Interviewing Heather Cobham wasn’t something I had to think twice about: She grew up in North Carolina (where my mother’s family lives), loves dogs (she has a yellow lab) and we were both touched by a similar event: The stories coming out of post-Hurricane Katrina efforts. Reading Heather’s bio, I knew she was someone I needed to know a bit better.
Check out our Q&A below, then take a few minutes to enjoy the excerpt she’s loaned us to from her book, Hungry Mother Creek.
***Want to enter Heather’s contest? Leave a comment here and you’ll be entered to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!!
1. In your book, Hungry Mother Creek, Maya is starting her life over in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Is there a personal reason for choosing Hurricane Katrina as part of the storyline?
Yes. I am a counselor and after Hurricane Katrina traveled to Waveland Mississippi with a mobile hospital out of North Carolina. I provided crisis intervention counseling for the patients who came to our hospital and I also assisted the local mental health practitioners with their clients who had no access to counseling or medications. This experience had a major impact on me. The strength of both nature and the human spirit was what stayed with me. I was inspired by the resilience of the people in the face of such massive devastation and tragedy. Maya’s flashbacks and memories of Katrina are based on actual experiences people shared with me. I kept a journal while I was there and wrote down the stories of heroism, tragedy and resilience.
2. I read that you worked diligently on your novel for six years – Where did the idea for Hungry Mother Creek come from?
For many years I knew I wanted to write a book but thought it would be non-fiction. I wanted to focus on mental, physical and spiritual practices to promote positive emotional health. After reading Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, another North Carolina author, I was inspired to write a novel. I realized it would be more fun to share the ideas I had in a fictional format. In addition to my experience in Mississippi, another important factor that inspired Hungry Mother Creek was spending time in Oriental, N.C. Being by the water was healing and allowed me to tap into creativity that I had ignored for many years. Thankfully, Oriental is now my full time home.
3. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start writing?
Begin keeping a journal to incorporate writing into your daily life. Look for workshops and classes in your area. This is a wonderful way to learn more about writing and to have accountability so you have to write. Find a writers group. People you can share your writing with and who will keep you motivated. Finally, practice self compassion and self acceptance. Many times my writing stalled when I became too judgmental. Nothing can stop the creative flow like your inner self critic so try to ignore that as much as you can. My mantra is “just keep writing”.
4. What projects are you working on for the future?
I am currently working on the sequel to Hungry Mother Creek. I have created more time to write so hopefully this one will not take six years to finish!
5. Lastly – if we were hanging out and I was about to make us fresh margaritas, what flavor would you want? ;)
I would have the classic margarita, on the rocks, no salt and preferably in a tropical location like the Virgin Islands.
Thanks for stopping by!!
Enjoy the excerpt from Hungry Mother Creek:
Maya walked to her small kitchen area just behind the living room. She smiled to herself as she placed the casserole on the bottom shelf and wondered what type of condensed soup Hazel used to make this. She guessed it must be Cream of Mushroom, a southern staple she had used many times while helping her grandmother make Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
As she turned back towards the living room, Maya’s heart lurched when she saw Hazel was holding the decorative urn she thought had been discretely placed, but it must have caught Hazel’s eye. “Maya, this urn is beautiful. I love the yellows, blues and greens in the pattern. Surely you didn’t find it here in Oriental? It’s so well-made.”
Maya’s pulse quickened and she felt the color drain from her face. She stood frozen not prepared for this discussion and unsure of how much of the truth she wanted to share.
“Maya, are you okay? You look like you might faint.” Hazel placed the urn on the coffee table and hurried to Maya’s side. She placed her hand in the small of Maya’s back and led her over to the couch. Hazel’s hand was small, but very strong and her touch comforted Maya as she lowered herself down to the couch. She had a flash of insight that said she could trust Hazel and as she regained her composure, Maya decided to be truthful.
“Sorry if I scared you, Hazel. It’s just that this urn is much more than a decoration. It contains the ashes of Steven, my husband who died two years ago because of Hurricane Katrina.”
Well, it was a lot easier than Maya thought it would be, sharing this truth, although not the whole truth, with the first person outside her family. It actually wasn’t that hard talking about the ashes. The hard part would be answering the questions that may follow.
“Steven has a brother who wasn’t able to come to Mississippi after his death,” her words tumbled out, “and everything was in such a state of destruction and confusion I didn’t feel right about spreading the ashes in Mississippi. I’ve just kept them with me since then.”
As Maya was speaking, Hazel sat down beside her on the couch, her hands folded neatly in her lap as she listened. Maya and Hazel’s eyes met and Maya could see Hazel’s eyes were moist with emotion. She reached over and took one of Maya’s hands into hers.
“Oh, honey,” Hazel started, her southern accent drawing the syllables out. “I am so sorry. Losing your husband is one of the most difficult things to endure. My husband died when I was just 50 and it took me a while to make sense of my life, not having him in it. At least we’d already had 25 years of marriage and a son. You and Steven still had so much left to do together.” Hazel’s eyes filled again as she squeezed Maya’s hands.
Maya turned her head to look out the creek window. She was embarrassed by her lack of emotion and didn’t want Hazel to see her dry eyes. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she even muster up a couple of tears for Steven? When he was alive he made her cry easily. Now a lump did form in Maya’s throat.
She felt his grip tightening on her upper arm as he dragged her out into the parking lot of Sherlock’s, the pub a couple of miles from their house. When they were away from the entrance, he said, “Don’t you tell me I’ve had enough to drink ever again! Do you hear me? You embarrassed me in front of my friends.” He shot the words at her through clenched teeth and she physically recoiled, shrinking as his grip on her arm tightened. He yanked her arm for emphasis and continued, “I can’t help it if your lame ass is wasted after three or four beers but I’m fucking fine so leave me alone. If you can’t hang anymore then maybe you should just go home.”
He released her arm, turned and strode into the pub without looking back. Maya instinctively began rubbing her arm. The emotion she had been holding in her chest erupted and tears rolled down her cheeks. She knew she couldn’t go back inside and since Steven had the car keys, so began the walk home, her body weighted by shame.
Hazel squeezed her hand and Maya turned back to look at her, the urn prominent in her peripheral vision. “Well, at least you found his body and knew for sure what happened to him. I’ve heard of so many people who are still searching for their loved ones who most likely got washed out to sea.”
Maya’s face flushed knowing she wasn’t being fully truthful, but she wasn’t ready yet to talk about the real cause of Steven’s death. After a few seconds of silence, she said, “Thanks for understanding. You’re the first person I’ve told outside my family.”
“Well, Maya, please know you can talk with me any time about Steven, and for extreme circumstances I can always make you another casserole.” Maya smiled, appreciating Hazel’s humor and the change of topic.
“I know I’ve already said this, but I’m so happy you decided to rent my boathouse. I grew up here with my mother and grandmother but have been alone for the past fifteen years so it feels good to have another woman on the property.”
“It feels good to be here. When I visited in April something just told me this was the place to come. I’m looking forward to meeting more people, getting a job and creating some happy memories here.” Maya smiled, feeling very comfortable sitting next to Hazel. Maybe one day she would tell Hazel the whole story.
“I better get on my way so you can heat up that casserole for dinner. Good luck with your job search and I’ll let you know if I hear of anything.” Hazel stood and walked to the door, Doodle Bug following at her heels.
Hazel’s hand rested on the doorknob just a millisecond longer than necessary. Maya waited for her to turn back and say something else. Hazel never turned but opened the door and stepped out into the humid early evening. The sound of cicadas filled the air.
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