Author Ann Wuehler admits she has not been writing as much as she normally does. Speaking to The Literary Juggernaut in an exclusive interaction, the quinquagenarian, who is currently residing in Eastern Oregon, close to the Snake River and Hells Canyon, says she almost always sets herself on a schedule to break free of the general hopeless malaise coupled with impotent fury. ‘I try to start writing or doing something ‘writerly’, such as submissions, by nine every morning. I try to make it a habit,’ she begins, adding that she has lately been wanting to write, which she asserts is a good sign. ‘I have stayed up late into the night writing at times, of course. Or jumped into it nearly as soon as I woke up, eager to continue. It depends. On mood, on time, on if the project is due or just something for me,’ she explains.
With a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the renowned Eastern Oregon University (EOU) and a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from the University of Nevada/Las Vegas or UNLV, Ann states that she started writing when she was young, probably about nine or so. She says, ‘Our teacher told us to write a poem. I penned something and turned it in. She called me up to her desk, and I thought I was in huge trouble. Instead, Miss MacGregor asked me if I had ever written poetry before. She proceeded to encourage me to keep writing.’
The author goes on to add that she attended an actual one-room schoolhouse back in the day, in Patterson, Washington. ‘Our three teachers did a stellar job with us. I learned to churn butter; they took us to see a ballet in Tri-Cities; we had lessons on the human skeleton. At recess, barges chugged up and down the Columbia. I also remember the teacher who had fourth-grade students reading Charlotte’s Web. She did all the voices. Oh my, did I look forward to that while it lasted? Would Charlotte save Wilbur? Oh, that darn rat and the rotted goose egg!’
Bemusing at Four
Letting out a guffaw, Ann, who concedes becoming a writer was not a career option she had in mind when she was a kid, says that Charlotte’s Web was also the very first movie she ever saw, a movie her grandmother took her to. ‘I was more interested in rattling the small bag of candy and even asked what was on the other channel. Apparently, I amused the entire audience, at about four years old,’ she explains, adding that she sort of dabbled a bit, making up stories, then messing around with poetry.
‘Then, I just kept writing away. At Eastern Oregon University, I started going to a playwriting group that met every Friday, which is how I got into playwriting and went off to get a degree in it, bada bing,’ she tells us.
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The author, whose works have been published in Oregon East, EOU’s literary journal, has also had ten-minute plays featured in Ten Minute Plays, Volume II and III, The Next Mrs Jacob Andersen and The Care and Feeding of Baby Birds. ‘I also self-published some of my shorter plays, so they could be used by students for ACTF (Australian Children’s Television Foundation) competitions, with what was left on my credit card. Traces Of Memory and Other Plays is that title,’ she says. ‘But how does any sort of publishing happen? You do it yourself, or you submit a thousand times, get three or four acceptances. That has been my reality,’ she tells us candidly.
Ann, who gets woken up by her cat each day, thanks to its hunger, says she has lately been sending out short stories from flash fiction to much longer pieces that run into ten thousand words. ‘I have also placed four stories with a sort of local annual literary journal, the Whistle Pig, based out of Mountain Home, Idaho. These are Maybelle, Greenhorn, Pearlie at the Gates of Dawn and Bunny Slipper. There is Imptown at Twisted Vine, also Man and Mouse in the April 2020 edition of The Sun,’ she lets on, stating that she has also had two stories in The Ghastling, The Small Visitors and Jimmy’s Jar Collection. ‘I have four novels out, Oregon Gothic, The House on Clark Boulevard, Aftermath: Boise, Idaho and The Remarkable Women of Brokenheart Lane.
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Speaking to us about The Remarkable Women of Brokenheart Lane, the author says it is a zippy read about three elderly sisters dealing with the aftermath of a horrific world war as well as the cannibal biker gangs that occasionally motor through Fallon, Nevada. She tells us, ‘I had such fun writing this. I did write a rather grim, awful version of this tale, but…it seemed flat and obvious and tedious. I just let my characters wade in as they wished and what emerged seemed joyful, even hopeful, a bit funny, a lot stranger than I imagined and ultimately quite satisfying.’
