Welcome to Anne Oman author of the novella MANGO RAINS.
Anne, congratulations on Mango Rains. You made your fiction debut at 79 years young after writing guidebooks and as a journalist.
A little bit of background about Anne: Anne H. Oman began her career as a Foreign Service Officer for the now defunct US Information Agency, which was charged with “winning the hearts and minds of the people.” She served in Cambodia and Indonesia and was expelled from both countries, for political, not personal, reasons.
Since that time, she has worked principally as a journalist. Her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Times, Washington Woman, Family Circle, Sailing, National Geographic World, Senior Scholastic and many other publications. Currently, she is Reporter At Large for the Fernandina Observer in Fernandina Beach, Florida. She has also published four non-fiction books. Mango Rains is her first work of fiction.
To read an excerpt of the book click and meet the cast of characters here.
Why did you write Mango Rains? What inspired you to pursue your dream of being a published novella author?
Thanks for asking, and thanks for this opportunity.
Many years ago, when I was in Cambodia, I had a random thought that if I ever wrote a novel, I would set it there. The expat community was sort of a closed society – like a small town, or a cruise ship. And it was full of interesting and diverse people pursuing their own lives against a backdrop of world-shattering events – the Vietnam war and the assassination of JFK, among others. I unfortunately didn’t keep a diary, as the character Julia did, but I did write some notes (most of which I mislaid, but never mind!). And writing a novel is on every journalist’s to do list.
Learning to Write Fiction Tweet This
How did you learn to write fiction? How many drafts or iterations did this novella go through before publication?
Any kind of writing can help make you a better writer. It’s something that improves with practice. I never took a creative writing course, but I did attend a workshop, which was very helpful. I wrote the first half of Mango Rains first, and in the first person. I decided that was too limiting, so I rewrote it in the third person. During my career, I have written speeches and interviewed many people, and that helped me write dialogue. I wrote the second half because I felt it was too short, and I wanted to see what happened to the characters. Several experienced writers and editors read it – including Hilma Wolitzer and Susan Shreve at the Key West writers’ workshop; Tim Wendel who reviewed it as part of a program with the Washington Independent Writers; Janice Delaney, a friend and experienced writer and editor – and incorporated many of their suggestions. And I refined it constantly.
Anne, how is writing fiction (novel or novella) similar and/or different from writing nonfiction?
Writing fiction (novel or novella) is very liberating. You don’t have to worry about readers and sources calling you up and saying you got something wrong, or misspelled their name or misquoted them. And it’s fun. You create characters and look to see where they go – or manipulate them.
The Publishing Journey
Did you have an agent? How did you get a publisher and why didn’t you self-publish?
I tried for years to get an agent. Some expressed interest but ultimately said it wasn’t right for their particular lists. I tried many small publishers, who also rejected it. Self-publishing was an option, but there is still a bit of a stigma to it. So, I kept trying to go the other route. The first half of Mango Rains was a runner up in a novella contest run by Miami University of Ohio in 2007, and two of the chapters in the second half were prize winners – but not first prize winners – in short story contests. Then, in 2019, Galaxy Galloper Press held a novella contest. Mango Rains didn’t win, but it was one of three selected for publication.
What was the timeline like, after you signed your publishing contract?
I signed the contract in the spring of 2019, and the book came out in February 2020. I had a friend, Karin Kinney, who worked as both a French translator and a book editor, correct all the French in the book and put in the correct accents, etc., The staff of Galaxy Galloper did the editing and sent me the edits, which I could accept or dispute. It went quite smoothly. The publisher and I had fun thinking up the cover illustration. We tried several options, and I really like the one we decided on.
Your own life plays an important role in the novella Mango Rains – can you tell us more about this? Did you keep a diary or journals? How did you recall key details? Your character Julia is fascinating – please tell us more about her.
Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a diary. I did write down some notes, impressions. Originally, Mango Rains was going to be in diary form, but I found that limiting. Since this post in Phnom Penh was my first job, I had vivid memories. I had no trouble recalling them.
Foreign Service Officers who serve at many posts may merge the details, but I only served at two, so both were top of mind. Julia is not me – I am not a Philadelphia aristocrat and I did not go to Mount Holyoke. But I attributed many of my own experiences to her. I also went out to Phnom Penh at age 22 and lived through the events depicted in the book. I don’t really like “happily ever after” stories, so I left this one ambiguous. In the end, we find out that she married and has a daughter, but still thinks about the past. Not sure we need to know more.
