Maria Thompson Corley is a Canadian pianist (MM, DMA, The Juilliard School) of Jamaican and Bermudian descent, with experience as a college professor, private piano instructor, composer, arranger and voice actor. She has contributed to Broad Street Review since 2008, and also blogs for Huffington Post. Her first novel, Choices, was published by Kensington.
How did you become an author? What was your inspiration to start (and keep) writing?
I used to prefer writing to speaking! I’m no longer that introverted, but I’m still more expressive in writing. I can’t remember when I didn’t write. I wrote my first novel at about 14 (no worries, I have no intention of inflicting it on anyone). I’ve always loved to read, so making up stories seemed to follow. Besides, what other activity allows you to play God?
Tell us a bit about the genre you write in and how you create your storylines?
I usually write Women’s Fiction. I start with a scenario, which could be a sentence, and could come from anywhere, such as something that happened in my life, a news story, or something I’ve observed in society. The characters are often composites of people I know, but not always. Sometimes, I just observe human nature. Ideas come to me randomly; I don’t outline the whole story at the beginning. I do know where it’s going, but the path changes along the way because my characters tend to do unexpected things.
Do you have any writing rituals or methods you depend on when you’re facing writer’s block?
I don’t tend to have that problem. Hope I didn’t jinx myself!
Can you tell us a bit about your process? What’s your favorite part and what’s the worst?
My favorite part is coming up with the story in the first place, and especially creating the characters. The worst is not finding enough time to work on that story. I deal with that challenge constantly.
Is there a special nook or spot you have to get your creativity flowing?
Nope. If I have a laptop and somewhere to sit, I’m good.
What are you currently working on?
I’m revising a novel I last worked on 2.5 years ago and put aside, because I don’t have enough time to devote to the project I was really hoping to be attacking, a tale told from the point of view of a famous animal. Fingers crossed I’ll get a draft of that done in the summer. It will be shorter than my other books, but having to follow a historical blueprint and research a lot means it will take a while.
Is there any specific author whom you admire/inspires you, that you read every book they publish? Who and why?
I’ve read a lot of Toni Morrison, and I also love Ian McEwan. Both are masters of writing beautiful sentences. I have a lot of James Baldwin in my library, although I haven’t read him much lately (I need to!). I really want to take another look at Giovanni’s Room, which I recall as being his best work of fiction. There’s no writer I read obsessively, though, at this point. I simply don’t have time to buy every book any one person puts out. I’d rather read a number of different people. I learn more about writing that way.
What are you currently reading?
Thomas Merton, Rebecca Solnit, Cynthia Bourgeault, and a memoir by a man who goes to my church—nothing fictional. I’m also reading a fascinating book about the African roots of Christianity. I hope to pick up Zadie Smith’s On Beauty soon. I started it, but put it down. I want to give it another shot.
Do you have any talents/hobbies other than writing that your fans might not know about?
I’m a Juilliard-trained pianist (MM, DMA). That’s my day job! Crazy! I also arrange and compose classical music, and do occasional voiceover work (Unisys, SunTrust, Iron Mountain and University of Pennsylvania, so far). I can draw, but I never have time.
If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you would be doing instead?
If I weren’t in the arts, I’d be a psychologist.
How do other books, TV shows and movies influence your writing?
I think very visually, so movies in particular influence the way I write scenes. I should qualify that: I like to write dialog. I have to remind myself to flesh out the setting, sometimes, so I can’t say I’m completely visual in my approach. Other books show me what I like, and what I don’t like. They also inspire me to try harder, by humbling me.
If you watch TV, what are your favorite shows to binge watch right now?
I don’t have time! When I can, I watch comedies, because I need to laugh, with the world as it is (oh yeah—I’m not always in the room, but I listen to way too much CNN). So I check out Black-ish, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, that kind of stuff, usually on demand and if I can find a time to sit down with my daughter. I will watch YouTubes of Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, Trevor Noah, or James Corden (Carpool Karaoke.) I have been known to watch The Voice, but not lately. I binge watched Atlanta over Christmas. Fantastic show. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I used to be hooked on Dance Moms, which is basically child abuse.
What are a few of your favorites (i.e. movie, song, food)?
I can’t pick just one! I love spicy food, so West Indian, Thai, Indian are high on my list. But I’ll eat almost anything, once. I love too many kinds of music to pick one song. Or artist, though losing Prince, my first rock star crush, hurt deeply. But ditto Michael Jackson and Al Jarreau. If we go into the realm of classical music, I would pick Beethoven if I had to choose one composer, but like I said, it’s impossible. Movies are a passion, so…well, I’m getting redundant if I say I can’t pick just one. Moonlight was perfection. Casablanca is one of my favorites, ever, because it is witty, topical, romantic, suspenseful…what more could you want? That said, I really loved Friday. And Rush Hour. Chris Tucker was also incredible in The Fifth Element, which wasn’t a great movie otherwise. I appreciate a lot of foreign films, too. Used to like action (The Bourne Identity, etc.). Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, Before Midnight are three of my absolute favorites. Okay, enough. You get the idea.
If you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Barcelona has been on my list since the Olympics there, ages ago. But honestly, I’d love to go back to Jamaica, where I was born, or Bermuda, where my mom is from.
Coffee, wine or something else?
I drink coffee daily, wine occasionally, and I do like those fruity drinks that don’t taste alcoholic. I never buy alcohol, because it doesn’t mean enough to me to spend the money. I’m a lightweight, in that regard.
Anything else you’d like readers to know about you and your books?
Just that I love to dig deeply (yup, used an adverb) into human emotion. I don’t think I could write a thriller—well, never say never—but that’s fine with me. The complexity of the human psyche is enough of a mystery for me to spend my life trying to unravel it. Even when I’m writing from the point of view of an animal.
Be sure to check out Maria’s latest novel, Letting Go.
Even though she lives hundreds of miles away, when Langston, who dreams of being a chef, meets Cecile, a Juilliard-trained pianist, he is sure that his history of being a sidekick, instead of a love interest, is finally over. Their connection is real and full of potential for a deeper bond, but the obstacles between them turn out to be greater than distance. Can these busy, complicated people be ready for each other at the same time? Does it even matter? Before they can answer these questions, each must do battle with the ultimate demon—fear.
Told in a witty combination of standard prose, letters, emails, and diary entries, LETTING GO, in the tradition of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s AMERICANAH, is a long-distance love story that also examines race, religion, and the difficult choices we make following our passions. From the Great White North to the streets of New York City to the beaches of Bermuda, LETTING GO is a journey of longing, betrayal, self-discovery and hope you will never forget.