Saturday, August 28, 2021

Q&A with Pamela Valois




Pamela Valois is the author of the new book Blooming in Winter: The Story of a Remarkable Twentieth-Century Woman. It focuses on her friend Jacomena Maybeck. Valois is based in Berkeley, California.


Q: What inspired you to write Blooming in Winter?


A: My husband and I rented a cottage from Jacomena Maybeck in the 1970s. She was a model of zestful, hand-on living, still tarring roofs and splitting logs at age 77, and I was a young working mother trying to carve out time for creative projects.


Our friendship blossomed during Jacomena’s winter years. Decades later, I bought her home and wanted to learn more about her early years and what had shaped and supported her.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says that "the author’s deep respect for the woman shines through on every page. In the end, the account feels like a nostalgic conversation about a deeply loved, mutual friend." How would you describe your relationship with Jacomena Maybeck?


A: We were good friends and worked on projects together. I took photos and began working on my first book, and she wrote articles for the local newspaper and found joy in ceramic work.

After I had my first son, Jacomena suggested that I hire a babysitter for just four hours a week and during that time, I was to work only on photography—not taxes, grocery shopping, etc. And later in my 50s, she encouraged me to go back to school as she had done.


She was a bit of a mentor too in that she’d finally found “creative work” in her 50s and valued my attempts to create while having young children.


Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Researching was nearly my favorite aspect of writing the book. I interviewed family and friends. After they trusted me, the family shared intimate diaries and journals written by Jacomena. They’d lost track of them, and not looked at them for years. They added such a dimension to the book.


In her older years, Jacomena changed how she thought of her ceramic work: “These days, I calibrate the work against the pleasure.” She no longer felt obligated to compete and make things that would look good in an exhibition.


In her 90s, she said, “Make yourself placid and accepting. Sit in the sun with your hands folded. That’s a privilege too—a lot of people in the world never have that time.”


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: This is a very good question. Jacomena’s name, Maybeck, was originally included in the subtitle. The family name is well-known among architects–due to her connection with Bernard Maybeck–and those in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, my publisher wanted to make the book less “regional” and suggested the current subtitle.


But now that the book’s out, I do wish I’d used Jacomena’s name in the subtitle. It is her story through and through. I do love the main title, Blooming in Winter, which signifies finding joy and purpose in our older years, our “winters.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My sister has Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD); I’d like to research it and write some articles about it to help spread the word.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am in my winter years. I’ve loved getting this book published! It’s brought me new relationships, new learning about writing and publishing, and a sense of value.


As I approach my 80s, I hope to follow Jackie’s advice about “Grandmother Gardening….A Grandmother Garden should have a couch and a chair to view the garden from….A Grandmother can weed and plant any flower bed as wide as her arm is long. Long-handled pointed hoes are great! Toy rakes! The very best pruning shears, and keep them sharp!”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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