Mary Logue is part of the everything-old-is-new-again vanguard. The accomplished Minnesota author has written more than 25 books, but she’s publishing her latest novel in a form that was popular more than 100 years ago: the newspaper serial. Every day for the past three weeks, an installment of her novel, “Giving Up the Ghost,” has run in the Variety section. We decided to check in with Logue mid-run (the series ends July 28) to answer readers’ questions about how she writes, where her characters come from and whether or not she really, truly believes in ghosts.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: I wanted to write a ghost story. They’ve always fascinated me. And I’m a sucker for a love story. I think when they’re well done, they can be extremely suspenseful. And for me suspense is the name of the game. I do see this story as both a love story and a ghost story, mixed together. Also, I had a lot of little vignettes from my life that I wanted to put someplace.
Q: Are you writing new chapters every day, or did you write the whole book at once?
A: Wouldn’t be wonderful if I could write that fast? The book was a done deal.
Q: How does publishing your book in the newspaper feel different from publishing an actual physical book? Or does it?
A: I’m much more aware of a whole body of people reading my work. More like it’s on display in a museum and they’re walking around looking at it and I’m standing there, trying to gauge their reactions. When a book is published, it’s much more removed from me. I usually haven’t been working on it for a year or two. This feels much more immediate.
Q: Some of the writing in this book is slightly more saucy than I’m used to reading in the paper. Did you have to edit your original story for print?
A: A few words, but I won’t go into them here.
Q: You write so authentically and poignantly about grief. Are you writing from personal experience or did you need to research the topic?
A: Thank you. I’m afraid few people reach my age and haven’t experienced grief. Certainly research — in watching other people, and then my own losses.
Q: Is the ghost of Richard symbolic of Wendy’s grief? Is she really seeing him?
A: I’m not sure about Richard.
Q: Have you ever seen a ghost?
A: Not that I’m aware of. I watched for them when I bought my old farmhouse in Stockholm [Wis.], but all was quiet. I, like my character Wendy, would like to have someone else with me if it ever happens. So much more enjoyable to share these moments.
Q: Where did the character of Wendy come from?
A: Wendy, as is often the case with my characters, is a compilation of several women I know. The scene she is living in when she meets Richard, the New French art scene, is one I knew well. I knew women who were artists of life — everything they did was like a perfectly enacted scene. Dinner, tea, a walk. They knew how to make it lovely. I think women don’t get enough credit for this kind of life. Also, I loved making her a textile artist, since that’s part of my life.
Q: I believe in ghosts while I am reading a book, but they go away once the book closes. When you are writing a book, do you ever get confused about what’s real and what is fiction?
A: Yes. Especially about ‘Did I say that or did a character?’
Q: Why did you want to write a serial narrative?
A: I thought I might be a journalist at one time and I did write for the Star Tribune, as a music reviewer and book reviewer. I even had a short story published on Halloween: “Lake Creature.” But again, honestly, I did not write this book expecting it to be published like this. Having said that, I think the form of it fits serialization.
Q: I’m curious about your writing process. Do you know what’s going to happen in your stories or do you write to find it out?
A: Both. I like to believe I know where I’m going. I often think I do, but I work hard to stay open to the unexpected. Kind of like life.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: I think so. I just didn’t know you could actually do that — be a writer. I had never met one. I knew lawyers and doctors and dentists, but no writers. I think of this every time I go into a school and talk to kids. How I would have loved that as a child. But I read like crazy and stories appeared everywhere — in linoleum floors, in snippets of conversation.
Q: No writers visited your school?
A: Not a one. This was in the olden days, before any outside programs. No artists, no writers. Just grammar.
Q: How old were you when you first got published?
A: Depends on what you call published. I got a poem in the Northern Hilights when I was in 10th grade. A haiku. And I hadn’t even taken a creative writing class yet. My first novel was published when I was 36, I think.
Q: This book feels very North Woodsy to me. How important is place in your writing?
A: Place has always been very important. My family went Up North often when I was a child and it felt right that this was where Wendy and Richard’s cabin would be — the lake, the trees, the small communities.
Q: You’ve published nearly 30 books. Do you ever run out of ideas?
A: Never. They hound me day and night.
Q: Do you write every day? For how many hours? Or how many pages?
A: I’m a page person. I do write most days. Living with another writer, Pete Hautman, weekends don’t really mean much to us. But I’m not tied to my desk. I try to write three pages and when they’re done, be it 9 in the morning or evening, I leave it.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Besides Pete Hautman’s latest, “The Cydonian Pyramid,” I’m reading a book called “Crow Planet.” It’s about a woman who isn’t happy living in the city until she starts to pull out her naturalist self and starts studying crows.
Q: Are you working on a new book?
A: Several. I have a new book of poetry that I’m finishing up. My sister Dodie illustrated it. I have a new idea for a young adult book that I’m very excited about, but it’s brewing in my head.