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Author didn’t let herself be discouraged, wins $5,000 arts council grant

by Sheila Gardner

For five years, writer Marybeth Goddard has been weaving the fabric of her life into “Across Time,” a 500-page novel recently honored by the Nevada Arts Council with a $5,000 grant.

Goddard’s novel is based on her experiences and those of her husband, attorney Michael Powell, while they lived in Micronesia in the 1980s. She taught English language classes and her husband was involved in helping the country establish a national public defender system.

The story concerns one of Goddard’s students, a 17-year-old girl who was accused of murdering her newborn baby. Powell was the girl’s appeals attorney. In Goddard’s novel, the girl’s attorney is a woman who comes to the village from Nevada.

Goddard who lives in Reno during the week and commutes to her mountain home south of Gardnerville on weekends, is one of three recipients of a $5,000 award from the Arts Council. More than 123 people applied in Goddard’s category – literary arts. Awards were also made in visual and performing arts. It’s the state’s largest writing award.

“I always felt like I wouldn’t be writer until I was published, but this is starting to make me feel like a writer,” she said.

Goddard sent a 21-page excerpt of “Across Time” to Nevada Arts Council judges who awarded her the grant.

“For me, the grant acknowledges what I have been doing for the past five years. I’ve been writing in isolation and now, someone else says, ‘Your writing is good.’ It encourages me,” she said.

Goddard writes daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are a few more distractions in Reno than at the couple’s home in the Pine Nut mountains south of Gardnerville.

“Up on the mountain, it’s just me, my generator and my computer. What else am I going to do? I would feel guilty if I didn’t start at 9 a.m. and go to 4 p.m.”

“It starts with an idea, then like a tree, it branches off to a million different things. It’s easy to lose control of the characters. Starting off is the hardest. In the beginning the characters were horrible. I didn’t know who they were. This is the first thing I have every written. It was very bad in the beginning. Michael would read it and say, ‘People don’t talk like this.’ I had to teach myself how to create a character, how to pace it.” she said.

n Work in progress. Now that she’s won the grant, Goddard wants to rewrite the novel.

“I think I know what I am doing now,” she said. “I wrote another novel while I was working on this one and that really helped. With your first novel, you put everything in it – everything you ever knew. The second novel is very sparse.”

Goddard’s second work, the 210-page “Atoms For Peace,” takes place in Feather River, Calif., and concerns spent nuclear rods and the railroad. It, too, is based on fact.

“Eisenhower shipped nuclear rods to Korea in the 1950s and we wanted them back. They were returned on container ships and put on a railroad and shipped over the Feather River railroad route just last year. I read about it and thought it might be fun to write a book about it.”

Getting up the nerve to actually send out her work “is one of the most horrifying experiences you can imagine,” Goddard said. “It’s so stressful, it almost makes you not want to write. Nevada has no publishers or agents. You are on your own..”

Goddard said she used a writer’s guide to look for an agent. She suffered through five rejections before finding someone who would promote her work.

“You have to send out a query letter and a two-page synopsis. It’s the hardest thing you will ever write.”

n Didn’t give up. Goddard said the rejections were discouraging, and she was tempted at times to quit, but she realized she wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.

“You start getting these rejections and you don’t know if what you’re doing is any good. I have devoted so much time to it, I woke up one day and decided I wasn’t going to be a quitter. I don’t think I could do anything else anymore. Writing really does make me happy.”

Goddard draws on her life experience to write. She has been a teacher, tutor, editor, microbiologist, medical technologist and library assistant. Her travels have taken her around the world to China, Spain, Bali, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Yucatan and two stays in Micronesia.

“Leaving the country and traveling has been my best preparation. I have lived everywhere: Boston, Oregon, Micronesia. I’ve had to live for 48 years to get this far. When I was 21, I couldn’t have done this. I didn’t have the life experience or the confidence or the knowledge. I hadn’t suffered enough, and had lived a very traditional, safe life. You are not just born a writer. You’re not just a writer overnight. Maybe now, I have an idea of what I am doing.”

Goddard said she and Powell look forward each weekend to returning to the two-story, A-frame house they built a few years ago on 20 acres in the Pine Nut mountains south of Gardnerville. They commute from Reno because Powell works during the week as a federal appeals attorney.

n Arts patron. “My husband has always been my best supporter. He calls himself a patron of the arts,” she said.

“We can’t wait to get home. As soon as we reach the curve on Highway 395 coming into Minden, we can feel things start to slow down,” she said.

Any advice for writers?

“Just go out and travel and know people. Don’t be afraid to leave the country and try new things. I you have a safe life, you have very little to write about. And read. I read all the time,” she said.