My guest this week is Mari Howard, whose books are about finding ways to reconcile science and religion, and about the personal and ethical gray areas between the two.
It’s not an easy thing to write about during these polarized times, but whether she’s writing about in-vitro-fertilization, cloning, or gender transitioning, Mari successfully navigates through questions of prejudice, and the place where humanity meets science.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On Her Work as a Pregnancy Counselor
I think just as a middle class kid, I hadn’t appreciated the complexity of why would we go to have abortions, really, and you sort of wise up and you think, yeah, this has to be available in a proper clinical context for those who need it.
On Reading Books from Different Cultures
Reading books from other authors who are different to ourselves, I think that is enormously valuable. And one of the ways it’s enormously valuable is that, quite honestly, if you are a black person, if you are somebody from an Arab nation, or a Muslim nation or Jewish nation, there is some real suffering and some real hard questions going on in those cultures that in Western Europe, we just sat back for the last however many years since the war, and we’ve coasted along.
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Listen to My Interview with Science and Religion Author Mari Howard
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy, and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. Every week I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them, and how they are an inspiration to other authors. My guest this week is Mari Howard whose books are about finding ways to reconcile science and religion and about the personal and ethical gray areas between the two. It’s not an easy thing to write about during these polarized times. But whether she’s writing about in vitro fertilization, cloning, or gender transitioning, Mari successfully navigates to questions of prejudice and the place where humanity meets science.
Mari Howard: I’m Mari Howard. That is my pen name for my books that I write under. If you know me on Facebook, in the ALLi group, y’all know me as Clare Howard Weiner, just had to pull up two things together. The Mari Howard is actually by two middle names Mariela Howard and Howard comes from my grandfather’s family. And Mariela comes from my great great grandmother.
Howard Lovy: It wasn’t writing but art where Mari first began creating characters.
Mari Howard: Lots of writers say they can’t remember where they did begin scribbling in a notebook, I scribbled in a notebook, but it was always drawing. But I have a lot of characters my head. And I used to tell the stories to anyone who would listen, I think I started actually writing more like as a teenager, school magazine, bit of poetry, the sort of thing teenagers do, protest poetry, that kind of thing. Although at first I was at university doing things that were not an English degree I did religious studies and history and art at uni.
Howard Lovy: But it was the religious studies that got her curious. And it was mainly because of those old testament prophets, who are the social and political commentators of their day.
Mari Howard: I think because we had a really remarkable teacher and it rather being the lesson which people didn’t bother with it was very interesting, particularly what we were doing in what Christians call the Old Testament was absolutely stuffed with social and political stuff, all the prophets, what they said, and I got really interested in that. And I got interested in the fact they want something magical. There were people who were really reading the signs of the times and talking about, you know, what was happening on the political scene? And why it was unwise to do this? Or wiser to do that? Or also social stuff, lots of social justice. And so I got quite interested in that.
Howard Lovy: In this way, the study of religion also led Maria into social justice issues and later, gender studies.
Mari Howard: Yes, I think he led me into it, you know, I got more interested in, you know, what was on the news and the newspaper and such, like, I think that that was a step. And I did art history, because really, what I wanted to do was to go to art college, my parents were “No, you can’t go to art college, we’re not going to pay for it.” So I did the history of art, which again, was very interesting, because it backs up your interest to, you know, to study the evolution of something. I did a social political science course at Oxford’s department for continued education when my children were small, and that was, that really opened everything up to gender studies, and a great deal besides,
Howard Lovy: After university, Mary took some jobs in publishing, but it was her time as a pregnancy that got her thinking about deeper issues that she would later incorporate into her books.
Mari Howard: I did voluntary work as a pregnancy counselor. That was interesting, because I started off, it was a an organization, which is actually anti-abortion, but I really have changed my views since then and I had to get out because I was changing my views. And I think just as a middle class kid, I hadn’t appreciated the complexity of why would we go to have abortions, really, and you sort of wise up and you think, yeah, this has to be available in a proper clinical context for those who need it. And so, but while I was working there, I managed to read my way through the library that we had also. It had quite a lot about IVF, as it’s called, in vitro fertilization, and moving on to reproductive medicine. And it’s had a lot about the development of the fetus and heritable diseases and reasons why children are born with disabilities. And I really got interested in that. I think, from an ethical viewpoint, as well as simply knowing about it and saying what the questions are.
