A Conversation with Samantha Mozart

I catch up with author Samantha Mozart in the cupola of her blog. She is vacuuming the worn, red Persian rug spanning the center of the wood floor. Its caravansary patterns rise in humps as she pulls the vacuum and flatten again as she pushes it. She is wearing blue jeans and a long, gray wool sweater. I come up behind her. She is not expecting me. I scare the frankincense out of her.

“Moriarty, your appellation suits your essence as The Phantom of My Blog,” she says, catching her breath. She pushes her long, dark blonde hair out of her face. “I’m never sure when you are here or what fancy-minded shenanigans you are up to.”

Thinking she says Appalachian, I tell her I have just returned from the far side of that mountain range, visiting my family in the Arkansas Ozarks. “Appellation,” she corrects, and I tell her I have been assigned to do an author interview of her. She says she welcomes the interruption from vacuuming.

We sit down and I lean forward to turn on the voice recorder. My note cards containing the questions fall from my lap onto the floor. They resemble a blue tent demolished in a dust storm. I lean to pick them up and my reading glasses slide off my nose and land on top of them. My face heats up. I know it’s not due to a desert sun, and I hope it isn’t as red as the rug. Samantha sits opposite me, amused, as I pick up my glasses and sort the cards. I should have numbered them.

We settle in and I turn on the recorder. She leans back in her chaise, stretches her legs and, crossing her ankles, awaits my questions. We begin.

You have published two books, Begins the Night Music and To What Green Altar, your Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volumes I and II, respectively. What inspired you to write these books?

For a decade, I was sole, unpaid caregiver for my mother, Emma, who suffered from dementia until she died at 97 in April 2012. On the rare occasions I was able to get out of the house, I was surprised to find how often I encountered other caregivers. I found we shared many experiences. When you are a caregiver, you feel alone no matter how much support you have around you. I decided that by publishing these books I could share my experiences with a broader audience, lending them support. I based the books on my blog.

Why did you begin your blog and how long have you been writing it?

A hospice volunteer suggested I write a blog about my mother’s and my journey through her dementia. I told her I had been wanting to but that I didn’t want to breach my mother’s privacy and dignity by doing so. The volunteer said, “Then use fake names.” I ran for my computer. That was in May 2011. I became Samantha Mozart, and my mother, Emma. I continue to write my blog, as you can see.

How has your blog helped?

I have received positive comments and emails from readers stating that they share my experiences. One man sent the blog link to his adult children entreating that they read it in the event he might slip into that dark night of the mind.

Some people read my blog and don’t comment, though. I don’t know they are here, reading and rummaging around in all my stuff. They are phantoms. I hope they like what they read. I hope it helps them.

I find writing my blog to be cathartic. Research shows that journaling – or blogging – heals wounds and keeps you sane. Journaling allows you to vent. Once I write and post an essay about my experience, I release it. I can laugh about it. It’s gone. Sometimes I don’t even remember what I’ve written about.

Writing and publishing my books is cathartic, too. It puts the whole experience in the past. I haven’t forgotten it, but it’s released. Now it’s out there for others to share – because most of my story is how-not-to, not how-to. I was shooting in the dark all the way. My two books are anchored in deep thought yet buoyed by laughter.

Had you always wanted to be a writer? What inspired you?

From age eight I wanted to be a writer. When I was a child, you could give me a pencil and a yellow legal tablet and I was content. I’d just start writing a story. I wrote plays, too, gave out tickets and performed them for the family, with my younger brother as cast member. One time, my audience was seated, looking up at the stage, and my brother shook his head. “I’m not gonna do it,” he said. That play closed before it opened.

Reading inspired me – all the books I read in my youth, ones popular in the day – “The Bobbsey Twins,” “Nancy Drew” – plus my mother’s beautifully-illustrated childhood book with the glossy pages, “The Arabian Nights” … and my mother bought me the twelve volume set of the “My Book House” books, ranging from nursery rhymes to fairy tales to Shakespeare. Mother read to me from before I was born until I learned to read for myself. I embarked with the characters on their adventures, images playing across my mind; I loved the rhymes, the rhythm and flow of the prose.

