[Author Interview] Carol Marsh | Nowhere Else I Want to Be

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Author Interview

Carol D. Marsh

ATAI: Tell us a little about you.

Carol D. Marsh: I’m a 62-year-old woman living in Washington, DC with my wonderful husband. When not writing, I’m marketing my book and my online school, going to the Y for a work-out, knitting, reading, baking, or (a good bit of the time) managing chronic migraine pain.

ATAI: How long have you been writing?

Marsh: I’ve written as long as I can remember. Small notes to my Mom, birthday poems for family members, the usual (bad) teenage poetry and essay attempts. My serious writing, meaning not for work or fund-raising, began in 2010, when I started my memoir.

ATAI: What was your most recent release?

Marsh: Nowhere Else I Want to Be: A Memoir was published in January 2017. It’s a work of literary nonfiction that got its big push at the Goucher College MFA program (2012-2014). And I’ve had a couple of essays published this summer, one in The Los Angeles Review, the other in Lunch Ticket.

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ATAI: What do you love most about writing?

Marsh: Its combination of creativity and intellect, and the way I feel while I’m writing and in the hour or so after I’m done. I also love the rewriting process – finding the right word or phrase, testing how the words feel in my mouth, getting to the precise point or meaning. It’s so rewarding.

ATAI: What do you find most challenging?

Marsh: Getting past the inertia of anxiety and the feeling that I’m not actually a writer. Not, at least, in the way I assume other writers are. I have a sense I’m not good enough to express this emotion, or make that argument, or say this thing about something important. My journey as a writer has been, in part, about trusting my own voice.

ATAI: Where do your ideas come from?

Marsh: I write nonfiction and memoiristic essays, so my ideas come from my life, by way of my heart.

ATAI: What is your writing process?

Marsh: My writing process is choppy because I have chronic migraine disease and am unable to establish a regular, daily practice. But I’ve learned to write when not in too much pain, and to let it go when in a lot of pain. I’ve had to ignore the common wisdom about writing for five hours a day, but I suspect most of us do. Who has the luxury of all that time? Certainly not parents, or the employed, or students, or … you get the message.

Because of that, my writing process never runs on momentum. I manage by fits and starts, and have had to learn not to let the fits keep me from starting. And then, having to start again. I’ve found if I accept my process’ choppy nature, I worry less about not having a regular practice, which gives me more energy to write when I can.

ATAI: Do your characters (or message) ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?

Marsh: I have to guard against the writing taking over because too often I seem to veer into the fanciful or the made-up. As though I’m writing how I want something to have been rather than how it was in reality. This is partly because writing a scene means getting to details – sound, smell, sight, etc. I end up questioning myself at the end of a writing session that has got away from me, wait, was the wind really blowing so hard that day? Or was that a different day? Did she actually say that in so many words?

At Goucher College, where I got my MFA, we were told not to make sh*t up. Honestly, that’s one thing for long-form journalism, and quite another for memoir. Not that writing memoir is an excuse to make sh*t up. It’s not. But we’re so often writing about something not researchable as fact. We rely on our memories or the memories of others. And memories are notoriously sketchy when it comes to reliability. So a memoirist needs to hone her integrity and closely monitor how she writes through inevitable memory gaps, working to not fill them in with sh*t. Plus, she takes advantage of research that can help with accuracy, such as public records, weather reports, home videos and photographs, and diaries or journals.

ATAI: What’s your favorite part of your book (or one of your books)?

Marsh: Oh, dear, that’s hard to say. If I have to choose, I’d say it’s not one part, but the scenes in which we’re together as a community. (My memoir is about ten of the years I worked and lived at Miriam’s House–a residence for Washington, DC’s homeless women with AIDS–as its Founding Executive Director). I tried to recreate the sounds and language and feel of our gatherings. They were fun to write and are fun, now, to read.

ATAI: What are you working on next?

Marsh: I have a couple of essays in the works, and am started on a new full-length project that I’ll be mysterious about for now.

ATAI: Where can people find you online?

Marsh: Two places: 1) my website, http://www.caroldmarsh.com/; and my online school, http://forumatcaroldmarsh.com/ (Forum for Growth in Service — support and challenge for people who want to serve others authentically, compassionately, and effectively).

ATAI: Thank you for sharing with us and our audience.

Marsh: Thank you so much for this opportunity.

*NOTE: ATAI does not edit the responses of the authors.

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Nowhere Else I’d Want to Be: A Memoir – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Carol D. Marsh

Nowhere Else I Want to Be is Carol Marsh’s heart-wrenching memoir of her time living and working at Miriam’s House in Washington, D.C. She founded Miriam’s House in 1996, as a place for homeless women suffering with AIDS and addiction to receive the care, shelter, and safety that they so desperately needed. In providing for these women, who came from backgrounds incredibly different than her own, Carol had to learn to face her own shortcomings: privilege, discrimination, poor leadership skills, and an overwhelming, yet often denied, desire to be liked. In doing so, she, along with the staff and residents of Miriam’s House, transformed it into a safe haven for victims of AIDS and their families, saving dozens of lives in more ways than one. 

In terms of content, Nowhere Else I Want to Be is certainly not the easiest book to read. It is rife with tragedy, from abandonment to parental neglect, devastating illness to inevitable death. It weighs on the heartstrings in a manner that most books cannot achieve, largely because the stories Carol Marsh shares are all real. These “characters,” who often seem larger than life in some respects, existed once, and now, do not. It’s an awful feeling, to fall in love with each quirky, lovable woman as Carol did, only to be forced to face their eventual demise. However, the tender tone in which each woman is described is admirable and honorable, shining a spotlight of love and acceptance on an otherwise horrific life. It’s devastating, but profound, in all the best ways.  

Nowhere Else I Want to Be is not a book easily defined, as it balances perfectly the qualities of humor, love, sadness, disdain, and acceptance, combined into one spectacular memoir. Carol Marsh takes her readers on the same journey she once walked, alongside society’s forgotten as they struggle to better themselves, contribute to communities who continuously reject them, and just survive, at any cost. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy, but it is forever worth it. Nowhere Else I Want to Be is a treasure as much as it is a tragedy, if for nothing else, for Carol’s bold, dignified, and honest approach to a truth best not left forgotten.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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