Letting us know thus that she just enjoyed the heck out of writing Remarkable Women, Ann, who loves gardening during the summer months and knitting, painting and crafting in winters, concedes, nonetheless, that the plot is a silly concept. ‘But there’s more to it,’ she promises, adding, ‘I really enjoyed creating this world of those who are in hiding and those choosing to be monsters but have to play nice when bigger, tougher monsters are around.’
Fish Out of Water
Be that as it may, right before Remarkable Women, she had forayed into the realm of zombies. Aftermath: Boise, Idaho is a sort of fish out of water tale as filtered through zombies and class struggles. In the story, the author explains, Hannah, cornered in a Boise apartment, kills herself before the zombies can break through the door.
‘However, she wakes up in an office, in clothes not hers, in a life not hers, with zombies in charge of society. As she has enough to eat now, freshwater, a world that seems ordered and a bit safer than the previous was, Hannah just goes along with this new Boise, this new existence until she commits an act she cannot take back or hide without help from her zombie boss lover. Hannah gets a glimpse into the realities of this new world and has to decide if she wants to attempt to adapt or not,’ elaborates the author, who believes her skill of trimming marijuana plants, legal in Oregon, can be added to her ole resume.
Nevertheless, sharing with us that this story was another fun one to write, the author, who likes keeping to herself, says it originated from a scrap of paper she had found with — Hannah kills herself, wakes up to a world run by zombies. ‘After several starts, I happened upon the current and final form of my zombie tale. I also really liked this version of Hannah, a sort of pragmatic survivor muddling through as best she can,’ she lets on.
Plotter at Heart
Mostly a plotter, Ann often has chapters laid out, as a guideline, as a place to refer to when stuck or not sure where to go next. ‘Lately, however, I have just started writing, with no idea where the story would go,’ she states.
‘I wrote a novel called Owyhee Days in this manner. Just pictured a woman coasting into Jordan Valley, Oregon, on fumes, trying to escape the law in California. I did not have an outline or an ending in mind, just little vignettes of this character, Flower, now in her fifties, dealing with being back in her teeny hometown,. Her mother had been the town whore, an actual prostitute. Flower’s interactions with an old friend, trying to make new friends and trying to stay hopeful, work out how to pay off her debt, work out what to do next and where to go next when she finally gets a sort of handle on her life. I also started one called The Vampire Bride, which I think will need the outline treatment. I have the beginning down pat; it is the rest of it.’
Lover of Louisa May Alcott
A lover of late American novelist-poet Louisa May Alcott, Ann says Jo is still one of her favourite characters ever. ‘As I grew older, I found it strange she married at all, as her only loves seemed to be her family and her writing…mmm,’ Ann says, letting us know that author Shirley Jackson haps to hold a fond little spot in her heart— Ann had read her Raising Demons and is still nonplussed at her smoking in the back of a cab on the way to have a baby at the hospital.
‘L.M. Montgomery, I must admit, fascinates me,’ Ann tells us. ‘Her writing was so wholesome, yet her life was so fraught with actual tragedies and breakdowns and loss. She also knew her audience and what they wanted. This she delivered in a business-like way; that still managed to seem fresh and often fun to read. I enjoy her short stories, especially those with these wonderfully independent unmarried women running their own lives. Miss Calista’s Peppermint Bottle, for instance.’
It is Robin McKinley, however, who has written one of Ann’s favourite books ever, a take on Beauty and the Beast called Beauty. Ann says the language just thrills her. ‘It is just so gorgeous!’ she exclaims. She shares that she also enjoys Farley Mowat, has read a number of his books, her favourite being The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. ‘The recollection where Farley’s dad tried to sail this boat he had been working on across the Canadian prairies and down into America still makes me laugh out loud,’ Ann says.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt an avid reader, the author lets us know she was once hooked by Isabel Allende’s delicate, pitiless prose in her Daughter of Fortune. ‘Also, House of the Spirits is exhausting, soul-altering, ultimately wonderful’, she states.
Besides, American essayist Barbara Kingslover’s book of essays has been read multiple times by Ann! ‘It is called High Tide in Tucson. What a wordsmith she is! I also read her Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible, among others. and enjoyed Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, as well as Beatrice and Virgil. I also enjoy Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Tanith Lee. And Neil Gaiman, with his Graveyard Book and American Gods,’ she shares, adding, ‘I read to the tatters a novel called Duncton Wood by William Horwood when in my teens. There is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I found in a California thrift store. Langston Hughes. August Wilson. Jane Austen. Franz Kafka. Jack London. John Irving and his Hotel New Hampshire. Hans Christian Andersen broke my heart several times over with his Little Mermaid and The Little Matchstick Girl. I plan on an Octavia Butler binge soon.’
