By Manvi Pant
Each book of Mary A Osborne is like a journey – of knowledge, survival, hope, transition, of a mystical world. “My books carry a sense of transformational power, an element of magic,” says the award-winning American novelist, and indeed as you flip each book’s last page and savour its last word, you return spent and transformed.
Yet, Mary found her calling as a writer only later in life. Raised in a small town of 10,000 people near Chicago, USA, her childhood was spent in a “little insular world”, mostly white. Her parents were artists and where, on one side, she was encouraged to be creative, on the other hand, she was exposed to regular conflict, which had an impact on her upbringing.
“I would wake up to loud arguments, and would never really know what would happen next. The discord at home led me to books and made me an avid reader. I would venture into a different world every day and spend time with all these characters,” she shares.
The “funny thing”, as Mary says, is that her mother never encouraged her to pursue writing as an art form: “She wanted me to make a living, and she knew it’s hard. My father was supportive, though.”
Mary went on to earn degrees in chemistry and nursing from Rush University and Knox College, and became a registered nurse. “It was important to have a steady job. Now, sometimes, I wonder if I would have pursued journalism, maybe I would have been further along in my writing career,” she muses.
But life often does not move as we plan. Mary got married relatively young to her college sweetheart. After spending 10 beautiful years together, life took a drastic turn with his sudden demise at the age of 34. “I was widowed with a small baby. It was a major tragedy in my life that taught me to introspect, self-analyze, and learn about how to be my person,” recollects Mary.
Motherhood led her to writers’ workshops and the world of Carl Jung. “That’s how I learned about alchemy,” she recalls. “My writing took a big turn and also during that period I went to Italy and got consumed by art, especially at Florence. I remember walking along at a gallery, when I suddenly paused to look up – a robed figure wearing a laurel crown caught my attention. The name beneath the statue read Giovanni Boccaccio. I had the strangest sense that I had just met my muse.”
Mary’s first novel, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, was a Foreword Reviews 2010 Book of the Year winner and an American Library Association 2011 Amelia Bloomer nominee. Alchemy’s Daughter, her second novel, too garnered very positive reviews and was the recipient of the gold award for both young adult fiction and young adult historical fiction in the 2014 Literary Classics Youth Media Competition.
“With about two million books being published worldwide every year, a review from an established critic can set a book apart and enhance its chances for commercial success. And winning an award can be a rich experience for an author,” says Mary, reflecting on her decade-long writing journey. She believes that writing is a long, slow process of learning the craft. It cannot be rushed and tamed into one style.
“You learn as you practise. You discover your style. I try to create something beautiful that shows hope. I do a lot of research and read many books trying to understand the time. I think you should write what appeals to your heart and find a niche in it, and that requires you to marinate, distill your world-view. Are you writing a book to be a best-selling novelist or to make a living? These two are very different scenarios. I write because I want to make art. And visions take time, sometimes years.”
A late riser, Mary starts her day with meditation, coffee, and a short workout that sometimes includes Tai Chi. She loves working late at night when the world quietens, and her characters start talking.
First published in eShe’s February 2020 issue