Submitted by Kim Norton
Special to The Islands’ Weekly
So quickly was I drawn into the characters of Jan Maher’s “Earth As It Is,” that I literally read the novel in a day, ignoring completely tasks that I had intended to accomplish. Maher’s understated style of character development revealed a rich understanding of her characters and their decisions.
Join Maher while she reads of “Earth As It Is,” at the Lopez Bookshop on Sunday, Aug. 5 at 5 p.m.
Maher’s blog heading reads, “Fiction and Plays about the Extraordinary Lives of Ordinary People” and her latest novel is just that. Charles/Charlene Bader did live an extraordinary life. The details of Heaven, Indiana, the setting of the novel, show that Maher uses experiences and observations from her own Indiana childhood to create the town. Respect for tornadoes, dunking booth at the annual fair, fortune teller, ice and snow to limit transportation, the speed with which news travels and an open casket funeral, all make Heaven a viable place to the reader.
“Transportive, deceptively powerful, and strikingly original” are affirmations that appear in reviews of “Earth As It Is.”
“‘Earth As It Is’ is a complex and deeply emotional novel which explores a rarely discussed aspect of gender identity in the post-war Midwest … A captivating novel that attempts to bring a softer perspective to gender identity. It is definitely worth reading,” says a Historical Novel Society review of “Earth As It Is.”
Maher began writing before she knew how to read! Ask her about that. Since then, she has published educational material and “Heaven, Indiana,” a novel with the same setting as much of “Earth As It Is.” “Vitae” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” are among her short stories. Her drama works include “Ismene and Intruders,” and “Most Dangerous Women,” a readers’ theater documentary.
Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States,” responds to “Most Dangerous Women” with, “An extraordinary assemblage of women speak about war and peace. They speak in clear and compelling language, often with song and poetry, and what they tell their audience both educates and inspires. If ‘Most Dangerous Women’ were performed in schools across the country, we might well see a new generation of young people dedicated to ending the scourge of war.”
Maher also brings her unique academic background into her writing. She holds a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies: Theater, Education and Neuroscience. She most recently taught interdisciplinary seminars, education-related courses, and documentary studies at Burlington College at the undergraduate and graduate levels and is currently a senior scholar at the Institute for Ethics in Public Life, State University of New York at Plattburgh. She lives with her husband Doug Selwyn in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Maher’s connection to Lopez goes back several decades. She is a regular visitor to the island to keep contact with former housemates who are life friends. She is a thoughtful woman as understated in life as the characters in her novels; however, she has extraordinary insights into what makes us human and hopeful.