just click the links below to “hop” around the blogs. Have fun!
The Hop runs from 28th – 30th July, although you will be able to visit after that. Posts will be added throughout the three days, so do come back and see what’s new.
☀️Congratulations KATHY HEARE WATTS of Tennessee! Winner of US/Canada Goodreads Giveaway!
☀️Congratulations TAMMY LANEA DILLION, USA Winner of International giveaway! ☀️
What do you think about Wordsworth’s way of looking at the world, and how is it similar in Moojie Littleman?–Abhimanyu Pandey
Regarding Wordsworth’s “The Idiot Boy” and “We Are Seven”, it can be said that William Wordsworth and I share a mutual interest in children trapped in difficult circumstances. Children are also wiser than grownups or figures of authority. Moojie, an unwanted, disabled boy, teaches his aunt, a professor, his grandfather, a Civil War captain, and his adoptive father, a mapmaker, lessons in compassion, grace, and faith, lessons that nudge them beyond academia, history, and science.
Wordsworth also speaks of “invisible presences” and “unknown modes of being”. In “Tintern Abbey” he writes:
…And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of the setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
In the same poem, he says, We are laid asleep in body and become a living soul.
He refers to himself as a pagan who sees nature as a living being that communicates with us. Strangely, I, who consider myself a mystic, share a fascination with revelation, transcendent experiences, and unified, loving forces of the universe. In The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, there is a moment of awakening when Moojie looks out at the night sky and The stars seemed to be talking, beaming out a bright message to him. (p. 56). While Wordsworth and I may differ in our names for the consciousness that speaks through nature, we seem to share a consensus that there is a “voice” or an “ineffable” presence with whom we can commune.
This is the best book I have read this year and not only that, when I finished reading I knew that I would have to read it again – it left such a special impression on me.
The author, Robin Gregory, is a master craftswoman of words, it was delightful to savor each word and also very much entertaining as the text is permeated with good healthy humor and very very strong characters – in my view one of the strongest points when assessing a novel!
The story itself is about a very special boy, Moojie Littleman, he is an orphan and he as some strange powers but also problems – for instance his body doesn’t work as it should. Moojie wants to fit in with the rest of humanity but finds it extremely hard as his disability puts people off. But he soon will find that he is not alone and will learn some very important lessons, for he comes across some very special friends – otherworldly beings who will help shape his path for good or for evil. As the story unfolds we read of Moojie’s successes and failures; We can see how Moojie deals with his strong and weak points: his power to heal; his disability and the frustration caused by it; other fellow humans; his strange friends from another plane of existence – are they good or are they evil? Can he fit in within their group?; his search for love and a family – not matter if it is human or not – a family to love and where he feels he is an integral and important part of it, and most importantly, where is loved back.
(Our thanks to the author Robin Gregory for the copy provided)
Dear Bright Souls,
It has been a few weeks since we got back from Europe. Spain was sensational … Christmas lights everywhere, joyful, friendly people, great food, accommodations and weather.
We also visited Biarritz, France. The night lights were phenomenal (even at 38 degrees f.).
While there, I introduced The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman to a number of booksellers. They seemed genuinely interested in Spanish & French translations, which I’m working with a foreign literary agent to get published. (Note: thank you, dear Spaniards, for being kind and gracious about my rickety Spanish.)
I am thrilled to announce that Moojie has just received 2 more awards!
2016 New Apple Annual Book Awards:
Winner of Visionary Fiction & Best New Fiction
I’ve been working with John Crye (producer), Quinn Sosna-Spear (screenwriter), and Voyage Media on the film adaptation of Moojie Littleman. The project is making great progress. After a number of meetings, I’m confident that we are united on the vision, and that the film is going to be wonderful … wonderful!! Next week, we meet to review the first draft of the screenplay. When that is revised and polished, Voyage Media will hire a director. Cast and crew will be considered and investors approached. If all goes swimmingly, we might have a film in about 2 years. Sheesh.
Having just finished a rough outline for my next novel, I can safely say I’m working on a sequel to Moojie Littleman. It may change to a degree, but here is the crux of the story:
At 18 years old, Moojie is living with Auntie Tilda Pettibone and his father, Henry Littleman, at St. Isidore’s Fainting Goat Dairy. Moojie’s reputation for healing has grown, and folks come from all parts to seek his help. He finally has the family he always wanted. But his heart aches for Babylonia, the alien girl who fled the Earth with the Light-Eaters four years before. Determined to find her, he must gain entrance to her world through an underground portal guarded by a capricious Hopi priestess, and face the nefarious sorcerer, Sarru’kan, once again. Dogged by his meddlesome aunt and controlling father, Moojie now struggles to break free of the confines of the family he fought so hard to keep. It’s 1910, and the universe is about to get a lot bigger.