Traveling inspires me – that sense of place. I want to write a story set in places I’ve visited or seen: hiking around the foothills of the Chiracahua Mountains, my imaginings sparked of Geronimo’s hiding out there; the Istanbul of Turkish author Orhan Pamuk in “Istanbul: Memories and the City” and “The Museum of Innocence” – you know Pamuk built a physical Museum of Innocence in Istanbul after writing his book – and of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan in his film, “Distant,” especially the scene where the sinking ship leans against the Bosphorus shore and you hear the sheets of melting ice and snow sliding off the deck. Maybe it’s the familiarity of things past – the sounds of the trolleys and the trains, the sight of the ferries on the Bosphorus, all remind me of my native Philadelphia childhood. And nature – the ever-changing dogwood outside my writing studio window, a cardinal perched on its snow-laden branch, for instance, or the intoxicating aroma of the bald cypress I walk beneath. I am a natural observer. People intrigue me. I remember when I was about three, riding on the trolley car with my mother, studying the people on the seat opposite me. My mother told me not to stare. I still do.

Music inspires me, too – I nearly always write to music, classical; sometimes I add soundtracks to my stories. Music is great for concentration and continuity, especially Mozart. And art inspires me – a pastoral, a tableau, a portrait, an abstract, a photograph.

Suddenly, Samantha gets up, saying she’ll be right back, and descends the winding staircase. I turn off the machine. I am not wholly pleased. Where has she gone? Why would she interrupt the middle of our recording session? I stand, walk over to the windows and gaze out across the yellow, tall-grass meadow, down to the stream. It’s quiet out there. Sometimes we see the Blue Deer and her fawn, Batik, at the edge of the woods; not today. I turn around. Where is Samantha? – I hear the stairs creak. Ah, she returns. She is carrying a bottle of Riesling, two glasses, and cheese and crackers. All right. This is good.

“Time is getting on and I talk a lot,” she says, “so I thought we might like something to eat and drink. After all, you are my guest.”

We settle into our chairs. The wine settles into all the right places. I place a slice of cheese atop a cracker and bite into it. A cloud of crumbs showers onto the rug. She looks at me. “I’ll vacuum when we’re done,” I say, and I resume recording.

How long have you been publishing your writing?

Since 1980. I have published newspaper and magazine feature stories and profiles, mostly, edited a small newspaper and am a writing tutor and coach.

Whom do you consider your influences? How have they affected your writing?

F. Scott Fitzgerald, over and above anyone else. There are others, of course, authors of his generation – Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway, among them; and of the great 19th-century classics, Anton Chekhov, my favorite, and Leo Tolstoy and Edith Wharton. Among my favorite contemporary authors are Orhan Pamuk, Adam Gopnik, Anderson Cooper, J.K. Rowling, and the late Nora Ephron and Erma Bombeck. I loved reading the work of the late, 37-year Los Angeles Times columnist, Jack Smith. I love the historic storytelling of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough and their meticulous depth of research.

One favorite writer I’ve recently discovered is Turkish filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. He conceives and writes the stories for his films, most all award-winning, using minimal dialog. He calls them literature in film, or literate films. His most recent is “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”

I do not hold my writing up to these authors in comparison; I would be unfair to myself. But, they are my exemplars. Before computers, I wrote a ream, literally, of notes from Fitzgerald’s words on writing.

Scott Fitzgerald and his Jazz Age flappers strove to separate themselves from the Victorians. Yet, Samantha Mozart brings with her a demeanor of refinement and free-spirited Bohemian Victorianism, if that makes sense. I have been working with her at her blog for a while now, long enough to know that all she expects from others is to be treated with respect. And she wishes I would dust; but I don’t dust.

What structure do you employ? How do you create your structure?

This man entreating his children to read my blog likened my structure to that of a matryoshka doll, in the complimentary sense. He is right. I don’t begin with a set structure. I begin with an idea and a loose structure in my head of the main points and let it flow from there. I nest stories within stories, and in the end, bind the remnants into a conclusive thought.

