BG: Describe the book in one sentence.
MM: Copper Sky is a mining city love tale, love that is fierce, disturbed and loyal, love that is ultimately a reconciling force in a town laced with tragedy.
BG: What led you to write it?
MM: After reading The Land Behind God’s Back by A. Den Doolaard I had a dream about Montenegro. I woke up and turned that dream into a story. It was too expansive for a short story so I started a novel. Since I’d never been to Montenegro at that time, I moved the novel to my hometown of Butte, Montana.
In many ways, Copper Sky is an invitation for compassion. I wanted to write something that represented the courage and resilience of the Butte people. I also wanted to write something that explored the ways in which a town and the events experienced in that town shape our lives.
BG: How long did it take to write?
MM: It took a long time. I wrote the book in phases. I had the dream twenty years ago, but didn’t start Copper Sky until 2003. I’ve taken breaks from it and returned to it several times. It’s been through many rewrites. I had mostly written poetry in my youth and basically learned the art of story telling with this novel. It was a long lesson.
BG: Is there anything autobiographical in the novel?
MM: Yes, in a way. My paternal grandparents were both from Montenegro, one from Berane and one from Niche. My grandmother’s parents were very sick. They worried that they’d die and there’d be no one to take care of her and her younger brother. When she was 15 they arranged a marriage for her to my grandfather. She was ultimately given a choice, and chose to marry him. But she was only 15. I’ve often wondered what that choice was like for her. They attended the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church. I grew up attending that church and listening to stories of the “Old Country.” These stories help inform Marika’s character.
Also, my youngest brother died when we were in our early twenties and I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to make sense of death and the afterlife. There were many losses and tragic events in Butte and I watched the people of Butte face those events over and over with courage and compassion. Throughout Copper Sky, Kaly struggles with coming to terms with her sister’s death and finding the courage to put it to rest.
BG: What book most influenced your life?
MM: Poetry primarily affected my early life. My father loved the poems of Robert Service and, through the years, he read Service’s poems of the Yukon out loud to my brothers and me. Later I read and re-read Richard Hugo’s poetry, especially The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir. I read Wendy Long’s poetry book, Wild Birds and Others, so many times that it fell apart in my hands.
I’ve reread many of my favorite novels several times: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven, Fata Morgana by William Kotzwinkle, The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman.
BG: Where do you write?
MM: I have a writing space in my home, with a window to the front yard and the street. It’s a nice place to spend time, watch the weather, and imagine. However, my favorite place to write is out camping with my tent trailer. I’ve taken it on several month long writing retreats.
BG: Any advice for novice writers?
MM: Yes. Read, write and rewrite. I think an outline helps. I’ve gotten lost in a story many times. Sometimes it works out well, but often I end up discarding as much as I keep. Be brave and stay with it. There will always be someone who wants to read your writing.
BG: What’s next?
MM: I am working on a novel, The Swan Keeper. It takes place in the Mission Valley on The Flathead Indian Reservation in the 1920s. A young girl witnesses her father’s murder and no one believes that she can identify the man who did it. Alone, she tries to bring her father’s killer to justice.