Since Moojie Littleman was released just over a year ago, it has been:
If you want to share a touching story with someone you care about … If you want to encourage someone who’s going through a rough time … If you like really good writing that tells a rich, satisfying story about a disabled boy healer, who learns master his power through friendship with an outcast, alien clan, this is for you.
Oh, and don’t forget, there are miracles and really cool fainting goats and magical watermelons.
For Young Adults and Adult Adults, too
**Available at bookstores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and public libraries**
The Book Den, Santa Barbara; Barnes & Noble, Gilroy; Nepenthe Phoenix Shop, Big Sur; Chaucers, Santa Barbara; The Pilgrim’s Way, Carmel; Old Capitol Books, Monterey; River House Books, Carmel; Illuminati, Monterey.
Elliott Bay Books, Seattle; Griffin Bay Books, San Juan Island
The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism Early 1900s, Western America. A lonely, disabled boy with a nasty temper and uncontrolled mystical powers, Moojie is taken by his father to his grandfather’s wilderness farm. There, Moojie meets an otherworldly clan of outcasts that he wants to join. Following a series of misadventures–magical and mystical–he is summoned by the call to a great destiny … if only he can survive one last terrifying trial. Having won a number of awards, Robin Gregory’s The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman is being lauded as a classic. A haunting, visionary tale spun in the magical realist tradition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the profoundly unique voice and heart-stirring narrative recall great works of fiction that explore the universal desire to belong.
Goodreads * Amazon
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Amazon * Goodreads
ROBIN GREGORY is a devoted wife and mother, and student of mystical teachings. Born in Pensacola, Florida, she grew up in California, accompanied by seven siblings, and surrounded by horses, real cowboys, and the occasional rattlesnake. She has always been drawn to helping others, a trait that began, to her mother’s horror, with bringing home swallow chicks stricken from their nests. She has worked as a journalist, lay minister, and infant massage instructor for mothers and babies at risk. Her studies include Literature and Creative Writing at University of California, Santa Cruz and Stanford University’s Writer’s Workshop. She lives with her husband and son in a Carmel cottage old enough to make you sneeze. “The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman” is her first published novel.
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My Date With Marc Chagall
by Robin Gregory
When I was a kid, I used to like to build forts and dress like Zorro. At a certain point, I had to ask myself if I could make a living doing this, and realized I couldn’t, so I decided to be an artist. I loved the Expressionists, especially Marc Chagall. In fact, I give him some credit for why I became a writer. First, I spent a few years studying art. Much later, when my husband and I visited France, I wanted to find Mr. Chagall. I had questions. I found his address in an international registry: La Colline, St. Paul-de-Vence. No numbers, no letters. It took a bit of snooping around, but we did find the beautiful, old estate high on a hill above a dirt road. There was a wrought-iron gate with the word La Colline forged in it. Not so hard to find. My gosh, I thought, he probably welcomes visitors! Here was the plan: we were going to leave a potted plant at the gate, along with an invitation to meet for coffee at our hotel. How could he resist, we came all the way from the US to meet him! Anyway, what harm in asking, right? When I got out of the car to deliver the plant, I leaned down and grabbed hold of the gate, which it turns out had just been freshly painted. I recoiled to look at my black hand, and set off an alarm across the valley. Then this herd of Doberman’s the size of small horses came bounding down the hill toward me bearing teeth. I dropped the stuff, raced back to the car, and we sped away like a couple of frito banditos. NOTE TO MYSELF: This is the kind of thing that happens, and the next thing you know, there’s a warrant out for your arrest, and you end up in some rat- infested island prison, and following a hair-raising escape, you launch an elaborate plot to extract a bitter revenge against your betrayers … or not. So here’s how Mr. Chagall helped me become a writer: I learned from this experience that it’s a lot more fun to tell a story than it ever was to paint. I spent a few years studying Literature and Creative Writing, and worked for a while as a journalist. Surprisingly, my first novel was about a girl who wanted to be an artist, but ended up a writer. Nowadays, when I’m not writing about boy-wonders and aliens and fainting goats, I look after my son, make maps with my husband, drink tea, and am thinking of transforming that first novel into a series of knock-knock jokes. Who knows what makes a good writer? You don’t have to make money at it, or get a film deal, or win awards, or even publish your work. You could just start by stalking famous painters.