High on Tequila?
Vampire Bride, Ann’s work in progress, is set in La Grande, Oregon, and so far, it is about a vampire who gets a bit drunk on tequila. ‘She has one of those hasty Vegas weddings, as she lives for the moment in Sin City. Madeline decides that she is better off in Oregon with a new start as she has been rather naughty in the desert playground of gamblers,’ explains the author, asserting that her vampires are more biological than magical or supernatural. ‘They are predators, their bites can kill, but mostly, they produce forgetfulness.’
Clarifying that vampires age very slowly but that they do age, the author, who has recently taught herself to make bread, says vampires also cannot reproduce with humans, as their evolutionary lines have diverged too much, rather like bears and dogs. ‘I have her embroiled with the other local vampires, as well as trying to hide what she is from her new husband and his horrible children. It’s told in the first person,’ explains the author, who also has Adventures of Grumpy Odin and Sexy Jesus in her kitty.
‘And Sexy Jesus might be my next published novel, who knows at this point?’ states Ann, who then explains the plotline: Odin and a handful of other gods have been neutered, so to speak, by the Newbies, headed by the Cosmic Squid Himself, God. Jesus wants no part in his parent’s plotting or to become the newest Lucifer, which would put him under God’s direct control. He goes to Odin to fight against this, but Odin has plans of his own.
The author says everyone has plans of their own here, including God. God’s real plan, however, might end everything. ‘Throw in some secretaries with crushes on former gods, batboy missions, Click and Clack who pretend badly to be minions, and a giant furry winged taxi to the Green Halls, and hey, ya got a story. This one went through a lot of rewrites, restarts, and even life as a play. But it works better as a novel.’
The Oregon-based writer also reveals she needs to finish A Man, A Girl and A Dog, a novel about a father and daughter who push a shopping cart toward Oregon when the dad gets kicked out of his apartment in Pennsylvania.
‘He gets behind on rent, cannot work as he has to take care of his mother. His friend from way back promises him a job in his restaurant if Bill can get out there. Bill and his daughter are down to some packages of Ramen, two rabbits and the change in his pockets. He gets the idea to imitate the Mormon pioneers, who pushed handcarts all the way to the Utah territory, if they survived, that is. Some magical realism started creeping into this one. I had a very grim ending planned, but a new ending occurred to me…’ Ann, who can speak smattering Spanish and a bit of Mandarin, explains.
The writer, who also tries to get outside in the afternoon, work in the garden, water the lawn, mow, trim, and yank weeds, is also currently working on Naked Farmers of the Apocalypse, where a teenage girl finds a newborn baby on the banks of a river, takes it home, and her grandmother decides to keep it. We learn this sets off some wild shenanigans, with the grandmother running off with the baby.
‘The name is from a rock band I made up that the granddaughter adores,’ the author smiles. ‘And there are more projects. Way way more. I can be oddly prolific.’
On being asked if she has anything to tell budding authors who lose motivation if their works do not do well, Ann, who is also a movie buff and a lover of coffee, states she would ask them to keep plodding on.
‘What else can you do? Learn marketing, I guess. I am terrible at shilling my own stuff; I get flustered and feel sick and embarrassed, deeply so. But who else is gonna sling my hash, so to speak, to the world? I have to do most of it, if not all of it; and yes, it is hard, frustrating, soul-crushing and depressing as hell. A few lights here and there, a few victories. Steady effort and perseverance. Oh, you are still writing? You might hear that one, um, a lot. Welcome to the arts, babies,’ she says, signing off.
I am terrible at shilling my own stuff; I get flustered and feel sick and embarrassed, deeply so. But who else is gonna sling my hash, so to speak, to the world? I have to do most of it, if not all of it; and yes, it is hard, frustrating, soul-crushing and depressing as hell.ANN WUEHLER
PS: Author Ann Wuehler opines one has to fling oneself into selling one’s words. She shares that she tries not to burn bridges anymore. ‘That never went well. I have a secret cache of stories I would never show anyone. I wrote them for me, for comfort and fun,’ she says.
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