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article imageOp-Ed: Writer Martha Conway notes 'genre-bending' new novel Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jun 27, 2017 in Lifestyle
San Francisco - San Francisco-based author Martha Conway read from her historical novel "The Underground River" on June 20th at Bookshop West Portal. This reporter talked to her after the gathering.
Now with this third historical-mystery novel, are you secure in your niche as a writer? I asked her this because 'Thieving Forest' was a departure from what she had initially been accustomed to: a mystery 'whodunit' story. Yet with 'Thieving Forest,' Conway surprised everyone — including herself, as her work is emerging prolifically on a path all her own. I also wanted to know if she had inkling towards writing in another genre.
"I've gone from writing mystery to historical mystery to historical fiction, and so I'm afraid to say I will stay within any one genre. But I love historical fiction... Use of historical genres are more and more fluid, so people like me can explore different ways of telling a story without getting penalized. It's a great time for genre-bending fiction."
In 'Underground River' the year is 1838. "So there is no war going on," said Conway. "But there is a lot of tension between the North and the South. The Ohio River, which is the natural division between the North and the South, is a common place for runaway slaves to cross over to get to freedom."
Kate Farrell (left) and Betsy Graziani Fassbinder  both writers were in attendance at Martha Conway ...
Kate Farrell (left) and Betsy Graziani Fassbinder, both writers were in attendance at Martha Conway's book reading and signing on Tuesday June 20 in San Francisco. "Betsy's most recent memoir just came out last month entitled 'Filling Her Shoes'," said Conway.
Humaira Ghilzai.
"I approached this novel thinking, how does a person go from being a bystander in a political movement like abolitionism to being an active participant? This question is relevant for us today," she added.
Fellow writer Carole Bumpus, who also wrote a historical novel, applauded Conway and is eager to read 'The Underground River'. Bumpus shared her thoughts about using history to tell a story. "Facts give you structure but it also can provide pitfalls if you don't have your facts accurate. Readers will not continue to read if they feel you have lied to them. This form of story telling can be tricky, she said but also worth the challenge."
The genre of historical fiction is something that has been going on for centuries. And it is something that has been used throughout world literature. Historians cite the ancient epic 'The Iliad' as one of many examples. They also point out that use of history to form a novel is not exclusive to our Western culture. The "Tale of the Genji and "Romance of The Three Kingdoms," are ancient stories from Asia which provide a glimpse of life during various dynasties and eras from the 12th to the 16th Century.
Conway's confidence and self-assuredness is undeniable and it has been wonderful to recognize the creative changes that have occurred over the years as she has progressed and grown stronger in her writing. Yet naturally I wanted to ask... Was it any easier or harder this third time?
"Every novel is hard in a different way," Conway said. "You think you learn the tools, and then find that with your next novel you need different tools. It keeps the process interesting."
What do you see as the most important challenge you faced putting this novel together?
"Trying to understand how people could rationalize slavery. That was hard for me to imagine," she said.
Any similarities with the three, that you might see?
"They all feature strong female protagonists who get the job done," she said. Conway, even with that very first mystery story, '12 Bliss Street' always has had a deep and profound sense of what women bring to any situation.
And so, I mentioned to her: One thing I see is your ability to bring up the subject of cultural/ethnic diversity within a common ground. The Los Angeles Times mentions her latest novel and its subject, 'The Underground Railroad' as a "Powerful symbol of Resistance." It is a subject that can be examined even more closely than ever before, especially now in this age of information and developing forensic technology.
Now on sale at San Francisco s Bookshop West Portal   Underground River  can also be purchased throu...
Now on sale at San Francisco's Bookshop West Portal, 'Underground River' can also be purchased through author Martha Conway's web site.
Courtesy of Martha Conway
"Yes, I'm very interested in how characters in different cultures or ethnicities relate to each other. The search for the common ground is key," Conway said. "This isn't always possible. I want to show all sorts of interactions, even the failures."
Are you more confident to write about these things now than when you began with 'Thieving Forest?'
She replied simply, "Yes."
And by the reviews (some describing it as "a page-turner") her audience will only grow — eager to read what more she has in store.
Bookshop West Portal is pleased with Conway's work as it has been selling and attracting people to reading/book signing events. Located on West Portal Avenue at the very heart of San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood, it is among the few but vital book stores that has survived the impact of the digital/tech revolution. 'The Underground River' can be purchased through Bookshop West Portal's web site. Will she do a bit of genre-bending? Her readers and I among them are eager to find out. To learn more about author Martha Conway and her latest novel 'Underground River' visit her web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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