The Year of the End and the Beginning—1892
He arrived on the heels of an earthquake. A minor hiccup as disasters go, the murmur rippling undersea, causing dories in the bay to bob and spider crabs to flood the beach like a ghostly pink tide. It was the sort of earthquake that hushes everything for an instant before nesting birds and sleeping butterflies burst out of trees. It makes your heart jump for joy because you realize the earth is flying through space at one thousand miles per hour and you have been spared the dreadful experience of the whole world falling apart and having to put it back together. It was the sort of earthquake that the nuns of San Miguel de las Gaviotas would call a mystical grumble. Really, there was nothing about it to suggest the terrible wonders looming on the horizon.
At a quarter past seven, the candelabras in the chapel stopped swaying. The nuns crossed themselves, went outside and found a wooden fishing bucket on the porch. Expecting the catch of the day, they were nothing short of horrified to see a baby boy bundled in fur and tucked inside it. He had bright black eyes, enormous ears, and his hair was the texture of caterpillar fuzz.
“He’s a Hostile, if I ever saw one,” said Mother Teagardin.
The word Moojie had been smudged across his forehead. And that was what they called him—a peculiar name for a peculiar boy, who wasn’t particularly welcome. Against her better judgment, Mother Teagardin, who always said the natives were ill- suited for local society, hadn’t the heart to surrender him to the local Bureau of Questionable Peoples. She appealed to the local families to adopt him. But the villagers were a superstitious lot. They believed the mysterious child to be, well, too mysterious.
It didn’t help that before he cut his first teeth, Moojie amused himself by magically snuffing out candles with the blink of an eye, and by sending objects into flight with the power of his mind. When he didn’t get his way, he caused the wind to rip off the nuns’ veils and flash their knickers. Like Odysseus, he was quick to act and slow to regret. Meanwhile, the sisters clicked their clickers, and swatted his bottom, and continued looking for a family for him.
Except for one early chapter of his childhood, Moojie was a virtuosic flop when it came to the only thing he cared about: finding and keeping a family.
This golden parenthesis began just before he was one year old, when Henry and Kate Littleman, a childless couple who had moved from the East Coast to San Miguel—along with hundreds of recent immigrants from Europe and the Far East, since America had opened her doors to the world—took him home to raise as their own. Mamma immediately left her post as a science and French teacher at the Charles Darwin Free School to look after him. Mornings, she tucked him into a knapsack suspended from a tripod, and went about her housekeeping. He grinned and giggled as she baked bread, smoked little cigars, knitted hats and booties, and arranged his wet flannel diapers on a drying rack near the fireplace. She wheeled him to the beach in a wicker pram, where they collected spider crabs and napped in the salty sand; she rocked him before a glowing wood stove; she bathed and coddled him. He watched Papa, a mapmaker, spin his curta and level his transit, slurp scalding tea, and leap out the door every morning in a pocketed vest. Sometimes, in the afternoon, Papa played piano for him or showed off his soccer moves in the backyard.
In those days, Moojie was a model child, the ambassador of lovability. He delighted at being the center of attention, always looking intently into people’s eyes, always smiling, as if he were in on some cosmic joke. In those days—before San Miguel de las Gaviotas had gone the way of Atlantis, that is to say, before it fell out of favor with the gods—Moojie was passed around at church like a peace pipe. Warmed by his charm, suspicious villagers now lined up after the service to take turns holding him. Once Mrs. Littleman contrived a plot to put the smiling Moojie into the arms of a miserable scrooge, and everyone sighed with awe as the long-suffering soul wept and sang praises to God in heaven.
“Have you noticed, my cupcake?” Mamma said to Papa as she pushed the pram home from church. “This is no ordinary child.”
“He’ll make a fine field hand, lovey,” Papa said.
At the time, San Miguel de las Gaviotas was a nick on the Pacific Coast of America, a clammy, cluttery mishmash of thatched rooftops, crumbling walls, and crooked towers surrounded by rugged mountains that rose out of fog like ancient pyramids. Moojie’s new home, Number 11 Wimbley Wood, a mildewy cottage with a drip line and assorted mushrooms growing in the basement, appealed to otherworldly visitors. Only Moojie could see the celestial bodies spinning and whirling all about him. And he sometimes heard voices beyond the range of normal hearing—gifts, of course, that he did not yet understand. In the witching hours, lights floated down through the ceiling over his crib. He giggled and tried to grasp them as they bobbed playfully into and out of his hands. Mamma came in and held him in the rocker, while moths and flower flies haunted the spirit lamp—like all that is born, seeking to return to light.
Having landed in the nucleus of love, charming, handsome Moojie surpassed his parents’ every expectation, blessing them with unmitigated joy.
But all of that was soon to change.***