Howard Lovy: What interested her were the gray areas between the science and the ethics of biology and how human beings interact where the two meet. And these questions led to her writing a book called Baby Baby, which is her first self published book, it tackles differences of many kinds.
Mari Howard: There are cultural differences, which are obvious, like, for example, it’s very obvious when a black guy and a white girl are going out or the other way around. It’s not so obvious when your parental background brings you through a very different culture. What I did in that book was to take a character from a fundamentalist Christian culture, and a character from a secularist scientific family who were, well, the father was a fertility expert, but when these two fall in love it’s quite an interesting thing when she goes to his house and discovers a culture she never knew, which doesn’t show up when you just meet a guy and then show how the two sides saw the ignorance really of the other side and the way they made decisions, and whether they respected one or the other, or they didn’t. And the idea of respecting and harmonizing with people when their views are very different to your own, and you can tolerate that and be inclusive about it.
Howard Lovy: Back in the ‘90s, by the way, she wrote a book about a man who was transitioning into a woman. At the time, nobody wanted to read it. She was rejected by publishers and many of her friends discouraged her from continuing. So today, that manuscript sits in a drawer, she may take it out again now that the rest of the world has caught up. But she’s concerned about her ability to write about transgender issues because questions of authenticity come up in modern book criticism.
Mari Howard: Coming through heavy critique from the transsexual community saying, “As you are not one, don’t write about us.” And I think up to a point, that’s fair.
Howard Lovy: Mari’s second book is called The Labyrinth Year, which continues to follow the Mullens family through, well, a labyrinth of problems to navigate.
Mari Howard: The Labyrinth Year is a follow up book from Baby Baby, where I took them into marriage and trying to write about what it’s like being two go ahead professionals with two kids and different cultures as your background. Because however far we move from our background we will always carry with us, I think, attitudes and things which come from them quite strong. When Max and Jenny, this couple, are in the situation they react very differently to things. For example, she’s supposed to be going to a high level conference in the States, at the same time as his mom rings up and says that his dad is really dying and can he come up and see his father and that kind of thing. And Jenny says, “Well, it’s not going to stop me going, not gonna stop me going.”
Because she’s just ambitious. And she doesn’t see it that way. Whereas he sees his family duty very strong. And it’s interesting to look at these different things and how it works out along those lines. The Labyrinth is something which her stepsister, Daisy, the one who had the extraordinary deformed child, who, of course, didn’t survive, is making at a retreat center. And it also forms a metaphor for when you’re in this situation, and you’ve got some big differences going on, and the pressure of looking after the children and doing the careers and whatever else is happening, are you in a maze that you’re going to get lost in? Or are you actually moving around a labyrinth and finding a way to get to central point, a point of peace and harmony?
Howard Lovy: Maria is donating a percentage of fer sales to Doctors Without Borders.
Mari Howard: It’s one of my favorite charities, I think because they are international, they do work would nobody else would, you know, it’s right on the frontier. You know, it’s in Syria with the bombs coming down. It’s in the middle of Africa with Ebola. I think they’re just so brave and compassionate, and necessary.
Howard Lovy: Mari plans on writing a third book in the Mullin’s family saga. Meanwhile, her advice for other writers who want to explore multicultural conflict: read books from other cultures.
Mari Howard: Oh, I suppose it’s because I’ve loved this family where people come from all sorts of different countries and cultures, but reading books from other authors who are different to ourselves, I think that is enormously valuable. And one of the ways it’s enormously valuable is that, quite honestly, if you are a black person, if you are somebody from an Arab nation, or a Muslim nation or Jewish nation, there is some real suffering and some real hard questions going on in those cultures that in Western Europe, we just sat back for the last however many years since the war, and we’ve coasted along. But when you look there, you get some really hard questions and how people live alongside of them, how they cope with them. And I think it’s one of the most valuable things even if you’re not writing about those cultures to know. And in all these books, you get the side of life that’s not physical, visceral, shocking crime, sex scenes and porn, you get a much broader view of the human being. I think that that feeds me tremendously, and it feeds my writing.