When you complete your first draft, what do you do with it? Send it to an editor, a trusted reader? Let it sit for a while?

I write without stopping, then go back, read it and edit it. I then read it aloud and do a computer spelling and editing check. Finally, I let Alex, the little man inside my Mac computer, read it to me. I find that’s the best way to tell how it sounds. When he reads it and it flows, then it is good. Then I let it sit – for maybe a couple hours or overnight. Often I do my best writing away from it. Later, I take it out, make any changes and proofread it again and maybe again until I’m sure there are no more changes, and as with a darling child on its first day of school, I send it out into the world.

Immediately, I feel remorse: “Oh, what have I done? It’s terrible. I shouldn’t have said that. I could’ve changed this. They’ll misperceive my tone. They’ll yawn. They’ll laugh, finding it ludicrous. They’ll think it’s awful. Yet, it’s those pieces where I step over the edge a bit – it’s those pieces that are the best received. So I keep sending them out. This is why I wrote about my caregiving experience – I doubted my caregiving capabilities, sometimes feeling that I couldn’t go on; I believe many caregivers experience these feelings, and I wanted to create a kind of a camaraderie among us.

The remorse is fleeting. I am kind to myself. As a writer you must be kind to yourself; if you are too tough, you’ll get scared, close up, freeze, avoid. You have to allow yourself the possibility of failure. I understand the human condition and so I have compassion for myself.

What is your advice to new writers?

You have to show up. Write every day. Don’t worry that it might be all garbage. You’ll discover golden nuggets within that. Just write without stopping. When you are done, go back and edit. You have a story to tell. Everybody has a story to tell. Don’t die with your gifts still inside you. And read – read good literature and read well-written stories within the genre you want to write. Be kind to yourself.

Will you write and publish more books?

Yes, I have a few standing by in my computer. Some are essays, mostly humorous, that I wrote years ago and want to edit and collect into books; some are novels. “Salmon Salad and Mozart,” the original name of my blog came from a chapter title in a humorous romance novel I am writing; lately, though, the protagonist has found himself stuffed in a drawer.

Moriarty: {{{  }}}

What do you like best about writing?

Storytelling. That’s why I’ve transitioned my blog into storytelling and changed the name to “The Scheherazade Chronicles.” Eventually, I would like “The Scheherazade Chronicles” to become a nonprofit supporting and promoting an awareness of storytelling and the humanities. Recent generations of students have been taught little of the humanities and they watch television rather than read. I am astonished to meet young adults who don’t even know how to pronounce Scheherazade, let alone know who she is.

I sit down, either at my computer or with pen and notebook, and it’s like being at the movies – a succession of scenes reel out across my mind. I love expressing what I see, and the unexpected that comes next. It’s fun.

I am most enthralled interweaving the imaginative with facts – like my story about our nearby historic town encapsulated in the turn of the 19th century and what the residents might serve on their Christmas table. I titled that story “What If Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner?”

Moriarty: I’m glad of your interweaving the imaginative with facts. And therefore, I conclude by telling you what a pleasure it is to be here with you, Samantha, in your blog and that it’s been delightful this afternoon conversing with you and uncorking the contents of your writing inspiration and methodology, discovering where all of this comes from. Thank you.

Find Samantha Mozart’s blog at http://thescheherazadechronicles.org/.

Samantha Mozart’s Books:

Begins the Night Music: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume I (2012)
To What Green Altar: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume II (2013)

Because you, dear reader, are special, Samantha Mozart offers you a neat 40 percent discount on her e-books at Smashwords.com through February 28, 2014,:


Begins the Night Music: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume I

Promotional price: $2.99
Coupon Code: WS72Q
Expires: February 28, 2014

To What Green Altar: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume II

Promotional price: $2.99
Coupon Code: CV24R
Expires: February 28, 2014

Interview on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/interview/samanthamozart

January 16, 2014