Themes in Fiction
Do you think the themes of Mango Rains are relevant to today?
Yes, at least I hope so. Themes are a favorite topic of English teachers, but I don’t think most writers set out to illustrate a theme. You write a story, and a theme emerges. One theme that emerged is expressed in the epigram, the Robert Frost poem, “Happiness Makes Up in Height for What it Lacks in Length.” It’s echoed in the chapter of Mango Rains when the characters are listening to the Messiah on Christmas afternoon.
In her journal, Julia takes up the line about “acquainted with grief,” and says that “so many of us here are acquainted with grief ….but where, for us, is the sound of trumpets, the crescendo of triumph, the Hallelujah Chorus? Most of us will simply muddle through, grab what happiness we can, and move on.” Or, as the Rick says to Elsa at the end of Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.” I think that’s a universal truth.
There’s another theme, more specific to the Far East: that things are not always what they seem and sometimes it’s best to accept the façade. I think that’s true today, too. Not all cultures have the same norms, and it’s dangerous not to account for that.
Who are your favorite authors?
My all-time favorite fiction is The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. Mango Rains was inspired by that in the sense that a place is really a character in the book. The end notes were modeled after his. I love novels with a sense of place. I think the best writer in English in the 20th century was Graham Greene. My favorite is The Heart of the Matter, but I also loved The Quiet American, set in Saigon, and The Comedians, set in Haiti.
My daughter was also a Foreign Service Officer. When she was posted in Haiti, we spent Christmas there and had drinks at the Olafson Hotel, where Greene’s character found a body floating in the swimming pool. I also love Edith Wharton, Henry James, and, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I referred to Tender Is The Night, my favorite Fitzgerald novel, in Mango Rains. At the end of Fitzgerald’s novel, Dick Diver keeps moving farther and farther west. So does my character, Jake O’Donnell. (Please believe I am not comparing myself with this great American writer.)
Promoting a book/novella during the Coronavirus Pandemic Tweet This
What was it like to promote your novella during a pandemic? Did you have to adjust your expectations for the book as a result?
Since Mango Rains is my first work of fiction, I have nothing to compare it with. But, yes, the pandemic made it more difficult to publicize the book. Several events were cancelled. Also, I think readers today are looking for books with more timely themes, such as race and immigration, and, of course, plagues.
Luckily, I am working with a terrific and experienced publicist to promote Mango Rains. With Laura Rossi/Laura Rossi Public Relations representing me, I was able to get some wonderful media attention for even during the pandemic. Laura taught me how to do Zoom interviews and because of her my book publicity experience has been really wonderful.
What are you writing now?
I think that unless you have a compelling idea for a novel, you shouldn’t write one. If I do get an inspiration, I may try again. I write for a small newspaper in Florida, which I enjoy. Being a journalist gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people and to ask a lot of questions. And it is fun.
Do you have any writing mentors?
No. I think writing is really a solitary activity. I don’t participate in any writing groups, but I think they are great for people who can benefit from them.
What are you reading now?
I’m always reading more than one book at a time – one by my bed, one by my chair, one by the pool, etc. Currently, I am reading, The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera, a multigenerational saga of a Puerto Rican family; Make Russia Great Again, a satire by Christopher Buckley, Demagogue a biography of Sen. Joe McCarthy.
I also just started a new book entitled Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland, which I am enjoying. It’s set on the Jersey shore, where I spent a lot of time growing up. I also love rereading favorite books, such as John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.
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About the Author
Thank you, Anne, and congratulations on your novella Mango Rains.
About Anne H. Oman: Anne H. Oman began her career as a Foreign Service Officer for the now defunct US Information Agency, where she was charged with “winning the hearts and minds of the people.” She served in Cambodia and Indonesia and was expelled from both countries, for political, not personal, reasons.
Since that time, she has worked principally as a journalist. Her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Times, Washington Woman, Family Circle, Sailing, National Geographic World, Senior Scholastic and many other publications. Currently, she is Reporter At Large for the Fernandina Observer in Fernandina Beach, Florida. She has also published four non-fiction books. Mango Rains, a novella, is her first work of fiction.
For more information about Anne Oman, please visit her author website www.mangorains.net .
For Mango Rains discussion questions click here.