Monday, March 21, 2016

Interview with 'From Ashes Into Light' Gudrun Mouw




Gudrun Mouw was born in East Prussia (formerly part of Germany) in 1944. At the age of 7, she arrived in the United States as a displaced person. Mouw moved many times in the US before ending up in California in the 60s. There she studied at San Jose State University, receiving her Master’s Degree in English Literature in 1969. Mouw has worked as a college English teacher, a Stanford librarian, a columnist, a California poet-in-the-school, as well as a yoga and meditation teacher. She lives in Santa Barbara County, California and has for over thirty years.

Mouw wrote From Ashes Into Light beginning with a research trip to various locations in Eastern Europe, Germany, Austria and Switzerland (in the 1990s). Her research took her places like Dachau, the concentration camp, a Jewish graveyard in Prague, and the streets of Salzburg.

Mouw is a prolific and award-winning poet and her poems have appeared in literary journals such as Praire Schooner, Practical Mystic, The Chariton Review and others. Her collection of poetry called Wife of the House was published in April 2014. Mouw won first place in a short fiction contest at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in 1992. From Ashes into Light will be her first published novel.

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About the Book:

From Ashes into Light is a transpersonal tale of epic tragedy, spirituality, family, and personal redemption. It is told through three distinct voices: the haunting story of Ruth, a Jewish adolescent during Kristallnacht in World War II Austria, Saqapaya, a stalwart Native American from coastal California during the time of the Spanish conquest, and Friede Mai.

Friede is born during WW II to a Bavarian soldier and an East-Prussian mother. As those around her struggle with the inevitable chaos and paradox of war, young Friede opens her heart to gruesome enemies, at times helping her family members escape atrocities.

With war behind them, the Mai family immigrates to the US, where Friede, her veteran father and ex-refugee mother, struggle with reverberations of trauma, suspicion and prejudice. Upon leaving home, Friede meets her spiritual guide and confidant in her fiancĂ©’s Rabbi, who helps her see that the voices from her past are teachers and the horrors of history also contain beacons of light.

For More Information

  • From Ashes Into Light is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Thanks for this interview, Gudrun.  Can we begin by having you tell us about yourself from a writer’s standpoint?

As a child, I was an avid reader, fascinated by the expanded world of knowledge and insight that books provided. I had several inspirational English teachers who encouraged my interest, and I began to write down my own experiences in journals. My first creative piece came from an intense dream which woke me up, and I could not go back to sleep until I had written down the story. I was an enthusiastic student of poetry and literature throughout my college career and began writing a novel shortly after receiving my M.A. in English.

When not writing, what do you like to do for relaxation and/or fun?

I find yoga and meditation to be very useful practices to help me relax and to clear the mental palate. I adore nature. Hiking through wilderness areas is one my favorite activities. I also have a love for music and art.

Do you have a day job? Or a night one?

I am a yoga and meditation teacher.

Would you say it’s been a rocky road for you in regards to getting your book written and published or pretty much smooth sailing?  Can you tell us about your journey?

This novel has had a long birth. I started it in the late 1980s, but when my personal life took an abrupt turn, it was a while before I had the time and felt settled enough  to continue the work. As a writer, I prefer to allow things to evolve in an organic way and not force a specific schedule on projects when that is possible. On the other hand, I also get intensely focused when the writing currents of energy, ideas, time and space come together, or when my publisher has a specific request. I usually have a number of projects going on, so that “writer’s block” doesn’t seem to be something that I consider to be a problem. Though I admire other writers who say they only allow themselves a certain number of re-writes, I also understand that I can only be true to my own, most natural way of approaching a writing life.

What is it about the novel genre that appeals more than any other genre you would choose to write?

The beauty of the novel, for me, is the extended space it allows for the evolution of characters and concepts.. I enjoy the process of letting an initial idea grow in a way that allows me to step back, taking almost the role of a transmitter, or witness, rather than being the controlling, intellectual creator.

If you had to summarize your book in one sentence, what would that be?

This is the story of three characters guided by a sense of higher consciousness, symbolized by the phoenix narrator, which unites each of their journeys towards growth and transformation.

What makes your book stand out from the rest?

It is a book whose theme of honoring unity in a world of differences is a significant topic, I believe.

If your book was put in the holiday section of the store, what holiday would that be and why?

Perhaps, Thanksgiving would be a good holiday for my book, because of this novel’s depiction of the human capacity to move from suffering to gratitude.

Would you consider turning your book into a series or has that already been done?

I see the book as a potential movie.

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

From a broad range of experiences--personal, historical, literary--I have come to appreciate how the smallest, most everyday event can have universal implications.

What’s next for you?

I have several ongoing projects in the wings--another novel, a non-fiction book, a poetry collection.