Q&A: Ruth Doan MacDougall

Ruth Doan MacDougall
(photo by Tim Cameron)
There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers.  

If someone hasn’t read your work yet, where should they start?
Probably with The Cheerleader. It’s my fourth novel and the first novel in what’s turned out to be, to my surprise, a series. The Snowy Series. After The Cheerleader was published in 1973, it became a national best seller, and I began receiving letters asking me for more. Everyone wanted to know what happened next. I wrote four other novels before I got up the courage to begin writing sequels, which are notoriously difficult to do without disappointing fans. But readers continue asking for more, to my delight. 
I also update my father’s hiking books, Daniel Doan’s 50 Hikes in the White Mountains and 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire. They’ve been described as books to be enjoyed in the armchair as well as used on the trail.  I think 50 Hikes in the White Mountains would be best one to start reading, because the White Mountains are such an important part of our state’s history. 

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
When I was six. I knew that my father was a writer, and I was intrigued. His typing table held a stack of the manila second sheets he used. One day I borrowed some and wrote my first story, “The Big Bear.”

How did you end up living in New Hampshire?  
I was born here! In Laconia. So was my husband, Don. After college we lived in Massachusetts, England, and various towns in New Hampshire. In 1976 we returned to our Lakes Region and settled in Center Sandwich.

Where do you like to write?
When we moved to this little Cape in Sandwich, there was so much to be done on the main part of the house that we postponed fixing up the unfinished upstairs. I took it over for my office. Of course when we finally had time to do something with the upstairs, it was so full of my desks, worktables, filing cabinets, and bookcases that we gave up the idea. It remains unfinished. I call it my garret.  

How important is place in your writing? 
In June 2005 the New Hampshire Writers’ Project’s first “New Hampshire Writers’ Trail” event took place in Laconia, to see the settings that inspired The Cheerleader’s fictional places. In a minibus driven by New Hampshire writer Rick Carey, Don and I led a tour of these sites in Laconia, Gilford, and the Weirs. What an experience, nostalgic, reflective, and hilarious! (During our high-school years we’d never dreamed we would someday be conducting a tour down a 1950s lovers’ lane, now a residential road.) 
The tour ended at Laconia High School, with lunch there. Ann Norton, the Saint Anselm English professor who has written the forewords for all the novels in the series, gave a talk about “Ruth Doan MacDougall: The New Hampshire Writer’s New Hampshire Writer.” Then Ernest Hebert and I taught a writing workshop about “Using Place as Inspiration.” 

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Everything else. When talking to groups about writing, I always say that my main advice is: write first; do everything else second. That is, don’t wait until you have some spare time. “Everything else” includes doing the laundry, meals, housework. Don and I have a little caretaking business, so in spring and summer I’m tending gardens for that, as well as our own garden.
What was the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
My father used to say, jokingly but seriously, “Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and write.” Don’t wait for the muse.  And in another form that’s the “write first” advice I give.

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?
I love murder mysteries. I can’t write them myself—I’ve tried a couple over the years and realized this—but I have loved them ever since I read my first Nancy Drew. My mother was a fan of murder mysteries, and soon I was borrowing her Agatha Christies and all the rest. I think it’s helpful and relaxing to read a genre that you yourself can’t or don’t write. It’s comfort reading.  
Other favorites: my father’s books, needless to say. 
And others that I reread periodically, to fall under the spell of wonderful writing: Willa Cather’s My Antonia, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs, Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love, W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale (my father’s favorite), all of Barbara Pym’s novels, and Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. 

What are you working on now? 
The next sequel.

You can learn more about Ruth and her work at  www.ruthdoanmacdougall.com

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