Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Q&A with Mary Jane Black

Mary Jane Black is the author of the new book She Rode a Harley: A Memoir of Love and Motorcycles. A high school teacher for 14 years, she is a literacy specialist for the State of Texas. She lives in Austin.

Q: You've said you began thinking about writing this memoir when your late husband was diagnosed with cancer. Over how long a period did you work on the book?

A: Grief kept me from writing our love story for almost three years, until 2014, when I attended the Joyce Maynard memoir workshop in Guatemala. Joyce asked me to write about one of the happiest moments in my marriage instead of writing about cancer and death. I wrote all night.

The next morning, I read an essay called "Shovelhead" to the group of women writers, and this story of Dwayne and me buying and building our first Harley together – a 1980 Harley called a shovelhead for the shape of the motor – became the start of my memoir. Three years later, I had finished the last chapter. Then I spent a year revising and polishing it.

Q: What impact have motorcycles had on your life?

A: Motorcycles gave me a sense of self-confidence and independence that I will never totally lose even though I've not been on a Harley for nine years. My daughter once told me that if I could ride a Harley, I could do anything. I still believe that! I also miss it every day, and I long for that “wind in the face” feeling again. I lost my husband and my biker self at the same time.

Q: You write about some difficult times in your life--how hard was it to write this memoir?

A: To capture those experiences on the page meant I had to live them again, and that was emotionally exhausting. I felt again the pain of moments like the one when Dwayne whispers, "I have cancer." Some days I'd write a chapter or essay, and then I'd just go to bed and cry myself to sleep.

Of course, I also got to live the joyful days again. I sat on a Harley again and felt the motor rumbling beneath me. Dwayne was riding beside me again. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: I want readers to close the book after reading the last page and believe that love can change your life and that it stays with you forever. I want readers to know you should never give up hope because even in the darkest moments you can find delight in the small things. Unexpected people will show up in your life just when you need them.

I also want those who've lost someone they loved to know that you don't get over grief. Grief become less intense, but it will be always be a part of you. I often say grief for Dwayne lives in the marrow of my bones; it's part of who I am. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm working on a book based upon my mother's story of growing up Catholic in a small Northwest Arkansas town filled with Baptists and her elopement with my father who was 20 years older than her – but it's fiction with some real-life people and events woven in.

I always plan out scenes on a white board, creating a possible narrative arc. I need to know where my story starts and where it will end, but everything shifts as the narrator starts to tell her story. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I want to be sure everyone understands that my memoir is one about love and motorcycles. Being a woman riding a Harley is the heart of my story, and my finding love and confidence again by traveling down the road on two wheels is the true story. When someone admires my independence and confidence, I always say that's Harley Mary. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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