Untying the Moon: A Novel .... A glittering debut
Author: Lynda Bouchard
Ellen Malphrus is a publicist’s dream. An author who creates lyrical, nuanced sentences containing such beauty that I couldn’t wait to meet her. Who was this miner of word-gems? When we met, her hair was wild, her ideas original, and we sat for hours talking as old friends at her bucolic home along the May River.
Malphrus is a lot like Bailey Martin, the main character, in her debut novel. Pulitzer prize-winning novelist, N. Scott Momaday, puts it best in his endorsement of Untying the Moon: “This is a book in which the writing and the writer are one. Ellen Malphrus is in full control of her craft. Her story is sound, her voice clear and melodic, her perceptions keen, and her characters sharply defined and vital. Untying the Moon is a literary experience of considerable merit, one to be savored and remembered.”
Pre-publication endorsements also include New York Times best-selling authors Mary Alice Monroe and Ron Rash.
As a writer, Malphrus is like the May River. She can make words flow like a strong current.
Lynda Bouchard: What was your inspiration for Untying the Moon?
Ellen Malphrus: This book was a slow unfolding of a story that was written in fits and starts for some years as I struggled to make time for it—to know the characters well enough that I could get out of their way. I teach at the University [USC Beaufort], and for years I was more involved with the work of my students than I was my own writing. I also love to travel, and that combination made for unsustained bursts of progress between semesters and trips.
What I did know from the beginning was the central image, central sound really, of a sleeping dolphin slowly floating down a saltwater river in the deep of a moonlit night, floating with the tide, ever-so-placidly exhaling. This is something I witnessed years ago while camping on an uninhabited barrier island. When we looked at one another, that dolphin and I, a fascination was triggered in me that lies at the heart of this book; that tender whoosh was the genesis. There is violence in the novel that is in direct counterpoint, but that serenity—a desire for it anyway—underlies everything.”
LB: Your love of language is evident in the novel. Where does that come from?
EM: A key influence is undoubtedly the oral tradition of storytelling and storytellers, beginning in childhood with my mother. The shape-shifting narratives of Native American writers—and of course the Gullah-Geechee storytelling traditions of my Lowcountry homeland—are key. I’m a Southerner. Storytelling is in my bones.
LB: You are a world traveler. Does that inform your writing?
EM: My father used to say, “That girl was born with wheels on her ass.” It’s true—I have a gypsy soul. It seems I was smitten with wanderlust in the womb. The call of the open road is part of it, the freedom of vagabond ways. And there’s also the allure of distant lands and people. It’s invigorating, the discovery of new tastes and smells and sounds. It’s growth, an expansion of one’s self, and it’s also a journey into one’s self. The outward and the inward. There’s always been a three-part nature to my travels: the anticipated trip, the actual journey, and the remembrance of it.
LB: Yes. The final glimpse of a place folds it into your heart.
EM: Travel is my treasure. Although we surround ourselves with objects from our trips, things themselves mean very little in the end. Amassing wealth, for me, means amassing memories. There is no crown jewel or pirate’s trove that could compare to a single open-windowed night spent inside the fortress walls of the Alhambra, surrounded by whispering fountains, listening to the soft call of nightingales, intoxicated with the scent of Damask rose and jasmine.
LB: You had a unique friendship with James Dickey, the author of Deliverance.
EM: James Dickey was a literary father figure to me. He taught me about writing and humanity, and that you can’t be fully engaged in a life of the mind unless you also get your hands dirty. He taught me in the classroom and during our walks through the Horseshoe (across campus). During visits at his home or mine, in conversations under the canopy of trees.
LB: And Pat Conroy? He wrote the foreword to Untying the Moon.
EM: Pat was also Dickey’s student. After he published The Water Is Wide, he commuted to Columbia (where Dickey was Poet-in-Residence at USC) to sit in on Dickey’s class. When Pat and I became friends, we immediately began singing the praises of Big Jim Dickey and haven’t really shut up since. After Pat read some of my work, he began gently encouraging me to complete the manuscript that became Untying the Moon. As I dawdled, his nudges turned to nags, then full blown pestering. Thank heavens for it, or the book might still be draft work.
Pat Conroy will join Bluffton resident and author Ellen Malphrus, to celebrate the launch of her debut novel, Untying the Moon, on Friday, October 16 from 4-6 p.m. at the Heyward House in Old Town Bluffton. For the first time in its history, The Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival is proud to sponsor the launch of a local debut novelist.
This special event is free and open to the public. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served. Untying the Moon will be available for sale, and Malphrus will personally sign each copy.
Lynda Bouchard is the founder and chief inspiration officer of Booking Authors Ink, a boutique public relations firm dedicated to authors. For information, visit www.bookingauthorsink.com.
Book Launch Party
Untying the Moon
October 16, 2015
The Heyward House (70 Boundary St., Bluffton, SC)
Sponsored by the Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival blufftonartsandseafoodfestival.com