AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

The Process of Fraying
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Interview with the Author

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Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
To start, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your novel?

Certainly! I’m not incredibly interesting, so I will stick to the basics. I’m an avid reader, and I’m lucky enough to have a job that encourages me to continue to read widely (though I’d do it even if I didn’t have the excuse). I’m an English teacher for an online middle and high school consortium. Though I’ve always loved writing, I’ve only recently decided to take it more seriously and pursue publication. The Process of Fraying is my debut novel. I’ve also got poetry and essays published in a few literary magazines. All of my writing gives special attention to nature imagery as nature is one of my absolute favorite things. Beyond that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, watching cooking competition shows, playing strategic games and card games, hiking, and being outdoors (particularly near an ocean).

The Process of Fraying is set in the late 1930s-early 1940s; it is a family drama that details the experiences of a woman struggling not only with depression but also with the stigmas surrounding mental illness.

Violet, my main character, is a pillar of hospitality and compassion within her community. When she begins to struggle with depression, her demeanor changes. At first, the change is subtle, but it becomes increasingly problematic as Violet experiences bouts of incapacitating depression and anxiety and visions of self-harm. Having no real understanding of what is happening within her, Violet turns to both the religious and medical communities for guidance. Both fail her. With her identity stripped away and her family reeling from the aftermath, Violet must determine if she can make peace with the changes within herself before she is consumed by them.


How were you inspired to write The Process of Fraying? What sparked your interest in this story?

The treatment of mental health and mental illness (today and throughout history) has always fascinated me, but when I found familial connections, that really spurred on my interest. Fraying is based loosely off of my paternal great-grandmother, Violet, and her experiences with depression. Growing up, I knew most of my great-grandparents, but she died before I was born. I heard many stories about her, and I was always intrigued. As I got older and realized what she endured, I kept coming back to the idea of telling her story someday. I put it off for a long time in the early years of motherhood, but I finally decided that if I was going to tell it, I had to make space for writing consistently, so I did.


Can you give us insight into your writing process?

When we aren’t in a pandemic, I try to write something daily, but I schedule by the week, so it differs from week to week. Some days I truly do not have much time, and those days I work on blog entries, poems, or essays. Ideally, I like to build two good writing days into my week. Generally, I aim to write between 3-5 hours on those days though that doesn’t always happen. The pandemic has massively slowed what I am able to do as I’m home with and schooling my kids.

What research did you do for The Process of Fraying? Travel? Go to historical societies? Read memoirs?

When I began researching, six of Violet’s children were still alive. They sat down together and made a recording for me. This recording recounted memories of her (both good and bad), and those stories allowed me to get to know a woman I would not have known at all otherwise. I also had access to some of her letters and medical records. These firsthand accounts were invaluable, but they weren’t enough to construct a story. I had to fill in gaps, and much of what occurs within my novel is speculative or fictitious based on additional research, which includes reading over forty books and having numerous conversations with psychologists.

Did you find anything in your research that was particularly fascinating or that helped shape the novel?

I was astonished at how skewed the data was for treatment within the medical community and, in turn, how much research and development were driven by the desire to make a professional name for oneself and little more. Let me give you an example. When collecting data on Metrazol therapy or electroshock therapy (or fill in the blank), marked progress was not true progress. Say a patient was incredibly temperamental before therapy began and after several terrifying sessions said patient appeared infantile, it was written down and twisted as a success. On the flipside, we now know about all of this faulty data and its implications. If you are interested in reading more about this topic, I suggest reading Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill.


What is your favorite time period to write about? To read about?

Over the last several years, I’ve probably spent most of my reading time in the 19th and 20th centuries, but I really do love it all. I’m more interested in a captivating story than a time period. As far as writing is concerned, I am most comfortable in the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean I won’t venture out at some point.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? How have you been able to overcome that?

Honestly my greatest challenge is my schedule and finding the time to write. I’m a mother of three and a teacher, so my days are pretty full.

I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome it just yet, but creating a schedule and trying to abide by it definitely has helped.

Who are your writing inspirations?

I’m not sure it’s fair to ask an English teacher this question! I could fill pages with authors who inspire me. For the sake of space, I will just list a few who come to mind quickly: Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison, Charles Frazier, Maya Angelou, Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, and Richard Powers.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am currently re-reading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina after having read it first nearly two decades ago. There is something special about re-reading great literature in various stages of one’s life. I’m also listening to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as a re-read. May has been exclusively a re-reading month for me. I haven’t done much re-reading in the last few years, and I wanted to set aside an entire month for it.


What are three things people may not know about you?

1. My husband and I have been married nearly fifteen years and have lived in seven states. As such, each of our children has a different birth state.

2. I have a slight ice addiction. I buy ice from Sonic or Chick-Fil-A and much on it throughout the day. No, I’m not iron-deficient.

3. At the beginning of college, I had my eyes set on marine biology, focusing on orcas or humpback whales. I ended up switching my degree to English education after my freshman year. But I will always feel drawn to the ocean.

Care to share what you are working on now?

I am currently working on a few things. I’ve got a short story I’m pretty excited about, and I am polishing some poetry for submission this summer. I’m also slowly working on a post-WWII/Reconstruction era novel based on the story of a woman I met a few years ago. After the war, she fell under Soviet rule in East Germany. Even though she made a comparatively cushy life for herself, she ultimately decided to flee in pursuit of freedom. I’m having a lot of fun with it though I have no idea when I’ll have it finished.


message 2: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments I completely agree about the classics. Reading different books in different seasons of life provides an entirely new perspective.


message 3: by Jae (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jae Hodges (jaehodges) | 22 comments I’m going to keep bugging you about the East German story 😁 I lived near the East German border for awhile and would go over and marvel at the beautiful old German architecture next to which the Russians built ugly cheap box buildings.


Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
Jae wrote: "I’m going to keep bugging you about the East German story 😁 I lived near the East German border for awhile and would go over and marvel at the beautiful old German architecture next to which the Ru..."

It's a fabulous story! I've got about 30,000 words in a first draft. I think I am going to hunker down with it this summer.


Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
Amanda wrote: "I completely agree about the classics. Reading different books in different seasons of life provides an entirely new perspective."

It truly does. I know many who refuse to re-read because there are SO many books to get to. And I get that. I will never ever read all of the books I want to read, but, oh how lovely it is to re-read!


message 6: by Chelsie (new) - added it

Chelsie (chelzlou) | 83 comments Oh wow! I just love history and wish I could sit and talk with my grandparents and greasy grandparents. They dealt with so much in the last century. There were so many changes that came about. I am also very intrigued by your WWII in progress novel. Thank you for taking time to chat with all of us, on top of everything else! :)


Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
Chelsie wrote: "Oh wow! I just love history and wish I could sit and talk with my grandparents and greasy grandparents. They dealt with so much in the last century. There were so many changes that came about. I am..."

I fear that too many are letting the voices of the elderly and of the past generations go. You are right! What change they lived through! On the flip side of that, it is WILD to me to think that one day we will be those voices echoing the experiences of the past...like this pandemic.


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